The roads here are so much better than those in Delhi. Field after field of corn, with labourers hard at work, dot both sides as we travel towards former Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s palace in Patiala.
I want to speak to them, ask them how much they make. I’m informed it is Rs 100 a day! I’m no longer shocked by Indian poverty, but the figure comes as a slap in the face. I’m told by Indian friends that Rs 100 a day is enough to support a family in the countryside. If I were a rich Indian, profiting from the cheap labour available, perhaps I too would have argued the same way.
We reach the palace and are escorted to meet the Maharaja scion through vast, spacious and luxuriously furnished rooms and corridors. There are paintings and sculptures wherever my eyes turn. And the labourers get just Rs 100!
I’m looking forward to a substantial Indian breakfast, but am bitterly disappointed. It’s just boring old porridge and eggs on toast!
Capt Singh suddenly abandons his breakfast. Time to hit the road. Soon I’m traveling with the Maharaja in the same vehicle. Around 20 security guards, carrying AK-47 rifles and other weapons accompany us. I’m not sure I feel safer though than I did before.
Watching the Captain move from one public function to another is enlightening. He is aware of his social status as the Maharaja of Patiala’s descendant, he is aware of his charisma as a top Congress leader. Wherever we go, people show their respect for him. They wave. They bow. He returns their greetings mechanically.
People are awed by him. One gets the impression they feel their lives will improve miraculously if they get to touch him, or stand next to him. This, I figure, is how campaigning in the world’s biggest democracy takes place.
So many who have nothing are being convinced to vote for someone who has everything.