Anything that moves

Why Indian politicians keep railing about corrupt rivals – but never act against them

Over 30 months since he took oath as prime minister, Modi is still giving the same speech berating Congress corruption.

J Jayalalithaa evaded a long jail term thanks to an interminable lower court trial and an innumerate high court judge. She died before what would have been her final comeuppance, a Supreme Court verdict delivered on Valentine’s Day, which cut short the political ambitions of her aide Sasikala. As a consequence of Jayalalithaa’s demise, India still awaits its first irrevocable conviction of a major political figure on charges of serious criminal wrongdoing (the likes of Sukh Ram don’t count). This isn’t down to the extraordinary probity of our leaders.

No, the major cause of the lack of convictions is a tacit understanding between parties to go easy on each other. Our neighbours are far less accommodative. Bangladesh’s Sheikh Hasina was arrested during the reign of her arch-rival Khaleda Zia, and returned the favour when she regained power. Zia’s elder son was last year handed a seven-year sentence for money laundering. Battles are even fiercer on our western flank, where the Pakistani army functions as an additional vendetta machine. Following the dismissal of her government in 1996, Benazir Bhutto spent years in exile, while her husband Asif Ali Zardari narrowly failed to get away. He was found guilty of corrupt practices and also indicted for involvement in the killing of Murtaza Bhutto, Benazir’s estranged brother. Benazir’s nemesis Nawaz Sharif was almost handed a death sentence by a military court after Pervez Musharraf’s coup. Only the personal intervention of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia saved him from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s fate. And so, while Benazir Bhutto hung out in Dubai and London, and her husband occupied a prison cell, Sharif built steel mills in Islam’s holy land.

It’s a very different scene in India. Here, only the Lalit Modis and Vijay Mallyas need to skip town. The truly powerful stay camped in the Lutyens zone, secure whether in power or out. Sure, there’s the election campaign charade of bringing law breakers to justice. We heard a lot of that in Modi’s stump speeches in 2014. But that was the political equivalent of the famous foot-stomping ritual conducted by Indian and Pakistani soldiers at the Wagah border. Over 30 months since he took oath as prime minister, Modi is still giving the same speech berating Congress corruption. It’s the only thing that gets him fired up. When he focuses on his own government’s programmes, and eschews that mocking tone which has grown so grating, his speeches are as soporific as Arun Jaitley’s snoozefest of a budget speech.

The raincoat crack

And so it was that he targeted Manmohan Singh in parliament with a confused metaphor about showering in a raincoat. If he really believes Singh was personally corrupt during his tenure, why not do something about it? Why not act against those widely perceived to have made illicit gains during Congress rule, Robert Vadra for instance? In striking contrast to celebrities, who undergo trials by FIR as soon as soon they push the envelope, politicians of established parties (the Aam Aadmi Party is exception) get away with murder.

I mean that literally. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government was extraordinarily disinclined to bring to book the perpetrators of Gujarat’s 2002 massacres. Sonia and Rahul Gandhi have restricted themselves to counterproductive slogans about maut ke saudagar and khoon ke dalal, while leaving riot trials to activist citizens and judges. In the years before 2002 in Maharashtra, the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party promised to implement Justice Srikrishna’s report on the Bombay riots of 1993 which clearly indicted the Shiv Sena, but did nothing about it once the poll results were in.

Confederacy of thieves

No surprise, then, that Narendra Modi found time to attend a conference organised by Sharad Pawar on the value chain in sugarcane, and offered a glittering tribute to his political opponent. No wonder that Sharad Pawar was awarded a Padma Vibhushan soon after. And no wonder that Pawar’s nephew Ajit (who shares his uncle’s alleged weaknesses and none of his commitment to development and progressive causes) evaded being accused by the Anti-Corruption Bureau in its chargesheet related to the Balganga dam construction undertaken while he was Maharashtra’s Water Resources minister. Another Nationalist Congress Party heavyweight, Chhagan Bhujbal, is currently in jail, but in his case, as with the Gujarat riots, activists, whistleblowers and engaged judges have done more than the administration to keep the issue alive.

What we have, essentially, is a confederacy of thieves and killers. Unlike political leaders in Bangladesh and Pakistan, our netas have learned that being lenient to opponents when in power increases one’s chances of staying out of prison when in Opposition. They have perfected the art of divorcing talk from action, maintaining rhetoric at fever pitch and praxis in a deep slumber. These political tendencies find their match within a public that is at once outraged by political corruption and unmoved by court proceedings related to cases of graft. It made little difference to Jayalalithaa’s standing in Tamil Nadu when she was convicted by a trial court in 2014. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam members bowing before Sasikala today didn’t seem to care that she had been judged guilty of stealing public money by the highest court in the land.

Indians have obviously taken to making up their minds about the honesty or otherwise of political figures quite independently of legal proceedings. This trend, like the mutual indulgence demonstrated by politicians, is a consequence of India evolving a vigorous electoral democracy without also developing an efficient and autonomous criminal justice system.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

Play

This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.