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Monday, December 11, 2017

Mere paas Maa hai



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Since Rahul Gandhi is approximately the same age as me, it would be safe to guess that he watched the same movies that I did in early childhood. The staple Bollywood fare of the 70s, which had a recurring central theme – rich versus the poor. There would be variations of course. It could be the poor mill workers pitted against the unscrupulous tyrant of a mill owner, who often had a side business of smuggling. Or the poor peasant fighting against the exploitative thakur and his leery henchman of a munim. If there was a love interest, the two would be on the opposite sides of the economic spectrum, and the girl would often be the daughter of the aforementioned mill owner or thakur. She would, however, be more enlightened than her father, and would choose love over wealth. Blank cheques, or similar inducements would be offered to the hero, which, if accepted, could take care of his mother’s treatment or sister’s marriage. But that would also be spurned. Then force was resorted to, but love and virtuous poverty triumphed over avarice and wealth in a happy ending.

The message was loud and clear – poverty is good and clean, while being rich automatically makes you the villain. Their interests always clash, and one can only be happy at the cost of the other. The rich always exploit the poor, but the poor always triumph in the end. And this is the message that Rahul Gandhi seems to have been weaned on. At least that’s what his speeches and posturing throughout the election campaign of 2014, and now in his new resurgent and slightly more vocal avatar. It’s them versus us, as in the rich and their government versus the poor and their patrons, the Congress party. It is the central theme in all his speeches inside and outside the parliament, just like those movies.

So he would like to have all of us, and more specifically the ‘poor’, to believe that every decision, every step, taken by this government in the last one year, is with the sole purpose of benefitting a handful of rich businessmen. And of course, just like those movies, anything that benefits the rich must obviously be at the cost of exploitation of the poor. Whether it is the Land Acquisition Bill, Make in India project, the foreign investment that is flowing in, the infrastructure development that is taking place – the poor farmers, factory workers and labourers are the ones who will pay the price for enriching the coffers of the wealthy blood sucking businessmen. And there is only one person from one party who stands between this abject exploitation and a happy ending – no points for guessing who. Of course, it is immaterial that the self-styled patrons of the poor could do very little for them while being in a position to do so for more than sixty years, including an unbroken stint for the past ten when Rahul Gandhi himself was calling the shots. This caused one commentator to wryly state, its not the poor but poverty itself which Rahul seems to love.

This Bollywood hero of the 70s story in which Rahul wants to cast himself is based on several flaws of logic and inaccuracies of facts. But just like those movies, logic and facts could never be allowed to get in the way of the story. So if shutting down of a food park in the hero’s turf by an avenging government is the story, the fact that the closure was initiated by their own pro poor government is an inconvenient detail that deserves to be ignored in interest of storytelling.

Unfortunately the poor little rich boy doesn’t seem to look around him and see that the prevailing story around him has changed a lot since the 70s. So the heroes of 21st century set up businesses like Rocket Singh or Mickey Virus to meet their rising aspirations rather than wallowing in poverty. Rather than fighting the rich, they are competing to join their league. The aspirations of this crop of impatient young men and women cannot be met merely by giving them platitudes and doles through unimaginatively conceived and inefficiently implemented employment schemes, the only purpose which serve is to channelize money into pockets of the corrupt. They can only be met in a growth oriented environment which this government is trying hard to nurture.

What Rahul Gandhi does not understand (or conveniently pretends not to) is that social / economic empowerment and growth are not mutually exclusive, nor is one necessarily at the cost of the other. They can, and do, go hand in hand. A competent government with the right intentions can actually deliver both. So, while a 70 year old farmer in Modi’s adopted village in his constituency gives him 15 marks out of 10 on development, ASSOCHAM gives him a 7/10 too. So, just like a movie made today based on the 70s formula is not likely to set the box office on fire, Rahul will also have to update his narrative if he wants to become relevant again. Despite the fact that uske paas maa hai.

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