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Overplaying those villain bits

With Tuesday’s parliamentary multi-starrer a super-hit on TV, the image of the neta as a stock character who gets stomped in the end to provide us catharsis may just be ruined. Pratik Kanjilal writes.

columns Updated: Oct 09, 2009 14:32 IST

Trust (n., v.): Unquestioning, fragile faith

As in the theme of 80s police sitcom Sledge Hammer, uttered by the violent, incompetent, screwed-up Detective Hammer moments before he fires his Magnum into the TV screen, shattering it: “Trust me, I know what I’m doing!”

In the movies, the politician is one of the stock characters who gets cathartically stomped in the end, so that the audience can go home believing, despite compelling evidence from the real world, that good is bound to triumph over evil. The trust vote in Parliament on Tuesday featured low-life violence and incompetence that Detective Hammer would have applauded, and the presence of jailbirds that he would have known what to do with. These, along with the unprecedented and previously unthinkable bribery drama and charges of kidnapping, seem to reaffirm the popular caricature of the barely human neta fit for a cathartic stomping.

However, a couple of young MPs confused us by betraying signs of vision, humanity and even grace. Lalu Prasad did his bluff rustic act to perfection, but its content was dead serious. His speech is bound to become part of pop lore because he predicted that honourable members would be thrashed with clubs — and he got away with it. MPs from the smallest parties, from the most neglected regions, showed a commitment to principles. And after the event, some cross-voting members revealed that they had likewise acted on principle, not for booty.

Complicated people, these MPs. And complications ruin the simple, childlike joy of catharsis. It gets worse. This trust vote demonstrated that MPs have made Parliament irrelevant. Thanks to seamless TV coverage, we know that the outcome was not decided in the House. It had all been worked out in advance, elsewhere, by other means. In the Lok Sabha, there was only play-acting at debate. All the speeches, even those we are now applauding, were actually irrelevant to the result. Somnath Chatterjee could have just taken a postal ballot.

The only real product of this special session was mass entertainment. Lok Sabha TV’s TRPs have apparently blown away the saas-bahu sector and advertisers are lining up, cash in hand. You could regard the trust vote as a very expensive episode of the Big Fight set in a colonial era ruin, which is what Parliament has been reduced to. This is not catharsis. It is despair. So where do we go from here? Now that the neta is out for the count, will we have to invent new bugaboos? Can we trust Mumbai’s scriptwriters to dream up new stock villains? Do they know what they’re doing, any better than Detective Hammer? Their only brand new creation in recent years is a kickboxing lesbian (in Girlfriend). I fear for the future.

Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine