Why Sibal’s words mean little and Anna's gestures speak volumes

How lawyer-turned-politicians have got their script wrong

ajay

Ajay Singh | August 16, 2011


Protest at India Gate
Protest at India Gate

“Saala jhooth bolela, kaali dilli ka chhora saala jhooth bolela” was a soulful but rebellious rendition of a Bhojpuri song which found resonance across eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in 1988-89. A rather little-known Bhojpuri singer named Baleshwar Yadav sung this song at the peak of the Bofors controversy and alluded to the involvement of the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in the corruption scandal by referring to him as “kaali Dilli ka chhora (lad from black Delhi)”. Given the melodious nature of the Bhojpuri language, this song was certainly coarse. Yet, it struck the chord with the Bhojpuri belt.

Obviously, in people’s court Rajiv Gandhi was held guilty of the Bofors pay-off in 1989 even though in legal parlance he was innocent. That Baleshwar Yadav’s song conveyed a far deeper political message than legal language was evident in 1989 elections when the Congress was decimated in the polls. Though Rajiv Gandhi and his cohorts tried to defend their position by applying legalese, it only made an adverse impact. V P Singh grew in stature and acceptance, not because of application of his superior oratory or logic but because his political idioms were carried to people like Baleshwar Yadav.

Obviously, the government of the day cannot be faulted for its lack of understanding of India’s political history. Prime minister Manmohan Singh is essentially a career bureaucrat whose brush with politics is self-admittedly a fortuitous event. But there is a battery of leaders within the party who know it quite well that the application of legalese and superior logic is bound to recoil on the government. This is significant in view of the fact that the government has marshalled top-notch lawyers in the garb of politicians to defend its position.

Take, for instance, the spirited defence put up by union home minister P Chidambaram, HRD minister Kapil Sibal or law minister Salman Khursheed who have been targeting and attacking Anna Hazare as if they were performing in a court of law. In a series of press conferences, these ministers have given long expositions on constitutional matters related to individual’s rights, role of parliament and judiciary and executive in a democracy.

The Congress has simultaneously unleashed another lawyer-turned-MP, Manish Tewari, to call Anna names and describe him and his associates as “company” quite akin to the D company. There is no doubt that the government and the Congress have jointly unleashed a battery of lawyers to employ their language to demolish Anna Hazare’s campaign, vilify him and neutralise him with their superior skill of logic.

Contrast this with Anna Hazare’s one-liners coming straight out of innocent rusticity prevalent in India. He offered to serve Kapil Sibal and carry a “bucket of water” for him (“Sibal ke yahan paani bharoonga”) if the Lokpal turns out to be ineffective in tackling corruption. He is not ashamed of showing his ignorance about the complex legalese employed by legal hawks, academia or social elites of Delhi. His certain expressions may sound “anarchic” to constitutionalists. But is India not called a “functional anarchy” by the same set of people?

By all indications, Anna’s political project of getting India rid of corruption has found greater acceptance among people despite the superior logic of his opponents. However, it appears quite amazing that the opposition has still failed to assess the mood of people and has been relying more on the prowess of legalese and complex language and less on its political instincts to comprehend this phenomenon. This is evident by the manner in which the principal opposition, BJP, has not been as forthright in its political response as its ally, Nitish Kumar, with regard to Anna Hazare’s campaign.

There are many instances in Indian political history when people rejected sophisticated language of rulers and opted for a coarse and rustic idiom which found resonance with the people. Ramdhari Singh Dinkar’s famous line “Singhasan khali karo ki janata aati hai” (vacate the throne lest people come) was an instant hit during the emergency period though there were cries of “India is Indira and Indira is India” in a very sophisticated English language by Devkant Baruah.

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