The drama of political wrestling

NS Vageesh | Updated on March 09, 2018

Stage-managed The action’s behind the scenes   -  charnsitr/shutterstock.com

Politicians are actively engaged in stage-managing the business of politics. But voters are not fools

For the honourable MPs who were recently treated to a Bollywood film about women wrestlers, the theme of women’s empowerment in that context may have been an eye-opener, but they sure are familiar with the sport.

Indian politics often resembles wrestling — of the WWF kind. If you have watched this on tv, you’ll know why. Opponents pummel and box ferociously, often jumping on each other. A terrific sound and fury accompanies the build-up from hysterical crowds and commentators baying for more action. You fear for the lives of the competitors and about the impact the violence will have on kids — till you discover that the whole thing is staged. You may be amused for a short while but you can’t escape feeling disgusted at being manipulated.

That manipulated feeling

Elections in India sometimes evoke the same feeling. They seem more like dramas staged to give the illusion of competition and choice while actually, there’s active collaboration amongst the so-called competitors behind the scenes. Parties and leaders rant and rave about the corruption of the ruling elite in different States and ask for a mandate to change things. Once the elections are done, they forget all that and coexist happily and make a complete fool of the voter.

We are often told that elections in a democracy are a spectacle and we should not take too seriously words spoken in campaigns. Parliamentary democracy is all about a battle of ideas — with give and take, thrust and parry between rival parties. Say whatever you want against each other but drink beer together later is the advice — in the tradition of the best parliaments. That is the kind of stuff that you would probably tell Virat Kohli and Steve Smith to do after a hard day (of sledging) on the cricket field. Except that the issues involved are not minor differences of opinion or ideologies. We are talking about parties and their leaders accusing each other of every kind of corruption, loot, plunder and abuse — and you would be right to expect the winner to act on the promises of cracking down on them immediately.

Cosying up

But nothing of that kind happens. Yes, cases may be filed but there is no seriousness in actually seeing them to their logical conclusion. Perhaps this kind of sly mutual accommodation between parties always existed. It was whispered that two iconic former chief ministers had one such cosy arrangement — the one in the chair would always ensure that the one in the Opposition got his ‘cut’ first and make solicitous enquiries to this effect.

The difference between then and now is that politicians now have become brazen and shameless. So, for instance, the so-called allies the Shiv Sena and the BJP call each other corrupt and make a number of accusations against each other before the election and then see absolutely nothing wrong in quietly getting together when the assembly and corporation election results end in a stalemate. Don't they owe the voter an apology for this somersault? If two companies in the same line of business behaved in this manner, wouldn’t regulators crack down for ‘anti-trust’, ‘anti-competitive’ and fraudulent behaviour?

A while ago, Narendra Modi called the NCP a naturally corrupt party and then rewarded its leader, Sharad Pawar, with a Padma Vibhushan. Either Modi lied during the campaign, or he made a terrible blunder in awarding a person with dubious credentials. Are explanations or apologies forthcoming?

After the BJP’s winning campaign against ‘ parivarvaad’ and the antics of the Mulayam Singh family, you would be right to expect to see them all in jail. But given the way our politics goes, don’t be surprised if Mulayam is given a Padma Vibhushan.

If the Prime Minister is serious about Swacch Bharat, then let us quickly see a couple of corrupt politicians — from whichever party — in jail. That will prove it’s not just vendetta at work but a genuine cleansing of the body politic.

Published on March 24, 2017

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