Maverick: Style kosher of the natty neta
By Farzana Versey
Covert, December 1-15
Elections are not about braving the cold, heat, dust, old age, ennui to cast your vote. They are about politician-watching.
The young must give way to the old, we wail. We have no new names to pull out. All are the babalog of big men, and the occasional woman. Our attitude towards the young turks, a term that ought to make us smile at the irony when applied to these novices, is superficial. Look at them, we say, they at least look presentable in international conferences.
The flapping, translucent dhoti has given us many a moment of suspense, unless it swayed round the legs of a well-spoken ‘old boy’ from a touted alma mater who knew how to work his way with expensive toys that squeak and squawk.
Today’s politicians are chic, well-to-do, educated, or at least have some pretence to it, and seem to prefer Bordeaux to battle.
This is not a sudden development. We have had stylish people in public office, and even during the Independence Movement. Then came a period of couture drought. Netas decided that if they had to hide so much loot they had better not look as though they were hiding it. So they dressed down as kisans, chaprasis, the kind of people they pack into trucks. Some did tog themselves up as local goons, but that is because they were local goons.
When did the change take place? And why? Is it visible to the naked eye? Who benefits most from it?
This so-called style has been the unique contribution of those who can stay in power irrespective of who is in power. They represent the ‘cashy’ face of society that the respectable business communities feel safe about.
“Fund-raisers” are not renowned for political merit and their purpose is to play goodwill ambassadors. However, the moment the money dries up, their power too dwindles. Fortunately, the concept of allegiance is as dry as their martinis.
Besides, the new breed of ‘public servants’ are bosses in their personal business ventures, or successful professionals. It can be safely assumed that being well-heeled such a person could be trusted with party funds. However, the game is quite different. Rich they may be, but 60 per cent of the amount that is collected for party or election purposes goes in the dear MP’s pocket.
Of course, they won’t give you that impression. Élan is something they can project with ease since they know the business of surviving in pimp land. Touch feet, open doors, be part of the exclusive club where sycophancy pays, and no one complains.
The paraphernalia is important. Earlier going around in an Ambassador car was looked on as a necessity. Now, your humble leader will get into a BMW, even talk knowledgeably about its merits, and flaunt his assets – nifty suit, pricey haircut, and things that constitute the good life. Fundamentalist leaders too talk about their love for cigars and champagne. Golf is their sport, and vacationing abroad a regular occurrence.
Is hypocrisy finally dead? That is one way of looking at it. But why do they suddenly change track when it is election time? In the rarefied circles that they move in they continue to talk about globalisation and the liberal economy, yet they do know that life does not begin and end at Malabar Hill and Golf Links. There are Malegaon and Karol Bagh to be dealt with as well. So, they become ‘accessible’. Huge hoardings and full-page ads appear where they flaunt their own sincerity. If they are lucky, then a bunch of their friends will laud their efforts, not only regarding stray dogs that made life miserable when they went for their evening constitutional, but also how the sincere gentleman provided clean drinking water to the residents of Chinchpokli or Muzzafarpur. They have probably never heard of these places; it just sounds good.
I don’t know whether it conveys arrogance or plain ignorance. For those of us who can afford nonchalance, it surely makes life seem beautiful if you don’t have to hear a politician talk and let him flaunt his baubles instead. As for the unwashed millions, even the hick-town politician does not care about them. He is too busy getting his dhoti starched.