by Saurabh Jha
In 2004, India’s Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), the incumbents, lost the election to the Congress party. Their loss was a surprise. Though polling is not an exact science, least of all in the sub-continent, what made the loss even more surprising was the election slogan used by the BJP – “India Shining.” India seemed to be shining. There was an economic boom, particularly in cities like Hyderabad and Bangalore. The Indian cricket team almost beat Australia in Australia, and had just beaten Pakistan in Pakistan. The Indian cricket team usually got walloped by these countries. The successes on the cricket pitch were extrapolated to the happiness of the proletariat.
I was in Hyderabad, Telangana, at the time. The youth had optimism and spoke about making crores (10 million rupees), not just lakhs (100 thousand rupees). Satyam, a computer giant, was building, literally, a computer village in Hyderabad. Though the skies were polluted in Hyderabad, everywhere you went there was beer, biryani, and belief. It was a good time to be in Hyderabad.
I visited a village less than 100 kilometers from Hyderabad, in the Ranga Reddy District, partly to fulfil my desire for “poverty porn.” The sky there, though less polluted than Hyderabad, seemed darker. Suicide of farmers, because they couldn’t pay their loans, was particularly high in that village. It was the sort of place where people still died from snakebites. The villagers couldn’t give a crap about India’s success in cricket – such joys are a bourgeoisie indulgence. For them, India wasn’t shining and it annoyed them to hear that India was shining, India was the same old, same old. Over two thirds of Indians live in villages. It is the villagers who decide who governs the nation. By rejecting the soundbite, “India Shining,” the villagers rejected the BJP.
In the 2008 elections, Americans gyrated to “Hope and Change.” I never understood what exactly was hoped for, and what one should change to. I’m still unclear. I presume “change” meant “be less capitalistic” and “hope” was a promised utopia where we’d all be our brother’s keeper – although if everyone was going to be kept who would do the keeping?