The urge is perhaps a little more Indian than global, to turn every round number that appears on a calendar into a trigger for a tamasha. We’re a compulsively partying people, and in the national space no less than in the personal. That the tamashas are fun — and a diversion — is good enough to have them. But they have their uses.
To be sure the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth hasn’t left behind 1.2 billion Indians newly converted to Gandhians, or should that now be 1.3 billion, or the sufficiently adult fraction of that. But better to recall a little than to forget entirely. The Gandhi circus did bring a reminder of one or more ways we all do carry some sense of Gandhi through all our inadequacies.
The anniversary triggered events to set off our own little experiments with truth; the Gandhi idea entered that otherwise tiresome bhakt-liberal debate. What would be right by Gandhi? We asked the question that we otherwise might not have, and that can’t be bad. Gandhi himself got divided in the debate, but within an extraordinary commonness: everyone felt the need to have Gandhi on their side. The idea of Gandhi, or different senses of an idea of Gandhi, are not going away for a long time.
From Congress to Gandhi
They came to London this week, by way of an event at Kings College in London to recall Gandhi. Former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan took stage with Sam Pitroda, the communications technocrat from the Congress to talk Gandhi. Talking questions, there’s one straight off. Should Raghuram Rajan have come holding hands with Sam Pitroda? Because they appeared on the same side of the political stage. Whatever the rightness or wrongness of any view either holds, did this compromise perception of independence? In an RBI governor, even if officially an ‘ex’, perception of independence matters. And Raghuram Rajan can never really be India’s ‘ex’. He wins trust and respect just from being himself. It’s not every day that you run into an economist with his kind of insight that he makes accessible with such deceptive simplicity and to top that, with so much of his boyish charm. Always stimulating to listen to. No great economic model offered here but when Raghuram Rajan says don’t stop listening, listen.
Some things Sam Pitroda has got right. The communications revolution, and the revolution it’s been, that he foresaw and did much to make happen long before anyone else on the political scene could guess what he was talking about. But for him to recall not only Gandhi but Indira Gandhi as a model for freedom of expression? From back in 1980 just three years after the Emergency ended? If he carries any recollection of the Emergency, I didn’t show. He is perhaps not very good with remembering. ‘Hua to hua’ was his way of referencing the 1984 killings. No, not consistent with invocations of Gandhi. But it’s not just he who’s better at saying the right things about Gandhi than doing them.
What if those 39 people found dead in the lorry had been offloaded alive and well? Who wouldn’t wish that, whatever the law and however far to the right any views on migration? They would have stepped off the lorry to then, as they say, ‘disappear into the system’. And what would they have disappeared into? We don’t need to speculate, we know already from the thousands, even hundreds of thousands, who’ve arrived in Britain packed into crates in a truck container. With Indians topping the lot.
Common Grounds Of Misery
For a start, once off a truck like this, to begin a furtive search for shelter. These days that would be in a quickly advancing winter, even if not as cold as the refrigerated container the 31 men and eight women froze to their death in. Not many Vietnamese around in Britain to have taken the risk of hiding them, and taken on the expense of sheltering them only because they shared similar origins. Then on, a search for hidden work. The going rate for illegal arrivals is two pounds an hour. In grubby restaurant kitchens, in hard labour at small building jobs, in hidden cleaning jobs and the like.
At the end of a day’s work such as this, if you’re lucky to have found it, sleep four to six on the floor of a jointly rented room, buy food past its expiry date, find no access to medical care, and all the while to look over tired shoulders for police raids, look suspiciously at your roommates to see if anyone’s been tempted by offers to rat on others. It’s a rat’s life. Vietnamese or Indian, Syrian or Pakistani, the misery is common to all. And still they keep coming, keep getting lured to come. The agent fee in Punjab these days to arrange such ‘travel’ averages about 15 lakh rupees per risking person. Anyone coming from a family that can produce that much money has never lived as badly as they would once they begin to live out their dream. It counts as lucky to go on living like that for a long time.
London Eye is a weekly column by CNBC-TV18’s Sanjay Suri, which gives a peek at business-as-unusual from London and around.