Insulting the broom: Kejriwal's uncommon man
It takes time for election symbols to permeate people's consciousness. These days it is more likely that the voter will recall a personality rather than what the person stands for.
Early this evening, the Election Commission granted the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) the broom symbol. Initial reports have commented about how its convener Arvind Kejriwal has emphasised that the "election plank of the AAP is to cleanse India of corrupt politicians and bring more transparency to the government".
Is an election symbol meant to work as a metaphor? The broom has connotations that need to be addressed.
Before that, think about the prominent symbols. The early Congress of Indira had a cow and calf. It played into the Mother India concept, as well as appealed to the rural population. In some ways, it might have worked for some devout Hindus too, since they revere the cow. Of course, it was easy to say that the government was milking the country dry. The current symbol — the upheld palm — could be seen as a promise or a stop sign.
The BJP uses the lotus because of its obvious religious significance. However, I doubt voters look upon it in the metaphorical sense of how the flower thrives even in the muck.
Then there are the hammer and sickle, the bicycle, the bow and arrow, not to forget the Bahujan Samajwadi Party's elephant.
BSP leader Mayawati is a Dalit. Just think about the sniggers had she used the broom as a symbol. They'd say she was either capitalising on the backward castes' situation or insulting them.
This is what I think AAP is doing, even if unwittingly. It's not enough to be smart about "sweeping". This is an elite symbol, given that Kejriwal found his political bearings in the maidans with Anna Hazare' People's Movement that drew a lot of celebrities who were so fed up with corruption. No, they did not pull up their colleagues for their unaccounted cash transactions. No, they did not feel any guilt as they wore their Fab India kurtas and 'I am Anna' topis to get back "our money" from Swiss banks, even as they returned from their holiday in the Alps.
We have seen some of these same people take to cleaning their posh localities with brooms and posing for pictures. Await another such drama.
More worrying is the AAP's main plank is cleaning corruption that completely alienates those who work with the broom. This is so reminiscent of Mahatma Gandhi getting his ashram inmates to clean toilets and calling those who had to perform such menial tasks Harijans, children of god. This implied that they were special in some way, special enough to continue doing this work.
It should bother us that only in February 2013 New Delhi banned manual scavenging. This is one reality of the broom we cannot ignore. These people are forced into sewers to clean up the filth, including night soil, that is the shit that accumulates after we flush down our ceramic toilet bowls. In some places, they still carry the excreta on their head. The basket and broom in the picture are about how we continue to insult a significant number of people.
They do not know about corruption. There is no development module for them. No Bharat Nirman.
Kejriwal's supporters have an easy symbol to walk around with to garner votes. By default, every sweeper in buildings, on the street, and working in the drains will become a sitting duck for promoting an agenda. Even the one object that helped them earn a paltry meal has been appropriated for the big picture.
And do spare a thought for those in some villages who had to drag a broom to sweep the road they walked on so as not to pollute the pure feet of the upper castes.
The AAP symbol looks like a mockery.
© Farzana Versey