I Voted For You, So Give Me A Unicorn Right Now
The millennial's guide to going beyond the Nayak model of governance and engaging with Indian democracy.
I was 12 years old when Nayak was released.
Back then, my grandparents would perch on the sofa every night, put on Set Max, and watch whatever was on. Since the remote control was with the older folk all the time, (“Respect your elders, BOY!”) my cousins and I had no option but to watch along.
That was how I saw Nayak for the first, second, and umpteenth time. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, grandmother applying oil to my head, soaking up Anil Kapoor-flavoured idealism as he went about his one-man revolution. My grandparents and I agreed unequivocally on one thing and one thing only: Anil Kapoor was amazeballs.
He interviews Amrish Puri, the stereotypical corrupt buffoon politician, and pulls his proverbial pants down on live television, becomes Chief Minister for a day and kicks enough bureaucratic asses to become a full-time CM and then kicks more corrupt asses until a single dried leaf falls into an empty “complaint box” – a scene symbolic of a nation cleansed of wrongdoing because of one ethical, non-compromising man.
Oh, yeah, and he also fights naked in the mud. Fun!
That was my idea of politics growing up. Simply put, I saw all politicians as versions of Amrish Puri and imagined that a time would come when an Anil Kapoor would enter the scene and then INDIA WILL BE AWESOME AND WE WILL BE THE BEST COUNTRY IN THE OBSERVABLE UNIVERSE. Easy. No?
Six years ago, I started working with a Member of Parliament. Like, a real-life elected politician. My grandparents and parents and every other person I know was like, “Are you fucking insane? Don’t you see how evil and corrupt they are? Didn’t you watch Nayak a hundred times?” Then they’d switch to Set Max – which was STILL playing Nayak, Suryavansham, or Baghban – and make me watch.
The day I first visited Parliament, I was sick. I had a throat infection and was on the verge of missing the initiation tour. In my desperation to make it I downed half a bottle of Glycodin and hoped that all would be well. It did little for the infection, but managed to get me incredibly drunk. As we toured the building, I kept telling people around me that my hands were expanding. Just like Hulk. And that's the story of how I met the building that would become the love of my life. Thank you, Glycodin.
Did I say I fell in love with Parliament? Obsessed would be a more accurate description. So obsessed that I have started writing poems and making Twitter threads about it.
Working in that crazy, round building made me realise, slowly and steadily, that my Nayak-based idea of politics was… well, questionable.
Now, six years in, I’ve completely given up on my visions of a mud-coated Anil Kapoor arriving in Janpath to vanquish all of India’s wrongs, and settled down to understanding how the system actually works instead. I pore over bills and parliamentary motions and select committee reports and unravel layers of complexity that constantly leave my mind blown. And the high that comes with figuring out how one little sentence in a proposed bill will affect a billion people is unparalleled.
Unfortunately, when I am done reading that bill and look up to tell people about it, I see them preoccupied with beef-bans, Sonu Nigam quitting Twitter in a huff, clarion calls of “soldiers dying on the border” and jingoistic dick-measuring contests, Barkha Dutt getting trolled, the condoms in JNU's trash, intolerance, award wapsi, trading not-so-sweet nothings like "libtard" and "bhakt” and chanting slogans like “Kejriwal is a sucks!”, “Oh yeah!? Well, Mudi is a mass-murderer!”, “Yeah? Well, Rahul baba is a STUPID IDIOT!”.
After many conversations with friends and strangers on Twitter, I have come to realise that most of my generation, rather like me before my Glyocdin-fueled love affair with the Parliament, has dreamy ideas about what politicians can and cannot do.
I often get calls from people asking me to talk to my boss (who is, remember, a Member of Parliament) to help them get a job or promotion, or to get their relatives discounts in hospitals, or to get them entry to an event, or help them get out of trouble with the police. When I refuse to help (politely), they say things like, “Oh but then why did we even vote for your boss? This is his job!”
Think about the incredible number of people who had gathered at the Ramleela Maidan a few years ago to listen to the sermons of a fragile old man named Anna Hazare. “All politicians are thieves,” he declared, and the frustrated crowd went wild.
“Down with all these Amrish Puri types!” they said, utterly convinced that all of our problems were a direct result of the wrong people ruling us.
Imagine if that same Anna Hazare had pointed his finger at the crowd and shouted, “You! You there! Why did you give a bribe to that policeman when you broke that rule? Why are you littering HERE on the protest grounds? Don’t you love your country enough to even keep the bloody ground you’re protesting on clean? Are you so corrupt that you can’t obey simple rules?” If he’d said that, the crowd would’ve dropped their posters, flags, and Gandhi Topis right there (ANNA JUST TOLD YOU NOT TO LITTER DAMMIT!) and left.
We are a country that loves to blame others for problems of our own making.
Then there is another group of people – many of whom were probably at those anti-corruption rallies as well – who think that if they ask politicians to genetically modify a horse, stick a horn on its head, and make it glitter, those politicians should be able to deliver and it is their right to ask for such a thing.
“Where is that unicorn?” they scream. “We voted for you!”
Thanks to the Internet, we see images of shiny things in America, Europe, and Singapore and we're stunned by how efficient everything is in these countries. Then we go to Twitter to @ some politician and scream, “Oye you! Politician! Y U NO MAKE INDIA LIKE DEVELOPED COUNTRY?! See photo. Gimme a shiny new Bullet Train please. RIGHT NOW.”
Every now and then the politician actually delivers on these demands. Most recently, the people got a a shiny new train called Tejas with LCD screens, high-quality headphones, vacuum toilets and gourmet meals. But astride their expensive new unicorn, the people went insane. They stole the headphones (“‘Coz I paid for it!”), damaged the screens (“Why isn’t Pyaar Ka Punchnama playing on this dammit!” *maybe hitting it will help*) and choked the toilets filthy (“Flush after I’m done? What in the world is that?”).
As a result, the railway officials who were glowing with pride when the train was flagged off, probably went, “Screw these ungrateful bastards!” and started serving egg-pav for breakfast instead of gourmet meals. And when quality of service tanked, people got even more pissed and blamed the government and officials… rinse and repeat.
It wasn't meant to be this way. According to the gospel of social media, Modi was going to be the solution to all of our problems.
Frustrated by the many scams of UPA2, incited by Anna Hazare’s wagging fingers, annoyed by Parliament getting disrupted for years, depressed by the media showing chaotic images in loop, we wanted to believe in something better. Enter development man, Narendra Damodardas Modi. He was at the right place at the right time, saying the right things, campaigning the right way.
Images of a world-class riverfront in Gujarat were forwarded on WhatsApp, photoshopped images of Modi sweeping floors were circulated and stories of his chai-wala-to-PM-candidate journey were shared with much enthusiasm over the dinner table. Modi himself went, and still goes, around the country giving amazeballs speeches, promising people that they will each have their own pet unicorns by 2020. And all of these speeches are telecasted live on every news channel, leaving us all mesmerised.
So we all went “NaMo! NaMo!” and voted for him.
It turns out we never paid any real attention to Civics classes in 9th grade when they explained the structure of Government in our country.
We, here in India, do not have direct elections. We elect a Member of Parliament, who belongs to a certain party, and if his or her party gets a majority, the party internally decides who the Prime Minister will be. You and I cannot (and should not) vote to elect a Prime Minister. Our democracy is structured in a way that prevents us from thinking that one person has the answer to all of our problems.
Why? Because it’s impossible for one person to have all the answers. Our country is a chaotic mess. Hundreds of languages, every kind of geography imaginable, the sheer number of cultures, the attendant plethora of cuisines, clothes and, of course, 33 crore Gods to worship. How can you even expect a single human to understand and solve the problems of this huge-ass, diverse, super-populated country? Your local leader, on the other hand, is someone from amongst you. She lives in your city. Probably two doors down from your house! She totally gets it.
To explain how ridiculous our understanding of democracy has become, allow me to recall a conversation I overheard in the metro when the results of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi elections had just been announced.
Dude: “So Modi won the elections! Again!”
Lady: “Yes he did. But tell me, what did he do to deserve your vote?”
Dude: “He’s great. He’s making sure India becomes the best country in the world in just a few years. Plus, he’s teaching traitors like Kejru a lesson!”
Lady: *scrunched up face* “No, I mean what has Modi done here, in Delhi?”
Dude: “He… well… he’ll do it now! Now he’s in power! He’ll make this city great! Just like Singapore!”
Lady: “But BJP has been in power in MCD for the past ten years, right?”
Dude: “That’s not true! Modi just won!”
Lady: “Umm yes… Modi who is a part of BJP?”
Dude: “Of course he’s from BJP but… You know, he… Uh… Hey, did I tell you how XYZ got drunk the other day and made out with her boss?”
Lady: “Really? Tell me everything!”
As the couple exchanged office gossip, I stood flabbergasted at what I’d just heard.
I’m not blaming people for falling for candidates who promise rainbows and unicorns. Frankly, if I hadn't started working in Parliament, I would’ve continued believing in the Nayak model of governance and voted for mud-covered-Anil Kapoor-reincarnate Narendra Modi too. No, I didn’t pay attention to my civics teacher either.
But because realisation dawned rather quickly about how flawed the notion of “one man to rule them all” is, in the 2014 elections I voted for my local BJP candidate. Not Modi. Because that candidate had the credentials of working efficiently for the people of my city and I thought he would be a good representative for me in the house of the people. Parties hardly matter when you have good candidate options. People, they matter.
Remember the fable of the unicorn-train? The real lesson there is that our democrazy can build good things. But it's going to require that you do some work.
I’m not suggesting that people should read the “Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill, 2015” with their morning chai. But maybe read something like, “10 things you need to know about this super duper important bill that’s been proposed in Lok Sabha!” (*cough* BuzzFeed it all up *cough*)
What? What’s that you say? Nobody does news like that?
Of course they do.
Another Example: 10 things to know about the motor vehicles (amendment) bill 2016
Too dry for you? I write about stuff like this too. And I use GIFs! (#ShamelessPlug) Example: The Beginner’s Guide To The Annual Budget
All I’m saying is…
I know you have shit to do. Jobs to go to, movies to watch, Netflix queues to binge on. But I also know that knowing all of this is frikkin’ important. And if the subject matter is too boring, I sincerely believe it needs to be simplified for easy consumption.
We need a new kind of media that feeds us important information in interesting ways. We need moving images to keep our attention. We need the John Olivers of the world to tell us how privacy is important by cracking the occasional dick pic joke while interviewing Edward Snowden.
We need more East India Comedies to outrage about free speech.
We need more All India Bakchods to explain to us why Net Neutrality is important and why we need to do something about it. And that we need to do something about it again. And again... for the third bloody time.
"I'm no journalist or comedian," I hear you saying. "What do I do?"
Well, it’s time we all become researchers and rabble rousers in our own way. It’s time to fill party chatter with how ridiculous the campaign of a particular political party for the local municipal election really is when they use the PM’s or CM’s face to attract votes.
We need young people to talk to other young people and explain our complex AF democratic system in a language that we’re chill with. There’s nothing wrong with not understanding what “Resolving stressed assets in public sector banks” actually means. Ask and the Internet will most likely tell you. (Psst. It has to do with a great big puzzle I fondly call “India’s impending economic doomsday”. And before you ask, yes, it’s very important.)
We need to be able to tell that friend in Ramleela Maidan that the only way to make India the greatest country in the universe is to go back to her constituency and find out what her elected leader is up to.
It’s time we educate ourselves, ask the right questions to our leaders, and demand the right answers from our government.
If you made it to the end of this article, congrats. You’ve already started step one. There's a long and arduous journey ahead, but there might just be some unicorns waiting at the end.