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Oye Gandhi, Gandhi oye

As the landless daily wage workers begin to use mobiles, and as knowledge and information expand as never before even into the tiniest hamlets, Indians seem to have decided that desire deserves to be encouraged rather than controlled, writes Mrinal Pande.

india Updated: Oct 08, 2009 01:48 IST

Once again the silly season is upon us. This festival season, and like the hero in Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye, we Indians have begun to chant, “Mainu chaida, chaida, chaida” (I want, want, want). So dear reader, if you live in Delhi’s high society and are considered one of its ‘Lukky’ (read: VIP) members, this Diwali you may receive the much talked about white gold Gandhi pen from the house of Montblanc as a corporate (tax deductible?) gift.

Each of these limited edition pens (241 pieces only, to mark the number of days Gandhi spent on the Dandi march) has a Gandhi etched on its 18-karat solid gold rhodium-plated nib, khadi chadar, bamboo lathi and all. The 925 sterling silver mountings on its cap and cone are shaped to resemble Gandhi’s humble spindle, and the silver has been treated specially to make the texture look like handwoven khadi. Price: Rs 11.3 lakh only. Nice.

As the landless daily wage workers in rural and urban areas of India begin to use mobiles, and as knowledge and information expand as never before even into the tiniest hamlets, Indians seem to have decided that desire deserves to be encouraged rather than controlled.

Greed is good. As is stained clothes — ‘daag achhe hain’ — because both will help sell products. Not self-control but the morning after pill; not goat’s milk but a fortified commercially bottled yogurt drink; not khadi but designer khadi are must-haves. Mainu chaida chaida chaida!

As neo-converts, Indians are fast relearning what they want and how to get it — not just at home but also in schools and the IITs and IIMs, at the paanwallah who also sells sim cards, at the chai shop that also keeps condoms, at malls and multiplexes where the government has opened licensed vends for selling booze.

During the last general elections, while all major political parties were busy co-opting Gandhi by making him speak for their manifestoes, some forecasters — most of them advertisers and political publicists — began feeding the media with the kind of stories about the 10 (or 20, or 50) most powerful, best dressed, most iconic women in India.

There was soon going to be, we were told, a new emergence of ‘Woman Power’ in India’s political firmament. What they meant by this was not quite clear though. Were they ‘divining’ the arrival of yet another pantheon of new market-friendly deities, or just inventing another clever cover story (like ‘India’s Best B Schools’) to rake in advertising for various goods and services?

Were they suggesting that the numbers of women parliamentarians were going to swell dramatically and create the critical mass Gandhi and feminists had been dreaming of? Or were they simply taking us for suckers and suggesting we buy Sonia-Priyanka-like clothes, Jayanti Natrajan-Sushma Swaraj-like traditional jewellery, and, of course, diamonds that are being touted as reflective of a woman’s true self-image by film stars?

In any event, as soon as journalists set out to look up hard facts and gather evidence, it became clear that the answer was a clear ‘no’. No political party was risking allocating 33 per cent tickets to women, not even those headed by women supremos.

The size of party funds and profiles of fund-givers remained unchanged — and male. The lists of candidates for the soon-to-be-held assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana confirm this trend yet once again. Why should you, Tharoor sahib, mourn the vanished power of the usual Gandhi?

Mrinal Pande is the former Editor of Hindustan