It was December 4, the day the jharoo was registering its powers in the EVMs in Delhi.
Landing by a morning flight from the national capital in Chennai, I was winding my way with other passengers to the baggage carousel when I could not but see a powerful politician walking right ahead of me. Swaggering, would be the more accurate word. One armed guard ahead of him, another behind him, he also had two minions — God knows how they got passes to come inside the terminal — strolling his hand-baggage alongside. As his little procession progressed, the odd uniformed staffers saluted, made way, as other passengers looked on amused, or irritated.
The politician was a young man; his guards and minions were only slightly younger. He could have easily pulled his own hand baggage himself and, for that matter, even lent a hand to senior citizens shuffling up behind him. But, no. He was a politician, a powerful politician and it was his right, his prerogative, to be escorted, guarded, pampered. And his chosen gait was the swagger. There was zero interest in the surroundings, in the people he crossed. Nothing mattered to him except Himself. He is Republican, but a Raja.
A few hours later, I was at Kalakshetra, Chennai’s college for dance and music set up by Rukmini Devi Arundale. Along with other colleagues, I was there to welcome their imperial majesties, the Emperor and Empress of Japan. As they emerged from their sedan, they greeted the welcoming party with smiles, gentle nods, warm handshakes. They walked slowly, stopping by those around them, to ask about them, their work. Students practising on their veenas, fascinated the empress.
“How long has it taken you to learn to play?” Her Majesty asked. “What are the bulbous spheres on the instrument for?” Her Majesty asked. “How different is it from the sitar?” His Majesty enquired. Kalakshetra’s students put up a stunning dance-drama created by Rukmini Devi. Ru-k-mini, Her Majesty repeated the name to understand its sound fully. “Please give the artistes our thanks and our appreciation,” His Majesty said as he left. Her Majesty noticed that one of the musicians, Sashidhar, the flautist, was visually challenged. Clasping his hands in hers she said, simply, ‘Thank you for your music….We are from Japan”. That is all.
While leaving, they were entranced by the fluent and perfectly symmetrical rice-flour kolams drawn on the ground. Thankamani , who had drawn them, was inducted into Kalakshetra. She is not on the faculty but on what is called non-teaching staff. There can scarcely be another teacher like her, teacher by silent practicals. The way she places the starting-dots in Euclidean symmetry, then links them in loops or glides to create a work of sheer genius can only be described as a marvel. I snapped her on my cell-camera as she began making a kolam for Their Majesties.
“I do not feel like stepping on this,” the Empress said. “it is so beautiful”. Thankamani, was introduced to them, still clutching the yellow plastic cup with the rice-flour in it. “Can I touch it?” Her Majesty asked and lifted a little of the soft powder. “It is so lovely,” she said. An overwhelmed Thankamani was shaken by the hand and thanked by Their Majesties. They are Monarchical, but a Praja.
Certain categories of civil servants used to think of themselves as ‘Heaven-born’. Indian royalty for generations thought it was kin to Divinities. Big time industrialists regarded themselves — and with exceptions continue to — as The Chosen. But , again with great and refreshing exceptions, democratically elected politicians in present-day India outpace them all in self-love, self-importance and self-righteousness.
When this preoccupation with themselves is combined with corrupt practices, the result becomes revolting. It is a perception of this ugly politician and his revolting practices that have been taught a lesson, not this or that political party. And many non-corrupt politicians have paid a price for their corrupt colleagues’ transgressions. And the oldest party in India has had to deal with the obloquy. The just-concluded elections have taught a lesson, no doubt, but not to this or that party as much as to the politics of hubris, conceit, callousness. And of course to the politics that is nourished by corrupt practices.
These elections have issued a notice, powerfully symbolised by the mint-fresh Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) spectacular debut in Delhi. The notice is to the effect that governments that turn callous and unfeeling to people’s woes, parties that are obsessed with power-games and politicians who live for themselves, are not going to fool the Indian voter any longer. The best of schemes and plans, like the MNREGA, the RTI Act and the Food Security Act cannot counter anger at the hubris of the politician in power, especially if it is also accompanied by corruption.
KR Narayanan, as I have said earlier in these columns, had warned us about the anger of the patient man. That anger is out. It will spare no party. The Diwan-e-Khaas has been put on notice by the Diwan-e-Aam. The AAP knows, I am sure, that ‘aam’ as its ideology is, it has entered the Diwan-e-Khaas of legislative responsibility which our Constitution has architected. Not being in ministerial office is only a matter of fine detail.
Our opposition parties perform a responsibility, no less constitutionally-mandated than the Treasury Benches. By entering the electoral portal, the AAP has accepted responsibility, accountability and another even more important ‘bility’ — vulnerability to critical evaluation by the people. The same people, who have trusted it so generously, will now watch its every step.
They will, in particular, want Arvind Kejriwal to contest a seat to the next Lok Sabha, with low expenses, primarily to join the lost dots for the Lokpal relentlessly but egolessly, and create a new Bill of kolam-like simplicity and beauty. Taking care not to become yet another republican Raja, not even one of righteous anger.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor
The views expressed by the author are personal