We live in the past and among the dead. And we cannot seem to have enough of it. The excuse is legacy, but the real reason is vested in looting the country of progress, resources, new leadership and genuine ambition. The bottle-neck at the top in most cases is just ordinary greed for money couched as service to the nation. The last act in Tamil Nadu is a case in point. All the leaders were 'serving' the people when time ticked along for a few to go to prison. Then real colours and crass ambition were revealed and we were treated to flying chairs in the local assembly, servility and chaos. Ghosts and spirits’ voices were invoked. Nothing new. Has been done in the past by other leaders who had a conversation with their inner voice to guide the world's largest democracy.
In the weeks that followed Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s demise and the transfer of power we were witness to snakes and ladders on a beach near Chennai. On a parallel track, legal knowledge was being debated and deciphered on Sasikala Natarajan and O Pannerselvam – who would inherit the mantle and the war chest? Inherit. We are a democracy. Will she, can she, his options, precedence, governor’s rule. We looked into the past to justify the present which, at that time, resembled street theatre. In a democracy, people’s voices are generally ahead of government’s choices and the mobilisation in Tamil Nadu was a fine example. Politicians, however, stuck to the dead. You can always bank on them in more ways than one. The legitimacy of the government in place is in the news every day. The business of running the state is far from secured.
Our witless and vile leaders tried to put the genie back into the bottle, something they could all control and partake of. A little adjusting here and there. There’s now a new political party in Tamil Nadu called MGR AMMA Deepa Peravai (Forum). It has been floated by Deepa Jayakumar, the niece of the late Chief Minister. Her name is not in capital letters in any of the posters - sycophancy in s-minor. She is carrying on the legacy of her aunt so she really cannot appear to usurp anything so soon. She may even win the assembly seat she is contesting. What next? More posters and even more postures.
But why blame the neophyte. She follows a long tradition in the country where seventy years later we are speaking about what happened seventy years ago. If that enquiry had resulted in genuine history and not hagiographies being written, the trip would have been worth it. It didn’t. Our history books are a joke and in most cases, underestimate the intelligence of India’s children. Mediocrity breeds merciless and mindless mediocrity. We mark the many birth and death anniversaries of women and men who have influenced our political and social processes, stories of valour and the ultimate sacrifice with a garland and a speech. Then we walk out of our doors to be confronted by dwarfs. The routine is relentless. Young India is restive. Something has to give. It did, in Tamil Nadu.
Come elections and for months afterwards, our public walls are plastered with dead leaders, dead promises, dead ambitions. We must be the only democracy in the world where political posters look like a circus rink with dead and dying heads all around and a few clowns straddling the stage. History in a click. Then, suddenly, clones of deceased demigods jump out of posters and hoardings on to our television screens in the forms of their inheritors, looking, dressing and deigning to engage with us with that distant wave of a hand that would have made Evita Péron or Imelda Marcos blush. They cite chapter and verse of judgements and court orders not to advance thinking but to arrest and circumscribe it to their ambitions.
Two generations can pass in between. That is some 40 years, enough for progeny to take roots. In a country with the world’s youngest population and where 50-year-olds are referred to as youth all is well. Shut up and vote. It’s a game. Embracing the present would probably be too difficult for most. Tamil Nadu is only the latest example of how low we have fallen in our own expectations driven to a large extent by the absence of any dialogue with the people we elect. Utter a word and extremes snap back. Extremes are irrelevant in any movement - they breed hate and they defile. Showing up at graves and slapping them for action is a peculiar Indian public gesture of sycophancy (read anger and frustration). The more you want power, the more you cling to the dead and publicly visit places of worship, publicly display devotion, donate blood and food in front of cameras.
Prayer then is a new perch. We have seen them all. Caught in an IT raid or a massive case of corruption, nepotism and fraud, visit the temples and places of worship, donate shawls, get weighed in coconuts and bananas. What has god got to do with it? I didn't vote for any god or a demigod and I am not an exception. I voted for a mortal who is accountable here and now, not in another world or life.
As for god, all human beings have a direct number. We don’t need middlemen/women.