Politicians continue to fool voters using one gimmick after another
TV and other entertainment media outreach have fairly marginalized Ramlila, but this popular theatre can still be found in rural areas and small towns. Always happening at the same time of the year – beginning before Dussehra and ending just after it or with Deepawali. Its timing is not the only thing that is fixed about the Ramlila; its characters, narrative and dialogues are also fixed and pre-determined, with only minor changes or additions here and there, to perhaps suit the local milieu and audience.
During the Ramlila days, people (particularly its audience) tend to carry a “ramlila” halo around their head – greeting each other with ‘Ram-Ram’ instead of the usual Namaste and on the day of the Dussehra, the phrase “victory of truth over evil” rents the air. It is another matter that Ravan gets reborn next year as well and the people are forced to repeat the “victory of truth over evil”. The evil, it seems, is never entirely vanquished. But I feel, during that period, not just the theatrical enactment of Ram’s saga, it is the people also who play ‘Ramlila, Ramlila’!
This is quite like during our national days, when around Independence and Republic days (and to some extent on Gandhi Jayanti as well), the people become more ‘patriotic’. In government offices and other institutions, there are talks and lectures on patriotism, including people vowing to have a corruption-free society and working for issues of social justice, et al. In schools, the students recite poems by Ramdhari Singh ‘Dinkar’ and other poet laureates of yore.
From street corners you can hear patriotic songs blaring through the day – familiar patriotic film songs whose records, cassettes or CDs were possibly taken out of the closets where these gathered dust the rest of the year. In the last two or so decades this sense of patriotism and nationalism has become more urgent and more visible. Indeed, you need to wear patriotism on your sleeves and you need not only to be patriotic but also be seen to be one. Of course for the other three hundred and sixty two or sixty three days you can tuck up your patriotism in the closet. It is as if, on these two or few other days of the year, we tell each other, “let’s play patriotism, patriotism”.
Its timing is not the only thing that is fixed about the Ramlila; its characters, narrative and dialogues are also fixed and pre-determined, with only minor changes or additions here and there, to perhaps suit the local milieu and audience.
So, in the same breath, these days we are enacting “democracy, democracy”. At least in five states, currently, where this theatre is playing to good house. And this, despite the fact that the drama is old and, like in the case of the Ramlila, people know its script and dialogues verbatim. Perhaps, one reason for its continued mass popularity is that it is actually a unique play, wherein the audience is a vital element in the play. In fact, it is the audience which actually takes the play to its climax and culmination. At least, this is the impression or assumption the people harbour that they are essential to the final outcome of the play. In any case, the audience is happy in its assumption and role-play, and the actors, directors and producers have their work done and paid for.
Otherwise, how is it possible that upon seeing the characters in the play standing before the people with folded hands, as paragons of virtue, truth, honesty, modesty and selfless service and also mouthing the worst abuses for the other characters on the opposite lane, that the audience is not filled with disgust and anger, or have regret or guilt prick their conscience?
Actually they may be, but then the play’s narrative is as intricate as it is simple. The individual actors standing before the audience as a paragon of all virtues actually know that their postures and spoken words are the demands of the script, even though these may not have any relevance or place in their lives. And they don’t exert too much pressure on themselves to go through the roles and its various scenes and acts because they know the play will last only a few weeks or days, now considerably curtailed by the Election Commission. And, of course, they know that like the Ramlila, the ‘democracy play’ too arrives at fixed times, mostly once every five years, so it is not really such a difficult task, going through the motions in the play.
The concerns of development, the floods of corruption, the survival of the poor – the issues and problems that agonized the people the past five years get suppressed under the other thematic layers of the play – caste and community, religion, cash, liquor, contracts, and what not.
At the same time, the audience too knows that the sugar coated words and promises of the candidates won’t fetch it even a day’s food and that the candidates’ pretensions are only till the day the play lasts. Yet, the audience plays on.
But what can the audience do?
This is the Democracy Play and the people are in the role of king-makers. The illusion of the role fills the people with gravity and a sense of ego and pride, and they feel compelled to brush aside their true anguish and impressions of the candidates. The concerns of development, the floods of corruption, the survival of the poor – the issues and problems that agonized the people the past five years get suppressed under the other thematic layers of the play – caste and community, religion, cash, liquor, contracts, and what not.
In one of his recent columns on Truthdig.com, journalist Chris Hedges writes, “Voting will not alter the corporate systems of power. Voting is an act of political theatre. Voting in the United States is as futile and sterile as in the elections I covered as a reporter in dictatorships like Syria, Iran and Iraq. There were always opposition candidates offered up by these dictatorships. Give the people the illusion of choice. Throw up the pretence of debate. Let the power elite hold public celebrations to exalt the triumph of popular will. We can vote for Romney or Obama, but Goldman Sachs and ExxonMobil and Bank of America and the defence contractors always win….voting is nothing more than a brief chance to register our disgust with the corporate state. It will not alter the configurations of power.”
Chris Hedges may have been writing about his country, the USA, but his words are as much applicable to democratic countries like ours. People nurse an illusion that it is they who form the governments. The shadow of national and transnational corporate power is as much entrenched behind our own governments.