A Candid Conversation with a Local Corporator: Politics, Promises, and Accountability
When my friend Murthy turned up the other morning with a friend I welcomed him in before heading for the bar to bring out his favourite tipple. He raised his hand to stop me at the door, saying, “Please show me the restroom.”
That was strange, because he’d been there several times already. However, I asked him to follow me and led the way. As soon as we were out of earshot of his friend, he whispered, “He’s teetotal. Don’t even mention a drink!”
The friend, dressed all in crumpled white, iPhone in hand, was a corporator from a nearby large municipality. “Everyone knows me,” he bragged. “I’ve been working very hard for my people.”
I remembered him because his name was in the news every time an election came around. His nose for victory was as sharp as Murthy’s for scotch, for he’d been on the winning side for the last five elections… His sole strength was the ability to judge when best to jump a sinking electoral ship. There had been a newspaper article just a couple of days ago saying just that. “There was an article about you,” I said, “in such-and-such daily, just a few days ago.”
For a moment I thought he was going to have an attack of apoplexy, but he regained control of himself. “It’s nonsense,” he said. “These writers just make up these stories and pretend they’re real.”
“There didn’t seem anything made up in that report,” I said. “The writer quoted sources, including yourself. I have the paper lying around here somewhere if you want to check.”
“I don’t need to check,” he said, his voice rising in anger. “It’s not fair. There’s a context to everything. If the reporter doesn’t mention the context, why quote me except to damage my standing with my people? The rains have been poor this year. I am the best person to ask the state government to give us enough money to deal with the drought, but they don’t want me to succeed.”
“Why are you the best?” I asked.
“Because I know everyone!” he replied. “Everyone in Bangalore is my friend, across all parties! Everyone knows that I live cleanly. I eat simple food, wear simple clothes… I don’t drink or smoke, or have any bad habits. They trust me!”
I’d never looked at it that way. His history of jumping ship – constituency in tow, of course – made him a formidable presence in local politics. And since practically everyone in every party that ever ruled had been a fellow-party-member at some time or other, he was friends – or enemies – with everyone. “Right!” I said. “So they all know exactly who you are, and what you’re doing.”
He smiled. “See!” he said. “I’m so happy you understand. This is the meaning of transparency. Universal friendship.”
“What an excellent principle!” I said.
“My people know it,” he said, “so they vote for me always. They know I’m there for them.”
“Right,” I said. “There was a report some weeks ago that said that your constituency has been getting the largest grants for development in the state. I remember that very well.”
“See?” he said. “Some writers do the right thing! They talk of things that matter!”
“Yes,” I said. “That report also said that there’s nothing in your constituency to show for all the development money spent in it. It’s no better than any other in terms of quality of life, or infrastructure… It said that the constituency has performed poorly with cleanliness, the roads are all in bad condition after the rains, schoolchildren aren’t fed properly, and the beach is being mined illegally for sand.”
“Nonsense!” he said, his face turning red. “These writers are ignorant and arrogant! Let me take up these points one by one. What can I do if people from other places come dump their garbage in my area, or if contractors build substandard roads, or headmasters steal school funds? As for the sand mining, the police have said that there is nothing in those allegations!”
He paused to take a breath and I edged in another two bits. “But there are photographs of large pits on the beach where the sand has gone, and truck tyre tracks running right up to them.”
“I don’t have the resources to check every inch of my constituency,” he replied. “If I could get another few crore rupees I would do that, but the government gives me just enough for urgent requirements.”
“The report said that the surveillance cameras at the beach don’t work, or they point in the wrong direction,” I said.
“I don’t know anything about the technicalities of cameras,” he said. “I work for the people, and I know the people. I have to depend on others for technical guidance.”
I didn’t know that he had to get technical guidance to point a camera in the direction of what he wanted to shoot, but who was I to question him? His margin of victory in the last couple of elections had been in two digits, which, in constituencies of tens of thousands, was very small. “What about the people who didn’t vote for you?” I asked. “Are they also yours? And the writers who live in your constituency?”
“Everyone is mine!” he said. “Writers are also my people. I tell all writers, even those outside my constituency: give up your arrogance, and I will make your life easy. I will give you material for you to write. When you write it, I will make sure that it is published, and that you get paid for it. That’s what every professional writer wants, isn’t it?”