As the general election in India gathers speed, politicians continue to abuse their relationship with their voters.
Often, elections in India turn into picnics. Men, women and even children take a day off – or several days – to watch their favourite netas or leaders address public meetings, where allegations and counter allegations are traded. And, peppered into these are party manifestoes.
At one such recent meeting in Tamil Nadu’s Pollachi, an hour’s drive from Coimbatore, I saw the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) leader and State Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, address a gathering of some 50,000 or 60,000 people.
At 11 that morning, hordes of people – some fans of Jayalalithaa, some ardent supporters of her party and some lured into travelling considerable distances by money, food and other goodies – began arriving. Most came by private buses and trucks, obviously hired and paid for by the AIADMK.
Some came only because they could have otherwise been ostracised in the small communities they lived. Marking attendance, therefore, at the meeting was a must. It was some sort of social obligation.
But what seemed sad to me was the presence of tens of elderly men and women, who looked tortured under the punishing sun. And it was no mean heat that day, for around noon, the mercury blazed at 39 degrees centigrade.
Even though water was being freely distributed, and sun-caps (an apology really) were at hand, the dust from the huge field (where the meeting was scheduled) was adding to the immense discomfort.
I saw at least two young people suffer sun-stroke and collapse, and they had to be rushed away for medical treatment.
I also saw men pawing women, and, happily, women slapping them. Was it the excruciating heat that was turning men into mad monsters that afternoon? I would never know.
But the heat that all those hundreds were trying to ward off with hats, towels and water was relentlessly cruel. And the wait kept getting longer, and Amma, as Jayalalithaa is reverentially addressed by the aam admi (common man) and the not-so-aam admi like bureaucrats and ministers, was nowhere in sight. At least not for a long time.
It was only at 2.45 pm that the Chief Minister landed, and her fervent followers would have by then waited under the scorching sun for nearly three hours. This was no mean penance.
Jayalalithaa came in a helicopter, a mode of transport that is being questioned by the opposition parties – who feel that this is sheer extravagance. And the podium from where she addressed the gathering was air cooled.
Half way through her speech I could see men and women exiting the venue. Surely, they were not interested in what she was saying or the numbers she was reeling off. They came only to see her. Or, perhaps they were forced into coming. Or, maybe they could no longer bear the oppressive heat, and had to therefore leave.
Whatever it was, could the meeting not have been scheduled a little later in the day, when the sun would have lost much of its sting?
But who cares for the common man?
Gautaman Bhaskaran is India Editor of FMT, and Chennai-based author, columnist and movie critic. He may be emailed at[email protected]