How this week’s news got me hooked to politics back home

By Sushmita Bose

For the longest time, I’d been disinterested in politics — of the political kind. As an Indian, and as a Bengali (apparently, Bengali political sensibilities are more evolved than average, and every discussion among a group of people from my home state invariably devolves into a raging ideological debate — based on who is in power), I was quite the outlier. My job as a journalist (when I was in India) obviously meant I couldn’t be ignorant; but personally and emotively, I couldn’t care less (unless I liked a particular politician — like, say, Sachin Pilot, who used to be one of my nicest contacts, and someone I want great things to happen to because he’s just so deserving).

I’ve voted once in my life — when I was in college, and embracing-cum-flaunting ‘adulthood’, I went to the polling station with a bunch of giggling girls to figure out what the fuss was all about. We discussed — loudly, much to the consternation of serious-faced voters who were standing in our queue — who we should be voting for, and we decided on “the best-looking person” in the line-up (even though he was an apology for good looks).

After spending a decade outside my country, I’d have assumed my absorption in politics would have moved from vague disinterest to apathy (yeah, I know, NRIs have a heightened curiosity in the political landscape back home, but, again, I am assuming these are folks who’ve always had an informed — and invested — opinion).

Weirdly, it hasn’t.

It has, in fact, been stoked.

Now I don’t keep tabs on every single by-election that takes place in India or try and understand the Union Budget (so boring!); in fact, I probably don’t know the names of a few Chief Ministers as well (I do, however, know the name of the now-ex ‘cow minister’ in one state: Otaram Dewasi).

But the bigger picture? I’m quite involved.

I remember following the 2014 Indian general elections closely. I wanted Narendra Modi to win because I thought he — and not Vijay Mallya — was the king of good times, and he’d usher in  achche din (good times). Well, he did win with a thumping majority, but nothing has happened by way of good times; and if social media were to be believed (give me one good reason why they shouldn’t be?), then India is living out its bleakest phase.

I also remember following the 2016 West Bengal state elections closely; I was in Kolkata during the run-up to that, and felt I was being part of it, there was a distinct frisson of participation — something I’d never experienced. I suddenly felt I had an <opinion>, and started investigating which media house (in Bengal) was anti-establishment, and which was pro. For me, what had traditionally been the silly season wasn’t all that silly any more: when I found myself asking random taxi drivers (always, always a great filter to assess public mood) about Mamata Banerjee’s electoral prospects, I realised maybe I’m not such an outlier after all.

Okay, so being interested in my state’s chief ministerial elections or my country’s prime ministerial one may be one thing; but this time, when five Indian states (four of which I’ve never visited) went to the polls and I was taking a keener interest than usual, I have to say I’d become at least averagely sentient towards politics.

For sometime before these states — Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhatisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram — went to bite ballot-boxes, I had a vague idea there was something brewing; but if you’d asked me a month ago which are the five states going to poll, I may have stared blankly. It all picked up in the past one week. Why my flimsy peg of interest became a solid plank was because I read somewhere on Facebook someone saying “this” will be the “semi-finals” to next year’s general elections (the “finals”). Since I have an altered political perception now, I want Modi to get out of the hot chair, and make way for someone with more genuine speeches and a less annoying voice.

Will this — the results of the polls that are supposedly blinking out the message that it’s time for a change — actually be a precursor to what’s about to unfold next year: the general elections that clever analysts are saying will be the tipping point of the century?

We’ll have to wait and watch. But while I’m waiting, I think my personal political base would have improved significantly.

Sushmita is editor, WKND. She has a penchant for analysing human foibles

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