India’s democracy, with all its problems and polemics, owes you a huge thanks. You are an inspiration. You are a hero to millions of students of democracy and believers in the might of a human being who is willing to sacrifice everything for a worthy cause. You are my hero. You will always be my Iron Lady. A number can’t define your name. Election results can’t define your political contribution. And they should not. They won’t. Heroes don’t come from a school of political arithmetic.
In the history of human civilisation, written or otherwise, heroes never had it easy. No matter how great their causes, notwithstanding their personal sacrifices. Jesus of Nazareth left this planet on a cross, bleeding real blood and breathing real breath, after soldiers hammered nails into his body. Prophet Muhammad left earth after living a life of insults, insinuations and daily tribulations. Martin Luther King Jr. left after a single .30-06 bullet fired by an assassin felled him. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Mahatma to his millions of followers, left after bullets were pumped into his chest by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu fanatic who has been an evil inspiration to his ever-growing number of unabashed admirers in these times of cow nationalism and cinema hall patriotism. Babasaheb Ambedkar, the Mahar boy who made the single largest contribution to India’s Constitution, left as a disheartened man despite his efforts to give justice to the Dalit Bahujan masses.
You are a great human being, Iromji. You have been a name and a voice for millions of people who are faceless and voiceless. You invite us to see beyond our drawing rooms, compel us to go beyond a Twitter handle here and a Facebook like there. In an age of selfie leadership, you are a lone selfless voice. In times of corporate-funded media houses and their direct-to-home shouts and criminal silences, you are a whisper, soft, yet soothing and sublime.
Iromji, Hitler, that failed painter-turned-mass killer, a megalomaniac monster and a vegetarian to his last day, came to power through elections and electoral machinations. This is how the business of politics takes care of its bottom line. Oratory has no time for a truth spoken in whispers. Elections, as important as they are in a democracy, are no guarantee that only selfless, public-spirited leaders will enter the political executive. Let’s not forget that too many criminals, real or potential, have come to power in too many countries after winning elections.
As of May 2014, the 16th Lok Sabha has the highest number of MPs with criminal cases. According to the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), which analysed the election affidavits filed before the Election Commission, 34 per cent of new MPs face criminal charges. The percentage in 2009 and 2004 stood at 30 and 24 respectively. Among the elected leaders to Parliament, as many as 112 have declared that they have serious criminal cases.
Nine leaders in Parliament have murder cases, while another 17 have attempt to murder against them. There are two MPs who have cases related to crimes against women.
With all its warts and weakness, election-based democracy is still the best model of governance. But, Iromji, democracy is as much about principles as about elections. Justice for the voiceless, accountability of the state machinery and the legitimacy of institutions can’t be reduced to a numbers game. You are a spiritual and political force to reckon with. This country of Rohith Vemula and millions of Ambedkarites deserves you. India’s students, who are fighting for democratic space, deserve your time and energy.
As of today, every third district in this country experiences some sort of armed rebellion against the state. More often than not, these districts are blessed with rich natural resources and populated by the deprived and dispossessed. Not all of these armed groups are a direct or indirect result of Pakistan’s attempts to destabilise India. These extremist groups put a strong question mark on the credibility and legitimacy of the country’s democratic institutions. Media conglomerates, fuelled by corporate money, have always spoken about bringing these districts to the mainstream. None of them have ever expected the mainstream to go to these districts and their people.
You made the mainstream go to the periphery. You were the one who made New Delhi’s media stars go to Manipur with their iPads and OB vans and take note of a worthy cause. Without bloodshed. Without organised PR networking. Without any help from a political party, local or national. Without unaccounted corporate donations. At a time when surnames make leaders out of spoilt brats and communal riots make statesmen out of criminals, you have been a glimmer of hope. When even the colour of an apple from an orchard in Sopore is political in the eyes of the buyers in Delhi’s Azadpur subzi mandi, the photograph of you, having refused food and water and having been force-fed through a tube, sitting on a hospital bed, your eyes looking into the television cameras with determination, will stay etched in India’s collective memory.
Iromji, I’m not too worried about what you will do after this election, how you’ll chart your political future and where your decisions will take you.
This is a humble attempt to convey my gratitude to you. Elections come and go. Candidates win and lose. Never has a person deprived herself of food and water for so long, for a cause that affected millions. You did that for 16 years.
Heroes like you don’t come by easily. Stay strong, my inspiration. Take care of yourself. India’s democracy and its elected representatives and their embedded media houses would do well to remember your name. You’ll always be “Mengoubi” (the fair one) in my book of prayers.
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