April 02, 2002

Indian Retail Politics

>> I would think that in any election-based political system the campaign slogan "they
>>did it in Kerala, we can do it here if only we throw the rascals out" would be unstoppable.

I would think that too, and we'd both be wrong.


I am not joking, though I wish I were. The first time my father contested the elections [he lost], I went campaigning. Talked to people and here is a rough transcript:

X : The present MLA is so awful, he always treats us like dirt and does no work for us.
R : Then don't vote for him this time then
X : What difference does it make?
R : Vote for someone who would treat you like a person and would actually listen to you.
X : Nobody listens
R : If you vote out enough rascals, the rest would have to listen, wouldn't they?
X : Yes, but if he finds out...
R : Tai, it is a secret ballot system. No one will find out and you can say anything when asked whom you voted for..
X : Yeah....that is true...

At this point, I remember feeling a warm, golden glow. Then,

X : But....
R : But?
X : He is from my caste..how can I let him down?
R : He let you all down. And you said he is rude and unpleasant when you go to meet him.
X : Yes. But he is so nice just before elections..
R : Wouldn't it be better to have a neta who is nice all the time?
X : Yes, but that is impossible
R : Not at all
X: <laughing> You are an idealist, you dream weird dreams...

10 days, 20 villages, innumerable conversations - they were all the same. Go figure.So then I told them stories of how we won our independence and what that means and what their vote means and how careful use of this power allows them to control their future. A decade later, today, some of them don't laugh out loud when I start talking of politicians actually listening to people's grievances and addressing them. I am still not sure if caste still outweighs these considerations though - I plan to ask the next time I go over.

Posted by DeLong at April 2, 2002 10:12 PM | TrackBack

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