It was an unhappy union from the start. They disagreed on everything. The budget, the expenditure, the policies, the goals. And yet, they stayed together for years, fighting to be the louder voice, the stronger presence, the one that commanded more respect.
Year after year, the walls of the parliament became more of a house than a home. They hurled abuses, slammed doors, threw chairs. Dysfunctional. They knew it too. But they stayed together. For the child, they said. They called her India.
India grew up watching her parents fight. The only child in a joint family, many members fought to have a say in how she should be brought up. Every five years, she would be forced to choose between them.
Everyone recognised the symptoms of election time. Flags and banners carrying the lotus and the palm would adorn every street in India. The sounds of passionate campaigning on loudspeakers would jolt her out of her afternoon nap. Knocks on doors would often mean little gifts, sarees, shirts, hooch.
They would fight to tuck her into bed. Her bedtime stories were legends of their past achievements and just-missed targets. Her lullabies were made of the rhythmic chants, NaMo, RaGa, NaMo, RaGa.
As the date got closer, they would get more desperate. They would fight for custody of their child with relentless passion. They made threats and allegations at each other. Morning newspapers would be heavy with accusations and denials. They competed for her love. Each of them trying to win her over with their share of empty promises. Look! I have candy!, they’d say to her. Free mixies, microwaves, laptops, even money. And eventually, she would choose. Unsure, unconvinced, but naively hopeful.
This year, someone new fought for custody of India. He tried catching her attention with powerful words, anti-corruption, equality, radical change. India was inspired. New hope spread across the country like wildfire. Youth took to the streets and words like anti-corruption, water conservation and sustainability were chanted with passion. But it was short lived.
The truth is, the new guy had no experience with children. Like one of those bachelor uncles from abroad who gifts encyclopaedias on birthdays. The one that wants to expand your horizons in the most naïve, noble way. The kind that is received with great inspiration, only to be found gathering dust in no less than a week. He understood parenting, but he didn’t understand the child.
Children like chocolate. Colour TVs, free rice and gold coins are simply more tangible promises. Like a child choosing between an encyclopaedia and a large slice of chocolate cake. For most the choice is obvious, predictable, and wrong. Anti-corruption, development and literacy are simply too ambitious, too vague to make a sacrifice for. India will choose immediate gratification over the risk of no gratification at all.
And she is once again, left making a choice between a cooker and an electric grinder. Everything else, is secondary.
Every five years, India would reel in the excitement of having the right to choose. Caricatures and memes would flood social media, and the #InkedFinger picture was every Instagram user’s ultimate destination. The largest democracy in the world, she’d boast. As millions cast their vote based on who their husband is voting for, who seems more trustworthy, who promised them the bigger tv.
And it would go right back to where it started. The banners would be taken down and promises would be forgotten. India would wait until the next election for a new round of freebies. Those in the villages would wait for the second half of the road to be repaired. And those with microwaves would wait patiently for electricity.
The ruling party and the opposition would take their place in the parliament. They would disagree on everything. The budget, the expenditure, the policies, the goals. And yet, for another four years, they would stay together. Fighting to be the louder voice, the stronger presence, the one that commanded more respect. The walls of the parliament would continue to echo the sound of abuses, broken chairs and slammed doors.
And in the world’s largest democracy, life would go on. As usual.