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Is Desh Ka Kuch Nahin Ho Sakta

April 17, 2009

Of the many excitements on offer at election time are the pious ads by luminaries of the film fraternity exhorting the peoples of India to vote. This one is my favourite…

“Parties come and parties go”, smiles Isha Koppikar,

“But the rubbish on the roads,” says a glum Ritesh,

“Is still there,” notes Farhan astutely.

“Why?”

“Why?”

“Why?” ask Shahid, Priyanka, and Sonam in anguished tones. The answer my friend, as the bard and Kareena said is, “Kyonke Kuch Nahin Ho Sakta Is Desh Ka”. Bhaiiyon aur behenon! Ungli uthao aur button dabao! Ah! TV! But the disastrous acting and terrible scripting aside, there are few things more hilarious than watching Abhishek Bacchan, who distinguished himself by declaring himself a farmer and stealing land from farmers in Barabanki, waxing eleoquent on criminalization of politics. Truly, after watching this ad, I am forced to concur: Is Desh Ka Kuch Nahin Ho Sakta…

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Muktibodh permalink
    April 17, 2009 5:35 PM

    Aarti, take a break. Maybe is film industry ka kuch nahi ho sakta. And people who have nothing better to do but comment on them.

  2. Subash permalink
    April 17, 2009 11:02 PM

    Vote dene se kuch nahi hota. Because the country is run by bureaucrats and not politicians. You cannot vote them out- politicians will come and go in 5 years but they will continue to fool the leaders.The parties should elect their own bureaucrats to run the country to show real change. These TV Ad campaigns mislead us to think that these popular and beautyfull peepul will enfluence their countrymen so much that they will rush to vote – like their ‘fans’ which mob them.

  3. April 18, 2009 3:46 AM

    the video was hilarious….the sheer patriotic constipation on everyone’s faces had me in stitches. thanks for putting it up!

  4. April 19, 2009 12:50 AM

    Aarti and Bhochka, I share your sentiment. But is it possible to put a finger on the reason why we find this hilarious and sanctimonious?

    I think you’re going to see much more of this in the years to come, as the middle classes grow in number and influence, as they realise more and more that they aren’t going to get much out of the system unless they get into it.

    The only hope of this process being slow is that the English language media that these classes consume keeps them in their cocooned world, deliberately not informing them of the context within which elections take place.

  5. Aarti Sethi permalink*
    April 20, 2009 1:30 PM

    “patriotic constipation”, thanks bhojka for this wonderful phrase! It perfectly describes their look of intense concentration, coupled with anguished exhortation.

    I totally agree with you Shivam. What irks and amuses me in equal measure is the fact that clearly these ads are targetted at the urban middle-upper-class and its anxieties and insecurities regarding “governance” with no engagement at all with politics. Its so obviously a class anxiety on display.

  6. April 23, 2009 9:38 PM

    I agree too – it all points to an interesting paradox, I think. On the one hand we have policy trajectories cutting across the divisions of left-right-centre that foreground the interests and desires of ‘shining’ India and Indians – a constituency that’s both real and imagined. No government that I can remember has really strayed from this path. On the other hand, there’s the ‘democratic process’ itself, the act of voting every five years which in a real sense is irreducible to anything but itself – a process dominated by the votes of the poor and the disempowered, a process that does, always, stray from the prescribed path.

    This happens while, as Aarti points out, upper middle-class India chooses actively to detach itself from ‘politics’ in favour of ‘governance. So there’s this fascinating split between the process and the results of ‘democracy’, and you have an elite that is trying (with active help from the media) to formulate an adequate response to this. It seeks to constitute itself not just as ‘representative’ of the nation, but as the nation itself. It wants elections based on property rights and education, which fits in with the Hindu Right’s agenda (the ABVP some years back brought out a manifesto demanding elections with ‘weighted’ voting rights according to profession, education and social status), while at the same time large chunks of it probably feel more comfortable with a ‘secular Right’ agenda based on foreign-policy hawkishness, exhortations to national unity and sacrifice, and the open celebration of wealth. Ratan Tata and the ‘jawan who lays his life down for the nation’ are probably the two symbolic coordinates of this political structure of feeling.

    This class feels itself empowered by the logic of globalization and by the policies of government, but at the same time alienated by the mess and dirt of real politics and especially of elections, which are therefore construed as a ‘populist’ exercise, when the statesmen who uniformly implement savagely anti-poor policies are forced to don a different garb in the search for popular electoral support.

    The media’s attempt to claw this mess back into some kind of coherence takes, as I see it, three forms. First, a reduction of elections to a numbers game, where the horse-trading and number-crunching become all that elections are apparently really about. Second, a resort to certain stock phrases – ‘anti-incumbency’, ‘development’, ‘good economics v. populism’, ‘growth’, ‘security’ – vacuous phrases meaning what you want them to mean.

    Third, and perhaps most interestingly, as a rhetorical palliative to this, we are given the entirely mythical figure of ‘the man in the street’ or the ‘aam aadmi’, a figure who stands in for a certain set of deprivations and persecutions (a victim of corruption but not of economic policy, a victim of terrorism but not of the paranoid security state…). In its explicit form, this figure is often offered to us by the media as a sop, as an acknowledgment of disparity and poverty, but I also think that this is perhaps the most obscene figure produced in media discourses, a product of deep cynicism and contempt for ‘non-shining’ India.

    (I watched ‘A Wednesday’ recently, it’s perhaps the most dangerous movie I’ve ever watched and it almost literally had me gagging. I think it’s important, though, for it offers a very precise projection of the desires of the class we’re talking about. The protagonist is someone who is not rich, not powerful, but articulates – and pretty damn persuasively – the image of India and Indians that the social group we’re talking about would like to see realized).

    The actual energy and the social dynamics released by a general election are deeply threatening to India’s emerging business/professional elites and the media and the celebrities who speak for them – they’re deeply threatening even though they may mean nothing in terms of real policy changes and orientations. In these moments when the disempowered speak through their votes, the actual marginality of this emergent elite to what’s happening in vast parts of the country is put on display, and this is what threatens them. They’re reminded of something that’s too dangerous to accept – that the social antagonisms that make up India are irreducible to ‘governance’ or ‘development’, that there is no magic median that will unite the interests of, let’s say, a millionaire industrialist and someone working in one of the sweatshops that sustain him.

    So there is, always, the search for a short-circuit that will avoid the messiness of the questions that an election raises. Sadly, I don’t think this is limited to the filthy-rich and the aspirant-shining-Indian, though I’d like it to be! It seems to me that in a strange way the revolutionary-vanguardism of the Maoist poll-boycott violence replicates and strengthens this structure of feeling, though unwittingly. Instead of the aam aadmi, you have the ‘revolutionary people’s army’ which will give the lie to ‘democracy’, as we know it, by trying to cut it off at its root, the experience of voting. There is a deep fear underpinning this tactic – a fear that the actual ‘voice of the people’ unleashed during an election will reveal desires and aspirations far too complex to be pre-packaged into an easy, vanguardist answer (‘smash the state’, ‘institute the people’s republic’).

    In both cases – though they’re not equivalent by any means – there’s a deep distrust of what ‘the people’ upon whom you project your desires might really want, an apprehension that there might be a gap between what they seek and what you want them to seek. So there’s the unremitting search for a formula that will short-circuit the need for conversations and encounters that might give us a workable, humane, democratic politics that develops through processes, not ‘answers’. The real casualty, the real tragedy, is not the fact that ‘the nation is divided’ – these divisions are real, they’re irreducible, they necessitate conflict (in this the Maoists are right, though their own execution of the conflict frequently borders on the nightmarish). The real tragedy is that these short-cuts, which are at a basic level false, have come to dominate our political horizons.

  7. gautam permalink
    April 26, 2009 10:17 AM

    is there, beneath all of this, a current which suggests (i’m not venturing anything stronger) that to vote is to participate in the democracy, and to participate in the democracy is to vote? that surely would come under the ‘bad ideas’ category.

  8. April 27, 2009 3:35 PM

    Agreed – it would be a very bad idea indeed. I don’t think anyone on this thread was making that equation though. The point here is one particular kind of refusal of democracy (a rejection of politics in favour of ‘administration’, ‘governance’, ‘good policy’), and one of the forms – not the only one – this refusal takes is a contempt for the ‘rabble’ who have the audacity to vote.

    • gautam permalink
      April 27, 2009 7:19 PM

      the question was directed at the video and similar attempts. apologies for not being clear.

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