The striking thing about Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar's distasteful comments about urinating into dams to generate the water that drought-affected farmers are dying for and his twisted theory that power outages are to blame for the spike in birth rates isn't that he was unaware that his comments were controversial or would recoil on him.
At one point during his speech, Pawar even noted that people who had heard him were bound to wonder what was wrong with him - and whether he had had a drink in the afternoon. And yet, all through the speech, Pawar was, according to media reports, guffawing away to glory.
This isn't the case of a politician who inadroitly mangles a phrase that makes him sound insensitive when such was not his intention. This is Exhibit A of a power-drunk politician who has become so inured to the miseries of the people that their circumstances become a matter for mean-spirited, unfunny jesting.
It is a measure of the vast distance that our netas have put between themselves and the people, which renders them wholly insensitive to the daily struggles of the aam aadmi - which finds expression in the public rubbing of salt in people's wounds.
Even Pawar's perverse theory that the 'population explosion' is facilitated by power cuts wasn't a stray remark, but one that is symptomatic of a more widely shared worldview among politicians of all hues. "I have noticed," said Pawar, "that more children are being born since the lights have been going off at night. There is no other work left then."
Much the same sentiment has been channelled by politicians across the spectrum, from Ghulam Nabi Azad to CP Thakur. A couple of years ago, then Health Minister Azad, while addressing a World Population Day function, suggested that providing electricity to villages would drive down population growth because people would the watch late-night televisions and not make babies.
"If there is electricity in every village, people will watch TV till late night and then fall asleep. They won't get a chance to produce children," he said, only half in jest. "When there is no electricity, there is nothing else to do but produce babies."
Azad's comments were an eerie echo of Thakur's sentiments, which he gave voice to in Parliament in 2003 in his capacity as Health Minister in the NDA government. Thakur had said, somewhat earnestly, that one of the pillars of the population control strategy should be to provide entertainment to couples to keep their minds off procreation.
All these statements - from Thakur to Azad to Pawar - are indicative of not just the insensitivity of our politicians, but of a larger failing. At the most fundamental level, they illustrate the failure of successive governments to provide even the basic amenities of life - like electricity and water. That politicians show no sign of contrition for this collective failure, and instead mock the suffering people, is doubly cruel.
And for health ministers like Thakur and Azad to make such fatuous remarks about TV shows as contraceptives suggests that India's population control strategy isn't perhaps getting the attention of keen minds, but has become the subject of frivolous chatter.
Even so, it is mystifying that a politically savvy man like Pawar should have not listened to the voice of discretion that was perhaps piping up even when he was making his distasteful remarks. As happened to the then Law Minister Salman Khurshid, who famously issued a thuggish dare to anti-corruption crusader Arvind Kejriwal to come to (Khurshid's constituency) Farukkabad, it reflects an incapacity to understand that we live in an age of hypermedia when even a feeblest public statements can get amplified to wider audiences.
Khurshid was speaking to a closed-door group of party workers, and so perhaps felt emboldened into making the kind of threats that one doesn't normally associate with his cultivated suave of suavity. Pawar doesn't even have that alibi: he was making a public speech.
It's just a symptom of the vast disconnect that exists today between the rulers and the ruled.
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