The Social State Metroplus

The ‘other’ side of politics

Why do people who are personally unaffected by Jayalalithaa have distinct views of her, distinct from those affected by her? This applies both to people who do not live in the State and those who do, but do not stand to benefit from State schemes. To them, she has never been anything more than a ‘corrupt’ politician, a woman who insists that her partymen remain subservient to her, an opposite of the democratic system she inhabits.

For them, it is easy to dismiss the mass hysteria that followed her acquittal, as a mark of eyeless worship, an iconoclasm born of sycophancy. It is easy to condescend to her supporters with the kind of smugness that comes from residing in a higher class. But when this condescension is born of an apathy of knowledge, and an ‘othering’ of the supporters, it reinforces stereotypes. Does this hold true for all democracies, or is it a uniquely Indian case?

W. Russell Neuman writes in The Paradox of Mass Politics , that the paradox is the “gap between the expectation of an informed citizenry put forward by democratic theory and the discomforting reality revealed by systematic survey interviewing. How different are the views of those few who actively attempt to influence political decisions on a day-to-day basis from the views of the many who simply monitor the news media half-attentively and occasionally make it to the polls to vote?”

While Neuman referred to the American democracy, it would seem that the same would hold true to India too. It is why the vocal classes who have always been vote banks, who have worked in at least one political capacity, however small, are able to understand the polity within which Jayalalithaa functions, while others who form the social class above the former, deride her for ‘corruption’ — a social ill considered serious mostly by the middle and the upper-middle classes.

This is a result of identity politics, a skill that is built over the years by many politicians, the kind that Jayalalithaa’s predecessor M.G. Ramachandran was adept at — to such an extent that even almost 30 years after his death, he is still revered as a demigod in the State. The opposing view possibly comes from negating said identity, creating a boilerplate image of the supposed “sycophants” in one’s mind, and carrying forward that image without ever deigning to understand why it is so.

For the naysayers, forming the subaltern is not a position they’re used to, for they have always thought that the opposite was true of them — that political power rested in their hands. While this may have been true many decades ago, the acceptance of the reverse will take more time. This inability to grapple with one’s own place in this structure may be the reason behind uninformed views and an ability to hear only what one wants to.

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Printable version | Sep 28, 2022 9:21:59 am |