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Thursday, July 19, 2018

Enter the broom

The respect that all these people deserve and have been denied is what the broom expects to restore.

Written by Shombit Sengupta | Published: December 15, 2013 5:30:13 am

“Sweep corruption away” is the intent of a political party with the broom (jhadu) symbol. Various well wishers commenting online on their website said that “backward” (I’ve always hated this word because it’s against human dignity) classes,the poor and housewives will certainly identify with the broom representation. The respect that all these people deserve and have been denied is what the broom expects to restore.

Actually,my livelihood journey started with a broom too. Jumping from a refugee colony outside Kolkata,I landed in France in 1973 with no better a status. I had no money,spoke no French,but was fired by an ardent desire to turn into a Parisian artist. Towards that end,a sweepers’ job in a Paris lithography studio was a silver lining for me because I was spending time among famous artists. Initially I would sweep away the visible dirt from the middle of the room. One day my employer,Jacques Gourdon,said something to me in French which I could not understand. So he took the broom and brush and showed me how I should first clean the corners. I later caught on that cleaning corners is critical because that’s where sediments collect. If you don’t meticulously attack the difficult-to-reach areas to extract congealed dirt hidden there,the broad visible clean surfaces would just be a superficial lie.

This experience of mine connected me to the “jhadu strategy”. I extracted two meanings from it. Firstly, dignity for the millions in our country whose livelihood comes from the broom,and secondly,a jhadu to clean unwanted corruption and political drama. I must say that as a sweeper in Paris,nobody disturbed my dignity while I was executing my job. I was taught the skill of sweeping and I tried to perform to the best of my ability. Unfortunately in our country,poor,literate or illiterate people,whether or not they use brooms at work,are not only cheated with low wages,but are also given no dignity in their living and working environment.

India’s extreme heterogeneous population,who have been dominated and demoralised for 200 years by British colonial rule,do not connect to the country’s political grain. In China,there was Mao Zedong — a follower of Marx and Lenin –—but he brought in a new political perspective with the Cultural Revolution. He understood that in China’s cultural setting,if everyone is not placed at one level,nothing can fall in order,The Cultural Revolution was the innovative political dimension he designed and implemented. Whatever may have been his negative aspects,Mao injected a certain discipline in China that helped with its economic upliftment. Disciplined Chinese communism has been a political style that’s represented millions of poor people.

The Communist Party in India has tried to be poor friendly. However,their politics appears “imported” as it is not properly tailored to the common man’s needs. Nor have they been able to politically drive the nation’s economic requirement. In West Bengal,their big programme was to distribute small tracts of land to deserving masses. However,modernisation has since changed the agrarian economy,preventing small farmers from earning a livelihood from such minuscule land holdings. Kerala,the other Communist bastion,saw a large exodus to the Gulf for jobs. How many poor people can understand or connect to the Communists when they take up causes like anti-nuclear energy? Gandhiji tried to represent the poor and introduced secularism. But unfortunately,he has always been seen as some kind of prophet. After all these past efforts to get close to the masses,when you look at this new party’s jhadu symbol,it undoubtedly relates and connects 70-80 per cent of the poor people in our country.

Similar to drawing up a business strategy by extrapolating from customer insights,an interesting new trend the jhadu party started in the Delhi state elections was creating 70 constituency-specific election manifestos. After about 20 meetings in each constituency,volunteers took away thousands of suggestions,analysed them,and then drafted a customised agenda for the betterment of each constituency. The common points made up the party’s Delhi-level manifesto. Knowing the customers’ needs and desires is a surefire win in business. If applied with the same rigour in politics,the results can be tremendous.

Can a political party formed on the foundation of cleaning up society’s ills sustain the immense pressures of its detractors? If its leaders can uphold their avowed principles,manifesto and objectives,India will see the masses actually taking part in real politics instead of merely casting votes. But from the media to different political parties,the jhadu party is being disgracefully provoked for “having developed cold feet” and being “gutless” to govern with outside support. As of now they have not capitulated,and are sticking to their guns. However,if accusations from detractors make them and their ideology susceptible,they will become like all the others the common man has suffered since Independence. Hopefully,that will not happen.

When a broom sweeps the surface,like I first did in my sweeper’s job in Paris,it can polish society’s hard rhinoceros hide. But it’s the corners,like my employer taught me,that we need to get the dirt out of. Similarly,society’s rhinoceros hide can take a beating from natural calamities such as tsunamis and earthquakes; man-made catastrophes like wars,piracy and robbery. But scratching below that rhino hide,you’ll find what lives inside actually feels and bleeds. In that living mass of flesh,there is illiteracy,neglect and discrimination that the same “backward” classes,the poor and housewives experience all the time. It’s mainly to the vulnerable in society that the broom is most familiar,aside from its purported purpose here of cleaning up society’s dirt.

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

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