Colonial bacteria in Indian politics

Colonial bacteria in Indian politics

In today’s political situation, the bad bacteria from the colonial commandments appear to be flourishing and infiltrating the three very clear political classes that are emerging

SSMBritish colonisers clandestinely implanted the sanctity of the ten commandments into the value system of India’s elite classes. These, as I wrote last week, taught us not to challenge, revolt or take responsibility, be a happy subordinate, a perfect clerk, respect designated superiors, compromise, propagate and speak English to land plum jobs, learn by rote, use manpower not automation, perpetuate social turmoil to turn mass attention away from the ruler’s megalomaniac actions.

In today’s political situation, the bad bacteria from these commandments appear to be flourishing and infiltrating the three very clear political classes that are emerging: (1) “elite dynasty followers class,” an off-shoot of British colonialism, (2) “non secular class as per opposition’s perception,” (3) “new politically active dharna (protest) class.” With bad bacteria smothering India, everyone’s lungs have been infected.

Elite dynasty follower class: The feudal attitude of these politicians is evident from various arrogant references. One equated economy airplane seats to “cattle class”; another mocked the opposition candidate’s humble tea selling livelihood beginnings, saying rising above that would be impossible but selling tea outside the venues of important dynasty follower meetings will be allowed. When the dynasty candidate jumps atop a police van defying road traffic rules to allow the outstretched hands of “subjects” to touch his fingers, it’s not considered a mistake, just “de-dynastification”. But for our country’s huge population that travels over a heap of bricks in a truck or climbs atop utility vehicles to wash them, this charade is every day lived experience.  Trapped with low incomes, they consider rich privileged people as a higher caste, an elevated status the poor cannot occupy. Interestingly, the not rich and young Zap generation perceives such showmanship as election drama hype where nothing substantial will occur for them in any case.

Non-secular class as per opposition’s perception: A predetermined single candidate often becomes a driving force, as in the presidential election system followed by the US, France and others. Although the “non secular class as per opposition’s perception” has declared a leader, their super-leaders warn against over-confidence as in 2004. Actually all parties have understood it’s not easy to get the common man to select a 2014 election candidate. But when a single leader is focused, winning possibilities increase, as people can identify the person, as evident in the 2011 West Bengal Assembly elections. The current Chief Minister’s hard-hitting spotlight was in sharp contrast to the then Leftist party’s focus on the party, not an individual. So the party was shocked after 34 uninterrupted years of ruling.

TV intervention: When elite national ruling politicians display anger on television, their attitude seems to reflect, “Voters should vote, not interfere with the dynastic kingdom. We know what they deserve.” Sometimes their party colleagues play to the gallery by showing intolerance for such arrogance, although the not rich and Zappers recognise it as a balancing act to keep the electorate quiet. Actually leaders and followers of both dynastic and non-secular parties get into TV debates. They should record themselves along with the anchor to hear sounds no different from busy railway stations or fish markets. I wonder why they rant? If the voter were my customer, why would I express such anger? It’s time the political class takes lessons on developing soft skills to talk graciously.

New politically active dharna (protest) class: This class is extremely edgy about stopping bad bacteria from continuing to infect politics. When they fight bacteria with dharnas, the other classes that kowtow to the colonial ruling system feel unsteady as the carpet’s being pulled from under their feet. Suddenly accepted conventions and interpretations are getting challenged. Unexpectedly the social chasm has become visible between the upper class that’s currently content with power, money and contacts bringing them a comfortable life, and the neglected, lower income society. The masses have to contend with corruption, harassment, inconvenience and indignity on a daily basis. Revolt from this society that’s tired of being smothered with platitudes will pose severe unanticipated problems. This population is of two types; the largest section tolerantly accepts everything, the non-accepters become hooligans. Both have their reasons because the government takes no responsibility for their dignity of life and livelihood.

Take the life of the golgappa/puchka/panipuri (crunchy wheat-spice-lentil snack) seller. This street vendor has to find a spot where many people move around, like marketplaces, adjacent to government offices where the public are made to wait, outside girls’ colleges, construction or factory sites. Daily sales stretch Rs 900-2000 depending on location, day of the week, whether it’s raining, sweltering heat or biting cold. After deducting his spend for procurement, transport and daily bribes, his net income swings between Rs 300-700. He struggles for a lucrative, crowded place every day, but high demand areas correspondingly command higher kickbacks. Standing nine to 12 hours daily, seven days a week, he physically cannot attend to his family. Should he fall sick, his income goes for a toss. Who can resolve his vulnerable situation? It’s illegal to be a floating vendor unless he’s lucky to be among the one million with Hawkers Cards issued by the government. Whether allowed or disallowed, his is a situation of mercy. So dharna class politics becomes relevant for him.

For those immune to colonial bacteria, display of revolt by the dharna class chief minister is quite disconcerting. The fervour of their criticism equals the connect basic masses have for new dharna politics. Without hype or hunger for the comfort of bacterial politics, if the dharna class seriously wants to break bad colonial bacteria, they can create real disruption. Becoming accountable to those they rule, they can apply the genuine vaccination to stop this bacterial politics. But if the vaccination is antibiotic with short term effect, they too will dissipate. Continuing the discomfort they have created will help ferret out the unacknowledged elite-downtrodden divide and cleanse our colonial bacteria forever.


Shombit Sengupta is an international creative business strategy consultant to top management. Reach him at