Author of The Land of the Wilted Rose, of the The White Mahatma Quartet, Anand Ranganathan studied Chemistry at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, and went on to pursue a doctorate from Cambridge. A man of varied interests, he is researching dengue and tuberculosis at the International Center of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology at Delhi. We told you, varied interests!
The Year of The Election
The Chinese have years they designate lovingly to birds and animals: the year of the pig, the year of the goat, the year of the owl, and so on. It is a remarkable concept – designating a year – makes the animal feel good before it is dumped alive in a wok of boiling water and de-boned or de-feathered for immediate consumption (The food streets of Beijing are empty this year as it is the Year of the Dragon). It is also one idea that the Chinese – forever at the receiving end of barbs – haven’t copied, but rather the world has copied from them, like the compass and the gunpowder.
Right now, for example, the Americans are celebrating what’s being hailed as The Year of the Election. We will celebrate the same come 2014. The Pakistanis will celebrate it once they know which year and what election. Incidentally, the Chinese don’t celebrate The Year of the Election, perhaps for the simple reason that a) It cannot be eaten, and b) It may confuse their men into taking urgent measures to double or triple their population – given that they pronounce their Ls as Rs.
It is a great year, the Year of the Election. Leaders and their governments say and do things that are a marked departure from what they normally say and do. What makes it truly memorable is that the media refuses to question this weird and wonderful volte-face. The reporter might say: “Hey, that’s a bit unusual, isn’t it, what the leader just said?” But the editor puts his foot down: “Leave it, bud,” he lectures, “Don’t give it a second thought. It’s the Year of the Election”.
Indeed, the behaviour of the politician in the Year of the Election is, in more ways than one, rubber-stamped by the media. By refusing to ask him what the devil did he mean by saying that outrageous thing, making that outrageous promise – completely at odds with what he’s been saying or promising for the past three or four years – the media encourages the politician to think: “Phew, that was close! These bastards didn’t question me; perhaps they too think I can do and say anything in the Year of the Election!” As a result, the leader is emboldened and says many more outrageous things – goes through his entire list in fact – for he knows the worst that can happen is him being accused of “pandering to his domestic constituency”. Yes, spot on. Ever since the last election, all the fellow was doing was pandering to his international constituency, but in the Year of the Election he’s suddenly remembered his domestic loved ones.
It would be laughable if it weren’t so preposterous, the way the media turns a blind eye to this phenomenon. President Barack Obama’s recent outpourings are a case in point. In analysing what he’s actually said – about bringing jobs back to America, about making sure jobs don’t go to India or China – our newspapers and news channels have more or less pardoned him. We probably think “jobs” is a man President Obama wants desperately to come back to his worried wife and kid, and then never set sail again to far-flung corners of the world. (Truth be told, Jobs was a man who took thousands of jobs from America to China.) So what then is the reason for the media pardon? Yes, you guessed it: the Year of the Election.
Obama: “I don’t want skilled people to be found in India. I want them to be found right here, in the United States.”
Hah! Let him! He’s only saying it because it’s the Year of the Election.
Obama: “My opponent, Mitt Romney, is an outsourcing pioneer!”
Arey leave it, na! It’s the Year of the Election, bhai.
Obama: “We need a President who is going to fight for American Jobs.”
Hota hai, hota hai, it’s the…
This is a dangerous game of charades that’s being played. It presupposes that the leader is actually lying, is being dishonest, that what he is saying now, even he wouldn’t believe a day after he’s re-elected. After all, US visas and IT jobs and outsourcing have only increased during the time of the Obama presidency. Our exports to America have risen sharply and so has their FDI in India. Someone please tell them the economy has gone global, election year or not.
Why do others still fall for it, then? Simple: what the Americans are doing now, we’ve been doing for decades. It’s in our genes. We, of course, are past-masters in celebrating the Year of the Election. Indeed, we have taken it to such an extreme level of enjoyment, that like Diwali and Eid, the government should now declare a public holiday to allow us to celebrate this festival with the pomp and ceremony it deserves. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: that this is a whole year we are talking about, full 365 days.
Oh come on, don’t be a spoilsport!
Remember how armies in ancient times used to operate in battle? Well, that’s how our politicians and parties have programmed themselves over time. “Hold back”, orders the High Command, arm outstretched like a no-ball signal to restrain hordes of party faithful, “not now, yes…that’s right…good…hold…hold…steady, steady, hold, no, not now…wait, wait…wait…….CHARGE!”
The road will not be repaired for four years, 11 months and 29 days, but on polling day, as the harried emerge in their pyjamas and nighties to vote, they see smoking barrels of goo and giant road-rollers and excavators and expensive Korean equipment busy tarring that same blasted stretch that cost those in nightdress two axles, four suspensions and countless tyre replacements. And suddenly, they are so delighted, so teary-eyed, that they forget the miserable past and go ahead and vote for the politician who’s made all this happen. They are chanting thank you, thank you, all the way to the back of the voting queue, waiting to rush back and get in the car and test the surface.
This is an unbeatable strategy and politicians know it. And they keep at it because the media lets them. A new road, a new water pipeline, a brand new power station: all in the Year of the Election. Fifty new trains, 100 new flyovers, 2000 new schools and hospitals, medical schools, dams, airports, scholarships…oh, the Year of the Election. The money that’s needed right now is instead being saved by the state, hoarded in a Godrej cupboard, for it to come tumbling out in the Year of the Election.
Sometimes, though, calamity strikes. Governments fall. And all because some dope didn’t use the money he’d been saving for the Year of the Election before the Election Commission guidelines kicked in, with the result that his party’s going to lose heavily. A last minute order of a million mixer-grinders and bicycles was indeed processed, but the damn paperwork meant that the mixer-grinders will be delivered after the code of conduct date. Touch-screen tablets were confused with multi-vitamin ones to devastating consequences. Admittedly, this is a rare occurrence, and one that is never repeated by the offender. Who wants to warm the opposition benches till perpetuity?
All those commentators crying hoarse about the present government’s rank inefficiency, their thorough incompetence, their complete bankruptcy of ideas, know nothing. They have forgotten that this government is like that ancient army; they have forgotten the Godrej, forgotten to factor in the Year of the Election.
People, wait! Mark my words. These commentators are those very voters who witnessed the magical appearance of the tarred road right before their moist eyes, and it would be they who’d churn out column-yards about the “sudden swing in the mood of the nation” come early-2014, and it would be their pieces that’d be titled: “The quiet PM orchestrates a remarkable turnaround!”
People, wait till 2014! When the fileds are lush green, irrigated through countless new dams and water-projects, when a million villages are electrified, hundreds of new hospitals opened, thousands of new schools appointed with newly and suddenly-recruited teachers, when there is no power-cut, no water shortage, no pot-holes, when the economy will start suddenly growing at 8.1 per cent. When in the next quarter it will be an astonishing 9.8 per cent. And yes, Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia will be grinning ear to ear, saying: I told you so.
Wait to see the politicians on their best behaviour, the rivers full, the power stations buzzing, the highways up and ready, petrol prices rock-bottom. Wait till 2014, when India will once again be called a golden sparrow.
One wonders why our founding fathers didn’t slip in a cheeky para or two in the constitution that encouraged instability of the ruling government and promoted efforts to bring it down. For what we truly need is for every year to become the Year of the Election.
Image Source: [http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffmcneill/2947551786/]