May 26, 2020
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Circus Sans Clowns

This will be a non-election because it has no cathartic value, no demons to bury

Circus Sans Clowns
Sandeep Adhwaryu
Circus Sans Clowns
Elections in India are much more than democratic exercises. They are recurring national events, rich in entertainment and of cathartic value. Of course, this is not to underestimate the democratic quotient of elections. Our polls are undoubtedly the biggest democratic spectacle in the history of mankind. The scale is truly impressive, so is its significance. The second biggest nation in the world evicts or returns a government peacefully in a manner that usually has political pundits nodding their heads in admiration—even though the bulk of our voters are poor and illiterate and the terrains sometimes difficult and inaccessible. The merit of our elections, if measured on a scale of 10, would probably score 9, and may well be rated as among the best in the world. Previous poll rigging in Bihar or Haryana seem minor compared to the major Florida hijack of 2000. So with elections being alien in giant countries like China or electoral records being sullied in the US, India shines by contrast.

While the democratic worth of our elections is indeed paramount, there are other aspects that are important. Many get temporary jobs, developmental works are rushed through, printing and transport industries perk up, the world of advertising and media go into a frenzy. The spirit of egalitarianism rises as upper and lower castes line up in polling stations.

But far more exciting is the pure entertainment value of our polls. Our election is the only tamasha that beats Bollywood. It includes all the masala of all the hit films of the past five years. Love, tragedy, betrayal, hubris, revenge, suspense, horror—you name the ingredient, and it is there. And what makes elections far more riveting than hit Bollywood films is that everything is real. It’s not like you come out of the theatre and leave behind the song-and-dance routine of Shahrukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai. You leave the polling booth, but the politics of Vajpayee and Sonia follow you to your kitchen, office, bank, children’s school.

But this year we have a non-election or an anti-election. An election must have suspense, drama, chills, thrills and spills. You are not supposed to know who the winner is. That’s an integral part of the excitement of our elections. Who wins, who loses, the margins of victories and defeats are all matters of discussion across the country, be they in well-appointed cocktail lounges or under the peepal tree. But this time there is no fun because the outcome is a foregone conclusion. No thrills, no spills. No drama, no upsets. The entertainment value is vastly diminished. The infusion of a retinue of resplendent film, TV and cricket luminaries in the starry bjp bandwagon is counterproductive—the dazzle is so blinding you discern none. And a bunch of political also-rans backing the winning horse doesn’t make for high-voltage drama. The only bit of potential pathos in the oncoming event is how much of a tearjerker will the Congress be? How sorry are you going to feel for the haemorrhaging creature that was once the mother of all Indian parties? Are you going to sob, weep or cry for its misfortunes? One suspects some sections will be delighted, some will commiserate, few will be heart-broken. But most may well be indifferent. That’s not the stuff of high drama either.

Apart from the lack of entertainment value—however much our media can be relied upon to hype and flagellate—the other reason why this will be a non-election is that we face an election that has absolutely no cathartic value. What is the point of an Indian election sans catharsis? Remember 1977, when we drove out the Empress of Emergency? Or 1980, when we threw out the bunch of jokers and brought back the empress? Or 1984 when a traumatised nation gave the assassinated Empress’ son and successor the biggest mandate India has ever seen or will ever see? Or 1989, when we threw out the son and successor because we believed he was a crook—though now the courts tell us we judged him unfairly. Now that’s the kind of electoral drama, retribution, action and suspense that we have grown up on. That’s what makes our elections so fascinating, so riveting, so utterly spicy. Like our food. After growing up on dal makhani and tamarind fish curry, is it possible to relish boiled cabbage? It may be good for you, but it’s boring.

Catharsis is possible only when bad feelings bottle up. We were furious and helpless when Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay indulged in their Emergency excesses. We were hopping mad and helpless when the Janata clowns reduced politics to a farce. We were angry and afraid when her own trusted bodyguards assassinated Indira Gandhi. We were upset with Rajiv Gandhi for betraying our hopes and allowed ourselves to be nose-led by V.P. Singh, the newest Mr Clean on the block. Each time we were angry or fearful or bitter about something. And each time we felt helpless about it. We stewed in the pressure cooker we call motherland. And then came elections that provided the safety valve. We let out steam, we ventilated, we exorcised all our pent-up frustrations. We cooked the political goose. Elections were the only time we didn’t feel helpless. We did something about our state of affairs. We threw out the corrupt and the wicked, slapped them on their faces, mocked and humbled them. Now that’s raw, democratic power. That’s catharsis. With all the bottled-up emotions released, we could get back to normal, attend to business and await the new harvest of sins and frustrations bequeathed by our political class.

We went into every election feeling bad. So catharsis was inevitable and invaluable. But what sort of catharsis can you have when you feel good? This election is not therapy. That’s good, but boring. Like boiled cabbage.

(The author can be reached at

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