HUM HINDUSTANI: Season of stars —J Sri Raman - Friday, March 25, 2011

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HUM HINDUSTANI: Season of stars —J Sri Raman
The BJP’s current behaviour in India’s parliament, meanwhile, brings a more basic Indian belief into question. As the party continues to paralyse the most important institution of the country’s polity, it must fervently be hoped that public faith in parliamentary democracy itself will not begin to seem a superstition

Soldiers and sportspersons have long been notoriously superstitious. To this duo of often chance-governed destiny, electoral democracy has added another group of dicey fortunes — politicians. Rationality does not exactly rule the current scene in India as its cricketers and politicos find themselves engaged in fierce frays with unpredictable outcomes.

Quite predictably, on the contrary, the World Cup cricket tournament, now in the knockout stage, and the State Assembly elections, less than a month away, have led to a spurt in star-gazing and luck-garnering. The glamorous cricketers do not really conceal their efforts to ensure themselves the rub of the green.

Everyone knows by now that swashbuckling Virender Sehwag wears a numberless jersey on numerological advice to avert any early dismissal that demoralises the team every time beyond easy recovery. Dates of birth decided the numbers on the backs of both skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni and sizzling Yuvraj Singh. The left pad first is the right foot forward for legend Sachin Tendulkar. Pacer Zaheer Khan carries a yellow handkerchief in his pocket. And you cannot see any one of the playing eleven without a necklace and a pendant and many of them with their own amulets and talismans.

Temple visits and special rituals to guarantee triumph by important team members, including Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh, have been televised. Their fans have followed suit in many places with their own mass prayers and magical incantations. Added to these off-field preparations of the occult kind are on-field appeals to the ‘Unseen Umpire’, with Team India’s brat Sreesanth doing it in a bi-religious way between sledging bouts.

Politicians, by and large, pretend not to believe in seeking votes through supernatural means. Nothing exposes the claim more than their election-time conduct. Take, for example, Tamil Nadu, one of the five states to face assembly elections in April and May (the other four being Kerala, West Bengal, Assam and Puducherry).

Tamil Nadu is touted to be ruled by ‘rationalist’ politics, and its Chief Minister M Karunanidhi keeps reminding everyone of his credentials in this regard. Yet, the counsel of ‘colour astrology’ (as it is called) makes him wear a yellow shawl instead of a black-and-white one prescribed for other functionaries of his party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). The party cancelled a pre-election conference in a certain city because of last-minute warnings about the unluckiness of the venue. The DMK’s rivals are no strict followers of reason either when it comes to poll-related decisions, down to the dates of pubic rallies.

The auspiciousness or otherwise of dates has influenced the decisions of poll aspirants, individuals or parties in other states as well. The period around Holi, for example, is not considered propitious for decisions of any kind. It is considered all the more unsuitable for matrimonial alliances. The festival of colours fell this time on March 19. No one acknowledged the factor officially, but did the finalisation of some poll alliances have to await the passing of the date?

We will have to wait to see what the stars have in store for the soldiers of fortune in both cricket and politics. We will know by April 2, the day of the World Cup final, at the latest, whether all those preparations under astrological-numerological coaches pay off. By mid-May, we will also know the winners among the political fortune-hunters and fortune-fixers. What can already be foretold is that the results will not make even a fractional difference to the role of diviners in both the big-stake games.

There are superstitions of other kinds, however, that have proved less stubbornly enduring. Time was when parties generally believed that policies would decide elections — or, at least, that the policies they professed would influence the electorate to a significant extent. Such mumbo jumbo has long ceased to figure prominently in the manifestos of both the major political forces of India.

Until the 80s, for example, the non-left national opposition used to accuse the Congress of “Nehruvian socialism” equated with a set of economic shibboleths. For three decades now, through several battles of the ballot, we have not heard of a basic and unbridgeable economic policy divide between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In the early 60s, for another example, the BJP’s parent, the Jan Sangh, demanded an Indian atomic bomb and derided the non-macho “Nehruvian” stand on the nuclear issue. The Pokhran nuclear weapon tests of 1998, conducted under a BJP-headed government however, elicited no Congress protest. Nor did the US-India nuclear deal less than a decade later provoke anything but a nominal opposition from the BJP. It is hard to conceal the connection between the Bomb and bipartisan politics, which the country has witnessed over recent years.

The BJP, of course, has its communal agenda, which the Congress cannot adopt without abandoning its constituency. It is not, however, an agenda that the main opposition party can include as part of an election manifesto. The Election Commission of India is unlikely to allow the party to promise riots in return for votes.

The BJP’s current behaviour in India’s parliament, meanwhile, brings a more basic Indian belief into question. As the party continues to paralyse the most important institution of the country’s polity, it must fervently be hoped that public faith in parliamentary democracy itself will not begin to seem a superstition. It is not stars that will help avert such a situation, but only a people determined to save their democracy and future from far-right depredations.

The writer is a journalist based in Chennai, India. A peace activist, he is also the author of a sheaf of poems titled At Gunpoint

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