In those old poor boy-meets-rich girl movies of yore, the zamindar father with a booming voice would raise himself to his full height to deliver that de rigeur killer line: “Tumhari aukat mat bhulo, bharkhurdar!” (Don’t forget your place in life, young man)
The lofty reprimand served a lazy cinematic device aimed at stirring our sympathies for the hero, the defiant little guy pitted against the awesome power of his clueless nemesis, a rich old fool who assumes that privilege will prevail. Everyone else knew that the underdog always wins — at least on screen if not real life. It’s the evergreen human fantasy, recreated over and again, from Cinderella to Anarkali, from Los Angeles to Mumbai.
Over twenty years of liberalisation, our politicians seem to have forgotten this universal truth. Our netajis have turned into celluloid zamindars, bristling at the temerity of the small people who seek to challenge them.
“Why would I have threatened Kejriwal. What for? What would I achieve? What do you think is his stature, status and personality that I would condescend to take him on,” Salman Khurshid tells Indian Express, “He (Kejriwal) is too small,…pathetically small to be in confrontation with our party. An ant does not destroy an elephant…a hundred ants in an elephant trunk will not hurt an elephant.”
Like the Thakurs of old Hindi cinema, our politicians believe that the best way to undercut Arvind Kejriwal is to remind him — and us the aam janta — of his lowly aukat.
“Mango people in a banana republic,” writes a dismissive Robert Vadra.
“Main in sab chillar baaton ko mahatva nahi deta,” loftily declares Nitin Gadkari. The response, as Kejriwal succinctly pointed out, served to underline Gadkari’s lordly definition of ‘small change’: “For Gadkari, it may be small change, but the farmers who lost their land and water… for them it isn’t small change… they are committing suicide.”
Beni Prasad Verma also dismissed allegations against Khurshid as chillar: “I don’t think a person like Khurshid will do anything for an amount like Rs 71 lakh. It is a very small amount for a Central Minister.” Vermaji then took it one step further and offered up this little gem of wisdom: “But I have a piece of advice for him [Kejriwal]: Don’t bark day in, day out, try sometimes to roar like a tiger. Those who always bark are of no value.”
Bade log steal bada maal — while lowly dogs bark on. Such is the ameeron ki shaan (pride of the wealthy) in our democracy.
So entrenched is their sense of impunity that a Gadkari can’t even be bothered to maintain an appearance of propriety. Questioned on the ethics of accepting capital from a company that he’d awarded contracts to as a PWD minister in Maharashtra, Gadkari blithely told NDTV‘s Sreenivasan Jain, “I can accept equity from anyone, there is nothing wrong. I am friends with Mr Mhaiskar and many contractors are my friends..”
Writing in DNA of the interview, Jain observed, “It says something about Mr Gadkari that he sees no qualms in admitting to such intense proximity with contractors. Or feigning amnesia about the ownership of his company. On live television.”
What it says is that our politicians have been lulled into a false sense of immunity by a national culture that worships the unrestrained accumulation of wealth. In the old socialist days, our leaders would wield their iron fist in a khadi glove, obliged to veil their privilege — much like the crony capitalist rich — in the guise of modesty. But then aspirational India came along, and money became a moral good. It was now open season for everybody, including our already compromised leaders, a free pass to up the corruption ante to thousands of crores.
In this paisa, paisa, paisa world, who cares about some Income Tax officer with an engineering degree. Surely, the great Indian public will be just as unimpressed with this Johnny-come-lately, right?
Wrong. Whether it’s the Vietnam War or the Dandi March or Jack with his big beanstalk, everybody loves the giant-killer — not the giant. Or to put it in Khurshid’s terms, not the elephant but the ant. It’s why American politicians play Joe Sixpack and celebrities insist they’re just like us. In the jungle of popular opinion, the aam aadmi is always the king of hearts.
To misquote Karl Marx, history repeats itself twice. First as fiction, then as political farce. Like those Wall Street moguls gone wild, our politicians insist: we’re too big to fail. Well, we all know how that turned out.