What happened around me these last days?
The traffic came back. The posters and hoardings showing the faces of our pretty politicians came back. (Posters and billboards had been banned for the duration of the elections.) More posters showing more faces joined them. We got a change of chief minister for our state of Karnataka, but that man — a driven but aged man of 75 — lost the job in two days. He was short of majority support by just so much and resigned ahead of a vote of proof.
On his heels came in another, new chief minister, who to me has always appeared jaded. He is 57. He might survive in the exalted role for a few months, a year even. It is hard to bet that he’ll last the tenure of five years — he is not sure of that himself, so he did a quick tour of eleven temples and seven religious centres in a mere three days. He would’ve given thanks there for the lucky turn, but more importantly, he would have prayed for the miracle of a full term.
On Wednesday, leaders of major regional parties from all over India descended to bless the second man at his swearing in. The streets were lined with flexes with their faces on them. The leaders smiled a lot and made friends and announced an alliance that would stop the incumbent prime minister of the nation from returning to power after his term ends in 2019. The development was interesting, not least because the salad the alliance holds forth has spice and flavour from across India, and it would be tossed by many cooks, each with their stubborn inclination. That admixture would compete with the great-great-great-grandmother’s-recipe that the incumbent prime minister has on offer, which has him in power this term. To secure himself, the prime minister will now dig deeper into the past, to the kitchens of Lord Rama himself — to the most authentic Indian fare. (What did Indians eat during the days of the Lord, when we had no chillies, no tomatoes, no peppers, when we had none of these things that the Europeans planted here some four or five hundred years ago?)
I cannot be excited about the emerging menu. I lost my appetite for the political manifesto a long time ago.
I didn’t go to the swearing in. I wasn’t invited. But I passed by the event as it happened because the Vidhana Soudha is a prominent presence on my commute. A gathering of over a hundred thousand had massed outside the building; I could see that in aerial shots broadcast on my iPhone. The crowds had slowed the traffic, but not so much. The supporters of the Congress and the Janata Dal who had arrived from far off places parked their vehicles outside town and rode the Metro to the Vidhana Soudha.
It rained hard that day, but on the open high ground on which stands the Vidhana Soudha, where the ceremony happened with many of the most prominent politicians of India participating, the rain was shy to touch down, so it sprinkled a small, notional shower — in blessing, some might say. After that, the leaders held hands and raised them high and smiled and talked to best effect before the cameras. I saw those pictures as well, on my iPhone: taken together, they displayed an image of hope, resolve, and fresh-found relief at having been given a fresh fighting chance.
How hopeful are we, the people? How relieved? I can’t say more than that we’ll be treated to endless games in the days ahead, and the weeks, the months. The spectacle will be free to watch, but we’d be paying a terrible price overall — as though the show was all our idea.
The intimation of the cost to us was evident yesterday when the assembly met to confirm the new chief minister. Both sides spat poison (the serpent was mentioned more than once in the vile speeches), and it was clear each party would expend its full energy to undermine the other — to hell with grace, and as regards the people, may they be damned.
We’ve been had.