There’s nothing quite like an election to make politicians show their true colours
The best time to observe the idiosyncrasies of Indian politics is in the run-up to an election. So, it wasn’t in the least surprising that the election campaign for the Delhi Assembly gave us some fresh insights into the behavior of that strange creature: the Indian politician. In case you have been (very understandably) hiding underneath your blanket until the electoral coast clears, here’s a brief summary of what we learnt over the last fortnight – or indeed, over the last decade.
• Promises, promises: There is nothing that politicians won’t promise in the run-up to an election. Here’s just a random sampling of all the stuff we’ve been dazzled with: Rs 15 lakhs in the bank account of every Indian (our share of all the black money that was going to be brought back to India); free water and electricity; ‘safety kits’ for women which would include pepper spray and whistles; free wi-fi for everyone; free television sets; dowry for your daughters; education loans for your sons; and so on and on and on.
• When in doubt, delete: That’s the first thing that entrants to any political party – or those who have defected to another – do. They scour their social media accounts to scratch out all the offensive things they once said about their then-opponents and now-allies. Unfortunately, the Internet has a very long memory; too many people have discovered the art of capturing a screenshot; and television clips tend to live on forever: so good luck with that.
• Be still, my beating heart: If the CBI comes calling, then a ‘heart attack’ or, at the very least, ‘palpitations’ are never far behind. The more committed manage to stage a dramatic collapse before the cameras. The more retiring content themselves with looking pale and wan, and exiting their houses on a wheelchair to portray an image of vulnerability. But then, given that their only choice is between jail and a nice hospital bed, who can blame them for that Oscar-worthy acting?
• It’s cold out there: There’s nothing like a spell in political Siberia to help people discover that they have such a thing as a ‘conscience’. Maybe it’s the icy winds of adversity that strip away those layers of arrogance, corruption and venality, leaving a quivering mass of regret at the core. Or maybe it’s just the desire to bask in the sunshine of public approval. But, whatever the reason, being exiled from the corridors of power tends to bring on a powerful bout of ‘introspection’, followed by abject ‘apologies’ to the people for having let them down.
• The law of the letter: You can be sure that if one politician has written an embarrassing letter to another, it is only a matter of time before it mysteriously materializes on the front page of a leading national daily. Both the sender and the receiver will feign incredulity and outrage that such a ‘personal’ missive became public, even though it is amply clear than one or the other must have leaked it. And both will take great pleasure in bashing the media over their ‘intrusive’ ways. As for the media, well, they will devote hours of prime time to ‘debating’ the letter in question: why was it written; who leaked it; who gains; who doesn’t? And each media organization will claim to be the ‘first’ at ‘breaking’ the story.
• I was only following orders: No matter what a politician says or does in the execution of his or her ‘duties’, nothing is ever his or her fault. It is either the media that are blamed for a ‘witch-hunt’ or for ‘misquoting’ or ‘quoting out of context’ (this, even when the offending quote has been recorded for posterity on television cameras, and is thus, indisputable). Or the blame is laid at the door of the party ‘high command’, which ‘forced’ its will on the hapless politician in question. What was that you asked? Why didn’t the politician refuse to carry out a flawed order? Ah but you see, he/she hadn’t spent a spell in the political wilderness yet, so he/she was not in touch with his/her conscience (see above).
• Nothing is secret; nothing is sacred: If you are planning to stand for election, then be prepared to have every aspect of your life scrutinized. Nothing is off limits. Not your family life, not your medical history, not your business interests, not your bank balance, not your financial assets, and certainly not your service record. So, if you have been fibbing all your life about having towed the Prime Minister’s car, then you will have to come clean on who actually did the towing (and if it turns out that it wasn’t you, who has been dining out on the story for decades on end, then be prepared to be roasted on prime-time television).
• Lies, damned lies, and opinion polls: It is almost a truism of Indian politics that no political party will be happy with the results of the opinion polls. Those who have been written off will complain that the sample size was too small, and that the questions were loaded against them in the survey. Those who fared better will insist that the numbers don’t really do justice to the massive support they have garnered. And everybody will insist that it’s no point discussing opinion polls, because opinion polls never get it right, even as they discuss them threadbare night after night in television studios. Clearly, if there’s one thing our politicians – across party lines – have in common, it is an irony deficit.