Moodindigo: No effort is wasted

Tags: Opinion

For the first time, common man’s troubles will fuel change

Last week in this column I wrote of the political fall out from the demonetisation drive announced by the prime minister. Since then we have seen an apolitical decision aimed at cleaning out black money and fighting corruption (one of many measures that are to follow), leading to the political opposition (barring a few) responding as expected.

Why is this decision of prime minister Modi’s not a political one? The answer is simple, even a rudimentary understanding of the “vote banks” that drive elections in this country will clarify that with this move the prime minister has caused (arguably) maximum inconvenience to one of his core constituencies, the small trader. Politicians of most hues and tenor revert very easily to being status quoists when a decision hits their vote count. The prime minister has displayed no such hesitation; he has acted not as a politician but as a reformer and as a leader keeping his promise — of fighting the menace of corruption that has plagued us for generations — to the people.

The political responses to this move began with calling it a “bad decision” to now referring to it as “bad implementation” seeing the ground support. It is no surprise then that it is politicians who have taken to the streets, trying to rustle up crowds to join their protests. But are people joining in? A few years ago when a frail old man from Maharashtra who not many had heard of at the time, undertook a fast to protest against corruption the support he elicited from the common man was unprecedented, at least in the lifetime of this writer. Anna Hazare awakened a nation and it was only a few years ago. Why are we seeing no such protest on this occasion, the sort that can bring the mighty to their knees, despite encouragement and inducement from politicians, even from those who were once active in the Anna movement and built their careers propelled by the tail winds of that anti-corruption drive.

Simply because that level of support isn’t there. This move has been inconvenient and has caused distress and yet the common man has persevered. Surveys by various agencies have attested to the popularity of this measure despite inconveniences and that of prime minister Modi. Media reports from rural areas have shown a resolve behind this measure that was unanticipated even by those who support it. What has worked? This query brings us to the moral persuasion of this drive, not the economic or political ones and it seems to have triumphed.

With this move the prime minister has done multiple things, for one he has tapped into the seething rage that rests within the common man regarding the daily inequity he sees around him. The fact that the entitled get away with a lot more in this country than the poor can ever aspire to, it is schadenfreude when the privileged stand in line and bemoan the inconveniences that are a way of life for the majority.

Queues I am afraid are a reality for most Indians, in banks, at hospitals, in railway stations... The demonetisation drive has not “introduced” the queue to the common man, even if it has to the urban privileged. To assume it will sway him into protest is a myopic and purely partisan viewing of the situation.

Furthermore, it is leadership when the prime minister makes an announcement that in all likelihood could have been a very unpopular and even a career ending one, rather than asking someone else to do so. It’s a style of leading from the front that we had all but forgotten under the previous dispensation. And it has not gone unnoticed, a taxi driver who I use regularly called me yesterday to inform me of an operation where black money was being converted to white and asked that I connect him with someone in the media, so a sting could be carried out.

This is anecdotal but attests to the activism unleashed even in one who has been inconvenienced by this measure. A news report said that Rahul Gandhi had visited pavement vendors in Sarojini Nagar market and was welcomed with “Modi, Modi” chants. It is no surprise; I remember going there the day after the bomb blast specifically to shop to support the shopkeepers who had opened the market the very next day standing up to terror and resolved to combat it. Modi’s drive targets terror funding as well. The common man is listening even if the politicians are not. And they have been the bearers of inconvenience and spent their lives in queues, knowing all along that they are merely keeping the status quo going. For the first time, their troubles will fuel change. And that is the message they have heeded.

(Advaita Kala is a screenwriter and a columnist)


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