A spectre is haunting India—the spectre of a dreadfully boring election, made all the more unnecessary and avoidable by some of the lustiest hitting yet to be seen on the television screen by batsmen who are then promptly dropped from the Indian squad.
Be warned therefore: such terrible fate could yet befall the men and women on the campaign trail.
There’s only so much a voter can take of politicians talking about Pakistani terrorists, Sri Lankan terrorists, Bangladeshi actors and American wrestlers, much less the really stale stuff like joblessness, growth prospects and the farm crisis that we’ve been hearing about since, well, 1947.
Never mind. To help the politician keep us all from dropping off serially, here’s a list of 10 things that you could talk about on the hustings.
There are more than three weeks still to go for D-Day, so brush up on the following:
1. The Yeti: If you have spent a long time walking around in the Himalayas, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi has, you are certain to have heard of the Yeti. If you happened to wander a bit further than you should, you would have come across, or at least heard whispered, the Mi-Go—the Tibetan word for the Yeti. Unfortunately, there’s no Hindi or Sanskrit name for it. But the Indian Army now definitely knows it’s a “beast". The trouble is no one knows what it looks like. The only thing abominable about the Yeti is, of course, its cussed refusal to be seen. A bit like Indian members of Parliament in the 46 weeks when it isn’t election season. Tell your voters you’ve seen the Yeti.
2. Dynasty: The long-running American prime time television serial, that is. There’s a reason it was long-running and prime time. It was more entertaining than anything else on telly, or real life—and certainly elections. It ran for eight years from 1981 to 1989—arguably, a tiny bit shorter than most political families in government. But then there was a reunion in 1991. And then they started showing it all over again in a new ‘reboot’ series in 2017—how shameless can you get?
3. Curses: There’s no need to get all offensive with curses. Hone those cursing skills and just find better uses: curse your enemy (political) camp so it vanishes. You don’t have to bother with refusing to sign development project papers for villages that didn’t vote for you. Just curse those villages so their polling booths disappear. And since most village polling booths are government schools, you’d have fulfilled your de-development pledge anyway. See? No school!
4. Bed tea: Promise the voters (only those who vote for you, naturally) bed tea once a week. So once every week you return to your constituency with a steaming kettle of tea, visit every home at dawn and pour them a hot mug. This will help you keep in touch with the constituent. Sit with them for a spot of charcha. Try not to say Ah Taj everytime you pour a cup, because that can get some suspicious kind of people mistaking you to be an admirer of the mausoleum of love. And that certainly wouldn’t be anybody’s cup of tea.
5. Sleeping till late: This campaign issue is very strongly linked with issue no. 4. To talk about this, you have to be well up on your history. The essential difference between the Bharatiya Janata Party and its nemesis, the Trinamool Congress, isn’t that they cannot stand the sight of each other or that Gujarat stole the Nano factory from West Bengal one dark and stormy night. It’s far deeper and can be encapsulated thus: Prime Minister Modi sleeps for only three hours a day, whereas a TMC member of Parliament finds it hard to wake up without being served bed tea. There is a larger point here about the industrious Gujju vs the gentrified bed tea-loving Bengali, but no one cares in the Hindi belt.
6. Motor vehicle insurance: Once again, related not only to issue number 4, but also 5. The thread is this: MoonMoon Sen, the Trinamool candidate for Asansol constituency, had no idea that violence had broken out in Asansol on the morning of 29 April. That’s because she woke up late. That, in turn, is because “they" gave her bed tea “very late". In the meantime, BJP candidate Babul Supriyo’s car had been vandalized by political hoods. Hence the need to talk about third-party motor vehicle insurance. Comprehensive, not third party, fire and theft.
7. Hema Malini: There’s not much point in flaunting Bollywood has-beens like Urmila Matondkar and whatshisname the son of Veeru of Sholay fame. Not when you can flaunt the real has-beens like Hema Malini—she actually of Sholay fame, married to Veeru of Sholay fame. Setting aside thoughts of dynasty (the TV serial), Hema Malini has been the one good thing that’s happened in the general election. She’s lit up the hustings with photographs of her:
A. Driving a tractor (or sitting on the driver’s seat)
B. Holding a sickle in one hand and a bundle of wheat-straw in the other
C. Hunching next to a bemused woman who is carrying a bundle of twigs on her head. Honestly, though, it’s great to see Bollywood embrace real life. All that’s left is for Malini to roar across village India riding a tonga, whip in hand.
8. Dharmendra: We should all spare a thought for the poor man. He used to be a member of Parliament and hung up his political boots back in 2009. But is there respite for our 74-year-old hero? You wish! Not only does he have to go around campaigning for his wife Hema Malini in this searing heat, but now his son, too, has decided to stand for elections; so there’s even more campaigning to be done. Worse, he has seen his dialogue from Sholay “chun chun ke marunga", lifted by the Prime Minister in a sly variation, chun chun ke hisaab lenge, aimed at terrorists. A man’s work is never done, Veeru.
9. Mangoes: It helps to talk about sweet things, although you have to be careful about eating too many after a certain age. Promises of crates full of mangoes can only get the aam aadmi drooling. These mangoes should be bought at the mandi, at a good price, and should never be stolen from the poor farmers’ orchard. The same goes for gifted mishti. Buy them from sweet shops. There are perfectly good mishtanna bhandars in West Bengal and in C.R. Park, Delhi; we don’t have to gift away the gifted sweets from across the border.
10. Imran Khan: This star of stars in South Asia, why has he been deleted from the campaign trail? Doesn’t make sense—not after he returned our fighter pilot and praised the Bharatiya Janata Party government. Besides, he’s a sure vote puller. Remember, no fewer than 23 million women who are out there in the general population are missing from the voters’ list. Veeru’s son isn’t quite in the same league, unfortunately.
Lastly, you can promise them the moon, but remember the warning of the American politician Dwight W. Morrow: “Any party which takes credit for the rain must not be surprised if its opponents blame it for the drought."
Dipankar’s Twitter handle is @Ddesarkar1.