THE flotsam and props of India's democracy bazaar were there in strength. For the first time since 'Empress Indira's' durbar, the prime ministerial darshan promises to become a regular affair. Starring H.D. Deve Gowda. The growing tribe of modernists may well be appalled and see in it an insidious attempt to foist royalist paraphernalia on the progressive charter of modern India. But the reality—on the evidence of a day at the Janata Darshan which began on June 19—is that the notion of authority as maibaap is all-pervading. Apart from being deeply embedded in the collective psyche of the nation. Regardless of the system of governance.
Prime Minister Deve Gowda, the latest and most unlikely heir to Mrs Gandhi's crown, retains his man-of-the-people persona in his dealings with The People. No aura of grandeur or aloof hauteur about him. Hands resting on the complainant's shoulders, the order to his aides to 'look into the matter' is not a royal firmaan. More like the friendly neighbourhood neta promising to do his best. Eliciting varying reactions from those who had crossed a maze of barricades for an audience with the PM.
The darshan began at around 9.15 in the morning, after security personnel ensured there were 'enough people'. Giving one time to catch up with BSF constable and former 'Black Cat' commando Devendra Singh of Mathura. He has served in the security ring around some of the country's top politicians. And he isn't sure if he is putting his job at risk by going to "Gowdaji". But he doesn't have an option.
"My family was given land in 1976 which my brothers have been farming. But local officials refuse to register the land as ours in the records without a bribe," he says, producing a letter written by Mulayam Yadav (when he was UP CM) asking the administration to act speedily. "The only effect it had was to embolden the officials. They taunt my family saying that they have got even the CM's order cancelled," he adds.
And he is petrified that the culmination of this inverted logic by village officials would be to take even greater pleasure in flouting the PM's diktat. In fact, many who turned up for the darshan say they "do not expect much". "Then why do all of you come here?" asks M.A. Rabbani, of the Madrasa Aleemia, Shahjahanpur. "The point is that most of us are here hoping against hope that the PM will do something. He is the last recourse." That Gowda does not speak Hindi is not a problem. He follows the general drift of the conversation, and his aides interpret the rest.
For those who descend on Race Course road—from ageing sarpanches with wizened faces and colourful turbans, to Ray Ban-adorned Maruti-driving minor politicians this side of 40 clutching elaborate bouquets—if the elections are the bread and butter of Indian democracy in action, prime ministerial darshan is most certainly the jam. Unlike Indira Gandhi's morning durbar, which had a fair sprinkling of the glitterati in search of instant nirvana—sipping their morning cuppa with Mrs G while they gazed in voyeuristic abandon at the real India and its problems—the Gowda janata darshan has not yet succeeded in attracting the chattering classes.
The majority of those who make the effort are poor and desperate. Their main concerns are employment and land disputes. And many of them break down, sobbing uncontrollably when the PM speaks to them. Should 'proud citizens of a proud India', who are at the end of their tether, also lose the remnants of their dignity? Even if it is the PM's shoulder which has been proffered to them to cry on. Mr Deve Gowda cannot be held in any way responsible for the sufferings of those who come to him, but he has raised expectations. To meet which the balm of prime ministerial concern may not be enough.