With only a few days to go for elections it was a veritable season of rallies in Kashmir as every party, mainstream, off stream (and even the fence sitters!) sought to show its strength (or at least presence!).Well so there was this umpteenth rally of the season and I happened to be an unwilling ingredient as well as the victim of the traffic jam consequent upon such events.
It was a pretty messy snarl with red faced traffic cops arguing with scarlet faced drivers, horns blaring a discordant symphony in the background and tempers flaring up with an inevitable brawl breaking out every now and then.
Under such circumstances, after you vent your bile on the nearest policeman, curse yourself for venturing out in a car (not heeding the advice of your mother, wife or the friendly next door neighbour!), and shout out to an unheeding world that all politicians should be banished to Antarctica, there is ultimately very little that you can do except lie back and try to enjoy the chatter and the songs on your car FM receiver!
I had reached this stage of resignation when suddenly a group of ‘volunteers’, wearing headbands that displayed the symbol of a particular party descended upon the scene.
It appeared that their bus had got mired in the very mess that they had helped create so they had to foot it to the venue. Watching these ‘volunteers’ and party workers of all age groups and dimensions balefully from the confines of my car, I saw a man emerge from somewhere who barked some instructions to the group leaders among these ‘volunteers’ and party workers.
Something about this fellow seemed familiar and as I concentrated on his features I recalled that he was a former schoolmate of mine. He also seemed to have recognized me as he came with long strides towards my car. He made the usual polite enquiries after my health and family.
For a few moments we exchanged information about mutual acquaintances and former classmates and then I asked him, “What are you up to these days?” gesturing towards the teeming volunteers whom he had been directing a short while ago.
The last time I had seen him he was a contractor.
“Once a contractor, always a contractor,” he said with a grin. “Only difference is that previously I supplied materials and laid roads, whereas nowadays I supply manpower and organize ‘events’!”
He handed me a business card which had his name and the legend ‘Election Event Manager’ inscribed beneath the same and smiling indulgently said. “One day it is a rally by some mainstream leader, the next day it is a rally by the opposition and yet another day it is a rally by some ‘off stream’ leader followed by the inevitable opposition rally (for you see even the ‘off stream’ parties have their own ‘opposition’ parties!)! Ever wondered where all those people come from?”
“There’s nothing surprising about that!” Now it was my turn to smile. “I am sure most people come to these rallies out of mere curiosity! Of course there are free meals and maybe a bit of ‘pocket money’ or say the promise of a job…”
He laughed heartily at this one and said, “Curiosity?! My friend, times have changed! All this was in the good old days when people had very few means of entertainment. Listening to speeches and participating in rallies was as good an entertainment as any.
Also there was an element of curiosity, people naturally wanted a glimpse of the various leaders whether they liked them or not. But nowadays there is the TV with so much of politics and politicians on it that it is enough to make one puke! It is not all that easy to assemble people now!”
“So where do you come in?”
“I supply the crowds. Be it any event, any party, any denomination, any ideology! I am always ready to supply the manpower!”
“How do you manage these…er… affairs?” I couldn’t help asking.
He detailed his modus operandi. “Look we have these ‘unskilled workers’. These are gathered by our local representatives and bundled into buses and transported to the venue. They just have to listen to the speeches and add bulk to the assembly.
“Then there are our ‘skilled workers’, they can shout slogans (I have a staff of writers to churn out those!), sings songs of adulation and perform similar other functions to enliven the proceedings.
Of course an important group is that of women who are not only very vocal but add ‘colour’ to the gathering by their very presence.
“We also have an extra special contingent of old men and women…a couple of centenarians even. These look good on the TV screens especially when they cast votes and all that…”
“Yeah! You see we have ‘vote banks’ as well. Highly skilled ‘workers’, both sexes (and a smattering of the ‘intersex’ as well!), who can help our clients to bolster a sagging support base.”
Just then the phone started ringing and business got rather hectic for my friend. I decided that it was time I left so that my friend could concentrate on his job of managing the ‘human resource’ aspect of democracy…
(Truth is mostly unpalatable…but truth cannot be ignored! Here we serve the truth, seasoned with salt and pepper and a dash of sauce (iness!). You can record your burps, belches and indigestion, if any, at firstname.lastname@example.org)