I had started tweeting about this, and thought a slightly more elaborate blog post was in order.
Today, my family had traveled to a nearby city in our car, and as nobody in my family is confident enough to drive, we had hired a driver for the purpose. He is not in our regular employment, and we had availed of his services once in the past. He is 38 year-old, married, Tamilian by mother tongue, but (perhaps, born and) brought up in Mumbai since he was aged 8 years, and had studied till class 8. I am not aware of his caste, but perhaps is Brahmin as he had mentioned “Iyengars” as his relatives. There is not much I know of him that would betray his general disposition, except that he expressed disappointment several times that he did not study beyond class 8 because he found out to his dismay that minimum qualification for many government jobs was having passed class 10. He had his run ins with corruption when trying to get a passport for himself. He had at one point mentioned that with advancing age he no longer enjoyed driving at high speeds as it would risk his life (which he feared on account of having a family to take care of), and that the basic purpose of having a car was to go from point A to B instead of depending on more inconvenient public transport, and to not “speed”. His elder son is in class 12, and younger one perhaps in class 10, and he had already tried to have financial plans in place to enable his sons to study further. I saw him getting quite agitated each time he would see the traffic policemen relegate their duty in more serious matters, and instead trying to chase someone for their quota of “targets” or bribes. At few points my father was driving the car and whenever father would get anxious (or mildly panicky) if a speeding car would overtake from the wrong (left) side, the driver would assure him to just stick to his lane and not worry about what others do – however, I would not extrapolate this to mean he would necessarily have or recommend the same attitude in other areas of life.
I had been witness to a conversation between my father and him involving the current state of politics. The driver was the more vocal one. 😀 My father had hardly expressed any views contradictory to his. I had deliberately stayed out of the conversation as I was finding it fascinating to hear some ‘offline’ person’s views on something I keep on discussing/debating day in and day out over tiwtter. 😀 So, there was little leading on by my dad. I would say that the driver was initially measured in his words, perhaps, not wanting to say something my dad would find unsavory, unaware of his political views and preferences, however, he became a bit more assertive as he saw his and my father’s views converge. The distinct conclusions I could draw from hearing him were:
1. Extreme cynicism towards Indian politicians. He was very clear that politicians work for private gains at the cost of national interest. But on the other hand, it seemed natural to him that the politicians ought to work for larger good of the nation, and not pilfer money from it. His cynicism somehow did not seem to lower his demand of the politicians that they be both honest and efficient. Furthermore, he was not willing to make any allowances to the politicians who he saw by and large as dishonest and malevolent. He wondered several times (in general about rich people [politicians and businessmen] who would amass large amounts of money through dishonorable means), “itne paise ka kya karega yeh log? Marne ke baad kahaan lekar jaayega?” [“what will these (rich people) do with so much money? Where will they take this money to after dying?”].
2. He found Sharad Pawar the most corrupt politician. He pointed out that while the Nehru-Gandhi family had several decades to amass all the wealth they had, Pawar had amassed most of the wealth in just last 5 years or so, which was astonishing to him. However, I would want to point out that the backdrop was the conversation happening in a privately owned educational institute which is rumored to have discreet stakes of Sharad Pawar, so the sprawling campus with impressive infrastructure might have skewed his views [had he seen similar ’empires’ belonging to other politicians, he might have not appeared so confident about Pawar being the greatest beneficiary of corruption in Indian politics].
3. He found the Congress totally pathetic, and the BJP hardly better. He clearly stated that it was the Congress that was responsible for the present poor plight of the nation. However, he also blamed the Indian citizens stating, “sau rupaye ke note ke liye Congress ko vote dega toh kya hoga?”. Somehow without prodding, he also added, “BhaJaPa bhi waisa-ich hai. Woh log bhi kuchh alag nahin kiya. Woh log ne bhi paisa khaaya” [“Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) is also like the Congress. They hadn’t done anything different. They had also siphoned off money”].
4. Views on Lalkrishna Advani and Narendra Modi. I was eager to hear his views on Modi, however, I was surprised my father had not brought him up despite being quite partial to him, and the driver clearly lamenting lack of any good leaders. But after talking of the BJP’s dismal past performance, he profusely praised Atal Bihari Vajpayee (ABV) following my father praising ABV (indicating his praise of ABV was perhaps not entirely sincere). At that point the driver mentioned that there was no need for ABV to have taken Lalkrishna Advani (LKA) along with him in 1999. He said that it was obvious that nobody would’ve voted for the BJP with LKA as their prime ministerial candidate in 2009. He seemed to feel that somehow only ABV had been a sincere prime minister up till now. Then suddenly without prodding again, he turned to Narendra Modi (NaMo). Vaguely from my memory, he said, “Usne pehale jo bhi kiya, usko maalum hai ki kya karna hai. Woh kuchh toh kar raha hai.” [“Whatever he did in the past (mostly alluding to the alleged role in Gujarat riots, but with certain measure of agnosticism of veracity of those allegations or even indifference cuz of finding them irrelevant today, and also with a tinge of disapproval), he knows what is to be done. He is (at least) doing something”]. My inference: he looked at NaMo as a distinctly unique phenomenon in the present condition of Indian politics, however, he was not too passionate or expectant of him to deliver (that, despite my dad having praised Modi and sort of endorsed the kind of administrative work he’d done in Gujarat [at one point, both my parents had pointed out that the quality of roads penetrating right into the villages had improved phenomenally under his administration]). Part of his lack of excitement seemed to stem from what he had to say further: “BhaJaPa ka dusra log usko PM ban-ne nahin dega. Woh sab log ko bhi PM ban-ne ka hai, na?” [“Others (top leadership) of the BJP won’t let him become the PM. They all also harbor prime ministerial ambitions, no?]. I don’t remember his exact words, but had declared rather dreamily that if NaMo wants, he can be the PM. Why all of this assumes significance is because he is a Tamilian, hailing from Mumbai, and despite being so unrelated to NaMo, had not mentioned any other politician as part of his political wish list.
5. National media seemed to have little direct impact on his opinions. It somehow became clear to me that his primary sources of information were not the kind of mass media I would be exposed to (media houses owned by large corporations like the NDTV and the Times group). I had seen him read a Tamil newspaper, the title of which I don’t know. But it somehow strongly seemed that his inferences were based largely in what he heard from others (hearsay) – some passed on from elders in his family or neighborhood, and others drawn from the everyday chatter. However, national media might get to set the agenda for this everyday chatter.
A few disclaimers from my side:
1. It is certainly not obligatory upon any of the readers to a priori take my account as faithful or honest. However, as it is me who is reporting this, it would make no sense to bargain with me to modify some of the words I have attributed to the said driver, and any discussion on this post follows with the acceptance of a precondition that I’ve quoted the driver accurately, and also that my interpretations of his words and non-verbal means of communication were accurate. I’m sadly having to say this because I have read so many accounts in the mainstream media and sometimes even on blogs, which to me seemed at least partly cooked up. But now I am in the same shoes, as I recount something that could be politically (and also emotionally to some) sensitive, and hence, find the mistrust harbored towards others (which I continue to do) mildly embarrassing.
2. My interpretation of what the driver had meant, apart from the spoken word, was also based on his tone, mannerisms, the immediate context of conversation, etc., and hence it could be inaccurate. I had not participated till quite late in the conversation with the intent of avoiding influencing it one way or the other.
3.I do not think the driver’s views were necessarily representative of any religious/linguistic community or socioeconomic class, but I found his views instructive and valuable, because they came from a person seemingly very different from me in many ways (I am not so passionate as him about politics and governance, for one).
4. The driver did seem to be a bit reserved in his opinions, perhaps with the awareness that strong views on politicians could hurt other people’s sentiments, but I must also point out that my father had anyway hardly taken lead in any of the various tangents in the conversation. So, though his words might have not been an exact reflection of his views, they seemed more or less honest.