At the farmers' rally held at Delhi's Ram Lila grounds on Sunday, the 19th of April 2015, a striking incongruity was noticed in the impressive lineup of the jaded and wizened old leaders of the grand old party of India. Neither fish nor fowl and the rootless wonder that he was, sat the former Prime Minister from the party, looking as ill at ease as at any place under any set of circumstances. For all the stoicism that he demonstrated with characteristic elan, the former PM could have been in the august company of a Barack O'bama or a Nawaz Sheriff as much as at the farmers' rally. He looked his lackluster best, lost and blatantly out of place without having to make much of an effort to do so. It came naturally to him, thank you. Nevertheless, the fact that an array of party luminaries, with long knives, was seated beside and behind him helped with value addition to his discomfiture. Was he there to provide the proverbial fig leaf of legitimacy to the party as at the beginning of his stint as the country's CEO more than two decades ago? If that was the line of argument for having him, hadn't he already become as tainted and as deeply mired in scandals and scams as any other man in the party? Was he kept on a tight leash so that he would not stray into the enemy territory in a moment of despair and dejection and tattle against the party? Between him and the party, who needed whom more?
If you, dear reader, wondered what he was doing in a farmers' rally in the sweltering Delhi heat on a lazy Sunday afternoon instead of sitting on his favorite couch in his Lutyen's Delhi bungalow, slurping a tall cool drink of lassi or whatever that he slurps on lazy Sunday afternoons in the sweltering Delhi heat when there were no rallies about, that was precisely the line of thinking that the protagonist of our story seemed to be preoccupied with.
Why, pray why, a rally for farmers at Ram Lila Grounds, in the first place? A seminar or a conference of international economists, past and present and preferably past, in the cool interiors of Leela Kempinsky would have been his style rather than this sticky business of having to listen to sundry demagogues belting out sob stories of the poor farmers at the receiving end of an inept government "on the payroll of corporate houses". Not that our man had not helped, albeit a different set of industrialists and their agents, in his own time. He wondered with an inaudible chuckle (he had become adroit at making inaudible chuckles during the past ten years) why those people who fell all over themselves to make a beeline to his place for favours, were not around any longer to bail him out of the messy situation in which he found himself plonked.
But the insidious nitwits running the government today were really the bottom of the pit! What did they know about industry or, for that matter, agriculture or economy? The country would have been better off if they had stuck to what they were best at doing, like running tea stalls. The nerve of these native knaves with knobbly knees encased in khaki knickers, who hurled vexatious invective at Madam President (of the party) and the ET (Enfant Terrible)! All the same, the dexterity with which they hurled accusations was commendable, for every bit of the muck stuck! At this involuntary wicked thought, he found himself unconsciously wringing his hands in unabashed glee. Suddenly he realised that he had unwittingly let his guard down, cautiously looked left and right with a pang of guilt in his heart. An onlooker might have become suspicious and wondered as to whose august neck he was wringing with gusto albeit in a dream; you never knew. He felt relieved only when he was convinced that nobody had noticed him. But, then, a rueful thought that nobody seemed to notice him any longer assailed him. Well, how dare the villains of the party currently in power effortlessly tore down the painstakingly-cultivated image of the dynasty! He himself would not so much as dare think in the hallowed presence of members of The Family lest they should read his thoughts.
Darn it, if only his heart did not beat so loudly and audibly on such occasions! In any case, what was there in the rally for him? It was not as if he was going to become a prime minister ever again by cashing in on such opportunities by projecting himself as a savior of the poor. He did not even have a constituency of people to win over. But what about the post of President (of the country, not of the party) at some point of time in the not-far-away future for services rendered and words not spoken? Sigh... It would be one long, long wait, if at all it came through. Suddenly, his reverie was rudely broken when he was asked to address the farmers. What, speak without getting his speech approved by Madam? And what if the ET, who was sitting between him and the mic, snatched his speech from his hands, tore down and threw it away calling it all nonsense? What if the ET told him that the nation wanted more gas cylinders and asked him to deliver? Maybe he could spare one cylinder from his home kitchen when the wife was not looking. Would it do? Confusion worst confounded, much more than the condition of the country's economy when he demised office. He had handled economy so adroitly that the people of the country had not been able to overcome till date the impact of his doings with all the expertise of an economist who was oftentimes overestimated and seldom correctly understood. Then he fumbled his way across to the mic and spoke, while the assembled motley crowd had their paan-beedi break. The assemblage of farmers was, in any case, incomplete without the tallest and yet humblest farmer of them all, Robbie dear of The Family Were you serious, he wondered.
Back in his seat after mumbling a few words which nobody seemed to have heard or understood, he resumed his thoughts with the felicity of a Greek philosopher of yore. Why couldn't he have been spared to enjoy his siesta on the hot Sunday afternoon? Why could they have not planned the rally for next winter when there was hardly any change likely in the plight of the farmer or the condition of the party? Where was his afternoon tea? Didn't his party men still appreciate the significance of tea, even after a humble tea maker had succeeded in felling a mighty dynasty and scaling the heights of the country's political heap? Sigh and still more sigh...
Incidentally, when were these people ever happy, these farmers? Their problems seemed to be never ending. There was either a drought or a famine or torrential rains or cyclones, taking turns to play havoc with their occupation. There was hardly any respite. Monsoon was seldom favored them. It came either too early or too late and, more often than not, never at all. His government had to bail them out, every single time. Did the farmers, in turn, ever bail him or his party out, he asked himself. His government had been giving them loans before a catastrophe struck and waive them off afterwards in addition to sanctioning relief grants. It also had to give them free electricity and water and subsidies too. When they were not in power, The Party espoused antipathies against those in power without restraint and held rallies.
And the farmers were playing victims all the time while The Party was in sackcloth and ashes over the former's plight! Above all, he was denied a hat trick and the Nobel Prize for Peace! What a thankless lot! And there he was defending the farmers on a hot lazy Sunday afternoon even when the latter were not sure what he was doing. If only he had not mistaken the invite to the rally as one for lunch! Sigh.....