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Sisyphus and the Great Indian Polity

Updated on May 8, 2014

The die has been cast. The deed has been done. The people of the biggest democracy in the world, have, with the exception of the last round of polls which are due in a couple of days’ time, exercised once again, their constitutional and fundamental right to elect their lawmakers. With the counting of votes and declaration of the results of the polls round the corner, what does one do? Sit back and relax? Keep fingers crossed, hope for the best and expect the worst? Should one let complacency and sense of philosophical resignation seep in like the heat and humidity before the onset of monsoons? Enjoy the catharsis before subsequent developments overtake events? Bask in the accolade of the media, both Indian and international, in appreciation of the political maturity and sagacity of the people of India in stark contrast to their peers in other countries in the region, some already failed and some in due process of doing so?

To the credit of the Indian voters, it is no mean task to forbear, with all the stoicism which has painfully permeated into their collective conscience and psyche over a period of time since independence thanks to non-governance (or at least governance by fits and starts) and downright bad administration on the part of successive governments, the verbal assault which passes for campaigning by politicians of all shades and hues with scant regard to societal norms and decency and sensitivities on the part of the electorate whom they so earnestly and assiduously woo. The prospective voters are cajoled, coaxed, bribed, misled with intimidating statistics and browbeaten into voting for particular parties or candidates.

Electioneering is war, camouflaged as lovemaking. All is fair in love and war and more so with campaigning for polls. Winner takes all. So, win you must. You are absolved of all your sins if you get required numbers in elections. Elections are to politics what Ganga is to India. Sacred and yet dirty - as dirty as it gets. Before anything, both need extensive cleaning and purification which calls for a whole lot of inward looking and self-retrospection on the part of the members of the society before the authorities could be realistically expected to put their shoulder to the wheel. In the meanwhile, what goes in comes out. Sham governance by druthers.

Notwithstanding their deplorable performance while in office and woebegone track record, let alone the misdeeds and corrupt practices brazenly and overtly indulged in with alarming regularity and impunity, politicians in power do not shy away from serenading the voters with eleventh hour sops and promises with the élan and gusto of a swain bent upon sweeping his fair lady off her feet.

In a country of India's vast magnitude and striking cultural and religious diversity, communalism is bound to be an issue. But the fact that it has become a bugbear for one and all - politicians and the people of the country at large alike - has resulted in its turning out to be an overwhelming factor to the extent of eclipsing practically every other issue in real politik. You are either a secularist or a communalist! It all depends on whom you support. Us or them. Once you are marked a communalist, nothing that you say counts. It is like, look who is talking!

When you, the voter are tired of communalism (politicians never tire of this ubiquitous issue), you crib about rising prices and non-availability of things essential. In short, you charge that economy has slowed down. But, then, be enlightened that slowing down of economy is not a mere local issue but verily a global phenomenon. When the great Indian middle class can afford ice cream and coffee houses with fancy names and fancier price lists do brisk business, how can you even talk of disappearing onions and flying tomatoes? Wait till the opposition comes to power. With their retrograde, moth-eaten policy, tailor-made to suit crony capitalists, the country's economy is certain to have a downfall and not a much-promised windfall! What a frightening prospect! So, Mr.Voter, fall in line, or else!

On their part, all that the opposition parties feel called upon to wean the voters from the mawkish and insidious policies and programmes of the ruling party, is to highlight scams and scandals, acts of nepotism and corruption, sycophancy and servility to the supreme leader couched in the garb of loyalty, prevailing in the ruling party; and promise, not necessarily supported by a credible basis, a clean break and wholesome change from the past. Hey presto! Your action plan is ready!

The roles of the ruling and opposition parties are thus clearly delineated. The white and black hats are worn in turn by the warring sides. The good guy and bad guy hats are made to fit both.

It is indeed surprising that the amazing regularity with which the charade of electoral politics is enacted, with only an occasional change here or a change there in the dramatis personae, the unfailing effect of turning the Indian voter into a hard-knuckled tireless icon wedded to the cause of democracy. His repeated attempts to install a government which works for him and not struggle all the time for its own survival at the altar of political expediency in the world of real politik, may remind an impassioned political observer of the similarity between the Indian voter and the mythological Greek character of Sisyphus. Sisyphus was cursed by Zeus, God of Gods, for his acts of deceitfulness and arrogance to roll a boulder to the very top of a sheer cliff; only the boulder would slip and roll down to the bottom of the cliff for Sisyphus to roll it all over again to the top. The boulder would unfailingly roll down every time Sisy rolled it up. The real tragedy was that Sisy could not die! On his part, the Indian voter would rather not allow democracy, with all its shortcomings and failings, to become an albatross around his neck but wear it proudly as a badge of honour! What is being enacted in the meanwhile is neither a Greek tragedy nor Russian roulette. It is verily an onerous spectacle of the Indian people's fortitude, resilience and indomitable will. A spectacle of multitudinous scale, so typical of a leviathan of a country on the move.

© 2014 Kalyanaraman Raman


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