The Congress is big on the common man. From chacha Nehru’s portrayal of the kindly uncle of the poor smelling of roses to Indira Gandhi’s ‘Garibi Hatao’ to Rajiv Gandhi’s STD booths in villages, it has realised the potential of the common man’s ability to stay in power. It would, however, be unfair to merely dismiss this one party for playing the ordinary bloke card.
The common man has been elevated because Indians have a penchant for poverty and fatalism. These two aspects are really a combination. The poor are not only fated to be poor but fatalism thrives on the poor. You don’t see rich people looking up at the skies for rain.
There has been a change, though. It was rather facetiously, and tellingly, spelled out in the phrase “mango people” – a literal translation of ‘aam aadmi’, the common man – in the very mainstream film ‘Love Aaj Kal’. The mango today is an expensive fruit and it has its hierarchies well in place; the mangoes that appear before season are the ones that have been nursed unnaturally. They are plumped up, made to shine, their shapes too have altered.
The people who keep this mango industry going are the mango people. It means that the economy of the well-fed is dependent on them but does not give them the fruits of their labour. They have been inducted into the devious plan of making a synthetic world, but they have to still sleep in the mud, the soil in their veins.
Sometime ago, Rahul Gandhi on his Bharat yatra took a British diplomat to one of the villages. He was criticised for it. His response was: “I don’t believe in hiding things I am proud of and I don’t believe in hiding the spirit of the poor. The difference between the Congress party and opponents… We are proud of the poor people of India. We believe in the poor people of India and they are ashamed of the poor in India.”
How can anyone be proud of the poor, especially when there is no respect for them? Now, he has come up with a definition of the ‘aam aadmi’. It is not restricted to the poor. ”Whether he is poor or rich, Hindu or Muslim, Sikh or Christian, educated or uneducated, if he is not connected to the system, he is an aam aadmi. A population unconnected to the growth engine is a wasted and unproductive resource.”
One might take the charitable view that this is a holistic attitude, but is it all about wasted resources and tangible growth? What does unconnected to the system mean and what does this system mean?
He has an answer: “He is the university topper in Shillong who can’t get a job because he doesn’t know the right people; he is the farmer in Aligarh who doesn’t get the price he deserves for his land.”
He forgets to delve into the insurgency in the North East that makes this topper and his family sometimes have to wait for food because the highway has been closed. He forgets to talk about farmer suicides because he helped one Kalavati.
It is rather convenient to paint the whole common man credo with one brush. He had mentioned a while ago: “I personally don't believe in caste system. I go to a human being's house and not a Dalit's house. The frame of Dalit is your frame, not mine...I ask my office to arrange for my visit to a poor person's home in the poorest village. You see him as a Dalit, I see him as a poor person.”
So, his office arranges it. The ‘system’ arranges it. It might surprise him but in the poorest village why would anyone specifically ask for a poor person’s house? There won’t be many rich people in such villages and if they were he would finish off any goodwill he has if he ate his meal with a zamindar. Is he going to deny that the Dalits would constitute a large number of poor and they are poor precisely because they are Dalits?
What does he mean when he says the common man “has immense capabilities, intelligence and strength; he builds this country every day of his life, yet our system crushes him at every step”? I know he will be applauded for it, and in a Munnabhai kind of way his statements are worthy of a ‘jadoo ki jhappi’ (a magic hug), but one cannot ride the magic carpet on homilies.
He talks about the common man’s progress, but it is directionless. It is particularly ironical when he says it is “based not on who he knows but on what he knows”. Indeed, it is convenient for one who has inherited bon mots and power to speak in this manner. And why must there be pressure on the common man to 'know’? We have many ignorant people who play an important role to “build the nation” and are not crushed by the system. Why is it so?
This sort of romanticisation is worse than the dramatic use of slums and filth. The onus is on the person with capabilities and strength. The system that crushes is never defined. Is it not the government? Is it not the judiciary? Is it not society? By hanging this sword of Damocles, he has mythified the system and more so the common man.