Essay: Why is politics always personal?
“They’re making a temple so if anything goes wrong, God help you. If your salaries don’t come, pray. If you can’t get a hospital bed, appeal the divine.”Updated: Aug 06, 2020 14:24 IST
I don’t want to comment on anything our Supreme Court mandated but for anyone who thinks the personal is not the political, right now, and always, here’s a little story. For the last three days, full cyclonic weather in Goa, winds plucked out enormous trees, roads flooded, sickly yellow sky light, endless sheets of rain Power out much of the time. Candlelight is charming for the first hour only. Village folks doubling up as linesman hadn’t done their work over the summer – if dead branches were cleaned up, they wouldn’t have crashed on power cables, wrecking them.
I was angry, also, because my most recent electricity bill, for a period of 77 days, was Rs 25,000 – Nitesh, the meter reader, coolly told me to argue this sum out with his engineer. If I didn’t pay, he said, they’d cut supply. My bills, in the last three years for corresponding months, hovered around Rs 4000 per month (25000 rupees? I mean, how much electricity can a single person household realistically consume?) Reluctant to file a case with the department during a pandemic, I paid.
Flash forward a few days later to the power outage. But when I stepped out to speak to the linesman, my rage for their incompetence dissolved. “My salary hasn’t been paid since May,” one linesman said. And yet, branches were being cleared in the cyclone – they just didn’t have all the blood for it. In the linesman’s voice I heard profound fatigue – the searing disappointment of a government job, the promise of pension, all this a sham. How was he going to feed his family? Internally, I felt silly and petulant for being angry with him. Meanwhile, foundation stones were being laid out elsewhere. A man was using my tax rupees to get on a private jet. I was paying for this show.
Why is politics always personal? Maybe because I didn’t rally enough numbers of people I knew and say – we can’t have these people ruling us! How much of my vastly inflated 25,000-rupee electricity bill went on, ultimately, to fund an orange armband giveaway? My inadvertent complicity exhausted me. That sum, at least, should have paid people who serve our community – the linesman in my village – maybe then I wouldn’t have felt so lousy for being looted. Now, politics is not about ruling people but ruling over them so their voices remain unheard. The secret to an absence of dissent lies in its systemic silencing.
They’re making a temple so if anything goes wrong, God help you. If your salaries don’t come, pray. If you can’t get a hospital bed, appeal the divine. An amateur magician empties out doves and silk kerchiefs from his hat. We watch. We know it’s a trick. We know we’re being conned. But we watch. We applaud. Everything that ever came out of a magician’s hat goes right back into it – he leaves nothing behind for his audience but the flutter of the spectacle. The trick is this: something happened and you don’t know how it happened. I fooled you, the magician says, and I made you pay me for it, too. The aftertaste is betrayal.
Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi’s new book Loss will be out soon.