Politics
Opinion / Politics
Let us seize the moment and shun our VIP (vaai illada praani) status quo.
Chitra Subramaniam| Thursday, February 16, 2017 - 17:57
OPS with Sasikala (right); PTI

After the lights have been switched off and the laughter has subsided, reality must dawn. I have this sneaking suspicion that Kalki* may have come to Tamil Nadu, taken one look at events and fled, if not earlier then certainly after Sasikala's spanking act on Wednesday.

Think about it. How many times in the past weeks have we thought and said around us that even god cannot save us? It crossed my mind many times including when O Panneerselvam said he had communicated with J. Jayalalithas's spirit.

How did a state with its high levels of literacy and which up until a decade ago had social indicators envied by its neighbours and heralded by the world slide into such depravity, sloth and stupidity? 

J. Jayalalithaa is no more. Her friend and comrade Sasikala is in prison, but the charade continues. Floor tests, numbers, theories, Delhi TV studio 'expertise', cars rushing up and down give burlesque and absurdity new definition.

Let us be clear about one thing. There are no saints and saviours in politics. But there are levels of sanity and responsibility we can impose and this is perhaps the most precious tool that democracy is constantly testing, honing and remodelling. When lawmakers turn to spirits and ghosts, our alertness must deepen.

The drama in Chennai had all the indications of a rambunctious democracy on the move. There was people’s power, mobilisation of views, engagement of Tamil society across platforms and people, peaceful protests and in most cases, stellar camaraderie and competition between reporters and somewhere in all this, a clear articulation of what the electorate expects from its leaders.

I was particularly struck by one tweet from actor Arvind Swami who succinctly summed us up when he asked how often do we hold our elected representatives responsible for their actions?

Responsibility has no sides. Irrespective of political affiliations, it is a commitment politicians make to get elected. It is our job to hold them to their word. Democracy also places responsibilities on we the people. If we want to live in a free land, we have to treasure and safeguard our freedom. There's no free lunch in life. 

Think about the luxury of freedom and choice every time you complain that nothing will change. People who fought for India's freedom including laying down their lives, did not have the luxury of that whining option. Indeed nothing will change if we don’t question, engage, debate, deny, reinforce, add value, call out the corrupt and applaud the correct.

Nothing will change if we do not apply our mind when we vote. Nothing will change if we do not vote.

Tamil Nadu has shown an interesting democratic maturity. It has also shown breathless sycophancy and dynastic politics in equal measure with the AIADMK and the DMK competing in the race to the bottom. Is there where we the people want to be?

The peaceful mobilisation during the Jalikattu agitation, the camaraderie during the Chennai floods in 2015, civilians coming together to help clean the oil spill, the eschewing of violence in the aftermath of J. Jayalalithaa’s demise and most recently, the robust voices against Sasikala all bear testimony to our evolving political thought processes. 

Grab it and hold it with both hands. This process and outrage has to be channelled and institutionalised as soon as possible to prevent a slide back and the only person who can do it is we the people. Yes, you read that right. Our struggle to get the right people in the best positions has to be a constant voyage from person to people and people to person, from individual to community and vice-versa.

Technology is a many splendoured tool with us today. What each of us can do with it far outweighs neanderthal ways politicians turn to- think how laughable it was when journalists were physically kept away from 'hostages' at the resort!

Apropos, I found it condemnable on the part of  Sasikala and her ilk to station an ambulance outside the beach resort to deal with emergencies arising from diabetes and blood pressure both of which are chronic illnesses. No urgent fracture and brain surgery here.

This is a continuation of the same abusive thought process that blocks ambulances on India's roads because a VIP crossing may occur. People have died in ambulances in a traffic jam. People like you and me who vote for may have voted for the corrupt. 

If we think we are not like the people we ridicule, we have to prove it to ourselves and the rest of India and go beyond the obvious. It means not settling for the easy argument and walking that extra mile in whatever way we can, however small.

Ambition has no size. It is a mentality, an option that can be exercised in the world's largest democracy. What we don't do and do will continue to count faster and tick closer to us for the simple reason that more and more people cannot be expected to live with less and less or have their ambitions defined by dumb, corrupt and vacuous leaders- AIADMK, it's next version and DMK included in the context of Tamil Nadu. 

Even in the cracked image of politicians, Sasikala is no Jayalalithaa. She is a bully. When pushed or called out, bullies typically turn victims. They speak in third person and give themselves rights that cannot be democratically verified.

Her muttering and hand-thumping act at Jayalalithaa’s memorial would make for delightful comedy material had it not been for matters as serious. Yes, things are very serious.

In the short run, I have meagre expectations from most politicians who can be expected to play politics of the perverse. Even as I remain an eternal optimist, I wouldn't be surprised if the inmates take over the asylum. But, in my democracy, I refuse to be a vaai illada praani (VIP) which roughly translates in English to dumb spectator.

I have tried to write this piece with heart and soul. Among my close ancestors are famous Tamils who fought for India's freedom, internationally renowned scientists, people who travelled the world and spoke many languages, philosophers, artists and politicians. Among my close ancestors are also very regular people doing regular things regularly. I grew up with the grand and the daily. To this blessing, I have tried to add my own.

One day, maybe, I will connect the dots, maybe not. But of this I am certain. I dream about the day, every day, when India will become a world leader. From us – we the people – I expect more, much more.

I hope we can convert our democratic maturing to show the door to venal politicians and their courtiers. I hope we can cut to chase the next time we get an opportunity to do so.

Anti-diluvian waters could not drown Chennai’s resolve in 2015, neither could nature's fury more recently during cyclone Vardha. Think of what we achieved when we held together in times of physical distress.

We are now in a state of political distress and ethical decay. Go on Tamil Nadu, you can do it. You can make brave the new normal. Madras did. 

*Hindus believe that Kalki is the tenth avatar (dasavatar or incarnation) of Lord Vishnu expected to appear in the times we live in which is Kaliyuga (epoch) - a period of great decay and depravity and unexpected upheavals. His appearance is said to lead to Satya Yuga which roughly translates into a period of truth. Yuga or periods are epochal.