Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Unwashed Masses

India got its independence and its Republic  as a Nation of "Unwashed Masses".
It was a move unprecedented anywhere else in the World. Giving birth to an Adult Franchise based democratic Nation, at the stroke of a pen, was a Giant leap from a thousand years history of being a conglomeration of feudal states. The concept of Adult Franchise was  specially pushed by our First Prime Minister Pandit Nehru. Most of the other members of the constituent assembly were hesitant about it. But Nehru was firm on it.
In all other nations, Adult Franchise based democracy had a long gestation period. Democratic rights preempt that the Masses/Electorate know what they need and they deserve what they need. The electorate in India comprised of a mass of 12% literates in 1947 in other words 88% illiterates. Another Caveat, even the figure of 12% was absurd as “the definition of literate was one who could write his/her name.” With such “Unwashed Masses” as electorate to conceive of Adult Franchise was a Major Risk. People like Churchill predicted doom and said India deserved a Benevolent Dictator and not democracy. Though the phrase “Benevolent Dictator” itself is an oxymoron.
Gandhi was the first Politician in India who brought the “Unwashed Masses” center stage. Till Gandhi ,  disembarked from a ship, after spending 23 years in South Africa, the Indian National Congress was a Political Party  of Lawyers and the Elites dressed in Bund Galas and Suits. It was a Drawing Room Party, its activities were largely limited to Drafting and sending  Memorandums to British Governments.
Gandhi gave a new paradigm of a mass based Political activism at Champaran, fighting for the rights of  the Indigo farmers. His very first agitation in Bihar brought a radical shift, inviting incarceration, with Truth and Courage as the only two weapons in his armoury. The response of the “Unwashed Masses” was unprecedented. While Gandhi’s case was being heard in the court, a mass of 5000 peasants was standing out of the court under heavy rains waiting patiently to hear the decision. He met them for the first time and was able to become their messiah. He must be credited for metamorphosing a Paper/Memorandum trajectory struggle, to a  street/mass based agitation.
This sort of faith and conviction can be found only among the “Unwashed Masses”. The literate and awakened people are always skeptic about grammar and the consequences of any agitation. The “Unwashed Masses” always look at their leaders as their saviors, and follow their diktats seldom questioning them.
It was the entry of such “Unwashed Masses” in the Indian National Congress that made the ‘Elitist Jinnah’ quit Congress. Gandhi was one man who recognized the aspirations and imagination of the Marginalized masses and made the party interact with the plebeians. He tried to understand their grammar and communicate with them in their language.
His followers largely comprised of Lawyers and Barristers. His closest ally namely Nehru was as distant from the masses as Jinnah.
In recent times Lalu Prasad Yadav did open a line of communication with the “Unwashed Masses” successfully. He went as far as to give the “Unwashed Masses” a Group Bath with the help of Fire Brigade Hydrants. He collected a few hundred “Musahar community” people, gave them a Hair cut and a bath. Yet Lalu knew how to strike chord in their heart, and make money by managing their mandate. He was undoubtedly successful in his project. 
These “Unwashed Masses” often believe in Images and Idol worship . Though they do form the largest segment of Voters in India, they can be easily bribed by Freebies. Economic development can be attempted by policies that will necessarily have a long gestation period. It is extremely difficult to sell economic policies and get their votes. They are goaded by gimmicks of Doles like Cheap or Free Rice and or MGNREGA. Freebies can have limited impact on alleviating their miseries. Most of it is lost in the Government mire and small fraction that reaches them, makes them complacent. Any money/Doles will always have a debilitating effect on anyone including the “Unwashed Masses”.
The Political parties vie with each other in offering freebies. GoI waved loan of Rs 80,000 crores  in 2009 just before the elections and won the election. Such waivers are crimes both on the canvas of economics and sociology. It will be doubly difficult to recover next loans from the same group of people. But these are the moves that win elections.  Parties have distributed Laptops to Mangal Sutras. All such freebies would soon be recycled in the market for cash and help the “Unwashed Masses” breach the Poverty Line (BPL) for a week or two.
Another issue with this segment is they can rarely distinguish between image and real. It helps the political parties to get away with slogans and mirages. Indira Gandhi’s “GARIBI HATAO” slogan worked magic in 1971 elections. She became messiah to the “Unwashed Masses” and the syndicate led by senior Party leaders lost miserably.
In the Independent India this marginalized group has been taken for a ride by one and all. None has made even semblance of a sincere effort to ensure their inclusion in the Nation’s growth.
This segment neither has the capacity nor the desire to analyze the issues that can actually bring long term sustainable benefits. Mirages like “Reservation” garner lot of support for the political parties. If anyone tries to analyze the number of Government Jobs available vis-a-vis the population of that particular community, the probability of availing benefits of Reservation for an individual would be akin to buying a lottery ticket. The equation gets further skewed as often the reservation keeps on getting hijacked by an infinitesimal small fraction of the community and others remain mere bystanders. Yet the said “Unwashed Masses” keep on getting misled perennially by the pied pipers of Hamlyn.
The phrase of Vibrant India appears a joke. Seems the elite using such phrases sit in the Lobby of a Five Star hotel and try to absorb and understand India. The statistics of the BPL also is a matter of controversy. Stretching from 80% as stated in Arjun Sengupta’s report to the Planning Commission’s report of about 35% makes the 9% or any growth figure looks comical. Unlike our Planning Commission Head Honchos who see the "Unwashed Masses" in form of Pixels in Power Point Presentations, I do interact with them often, in the course of visiting the “One Teacher Schools” in far flung tribal villages. I have seen societies where people still hunt for food. None of these villages have potable piped water. Several of the villages do not have electricity or all weather motorable road. The only sign of progress or change in their life is the presence of a ubiquitous Hand Pump in their village.        
Nehru’s speech “Long Years ago We made a Tryst with destiny….” Made on the eve of Independence rings so hollow, when even after sixty six years of the said speech the unwashed masses still await the Hydrants that will wash them.
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