Prof.T K Thomas

As someone who has strong Gandhian moorings, peace and nonviolence, the 2019 General Elections have been a nightmarish experience that revealed some of the basest characteristics of the human mind by our political class. Peace and nonviolence of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela have been reduced to irrelevance at the altar of political skullduggery by the political class. However some of the stories brought out during the campaign coverage by news channels do give us a glimmer of hope of people still having dreams amidst the all encircling gloom. Our former President, Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam in his interaction with children and youth exhorted them to have dreams. He reminded that unless we dream, we cannot be achievers. He said, “Dreams transform into thoughts, and thoughts result in action.”

To start with, here is the story of Sunaina, a 7th class student from a marginalized community in Mohanlalganj, twenty kilometers from the Uttar Pradesh’s capital, Lucknow. During the in depth coverage of the 2019 General Elections last week NDTV’s Prannoy Roy highlighted a rather longish interview with this very articulate eleven year old Seventh grader. For Roy, known for his interviews on his channel and earlier on Doordarshan’s “The World This Week” in the 1990s, this little rural girl was a delight. Otherwise his channel would not have repeated the girl’s interview so many times. Actually Sunaina had taken over from her mother the task of answering Roy’s questions. Like a seasoned interviewee she answered the questions with no hesitation, exhibiting understanding of the world around her and rare qualities of courage and resilience. Working hard at home, attending to domestic chores including cooking, struggling to go to school, helping her landless “Batai dar” or share copper father as a farm hand carrying sack-full of fodder for their cows and goats covering a distance of over a kilometer. Interestingly, for Roy it was indeed a ‘’Walk the Talk” as the little girl talked to him during the brisk walk from her home to the farm and back to fetch fodder.

Sunaina knows the difficulties of her father in sending her to a private school where she could learn some English; how her grandfather drank and sold off their little piece of land; by showing the empty gas cylinder in their kitchen to Roy she established that they did get the first cylinder with gas but they have no money to get a new refill. Was she indicating that the much hyped Ujjwala scheme has not offered a permanent solution to the economically backward sections of society in Uttar Pradesh? Surprisingly she had no complaints and blamed no one.

Who are her friends? Are they from her own community? No, she named all communities, castes and sub castes and said that her friends came from all communities and castes. It was evident that she was not sectarian and was not apologetic about her own Rawat caste [SC].

What does she want to do in future? ‘Doctor’ was the prompt answer. She knows that it is difficult for her father to send her for medicine but her dream is to become a doctor. Why? People in her village fall ill and can’t afford treatment from doctors who are expensive. So when she becomes a doctor, she would charge less money!

Well, let’s hope that Sunaina’s dream comes true and she would become a doctor. Of course the question mark on fulfillment of her dream is, will her family’s low income, poverty and caste would ever allow that? As a spin off, it is heartening that the NDTV interview has led to the Gargi & Vidya Prakash Dutt Foundation, a trust dedicated to education, collecting funds for fulfilling Sunaina’s dream of becoming a doctor.

Taking a cue from her, I too have a dream! That Sunaina becomes a doctor! Looking at the lack of true development, the ever widening disparities, lack of opportunities, divisions in the social structures and political parties looking at people from their perspectives of vote banks, it is time that people at large accept and consider everyone as a worthwhile human beings and dream of a really egalitarian society with equal opportunities for personal growth.

Every journalist covering the 2019 elections in Uttar Pradesh and other states, talks about caste equations- scheduled castes[SC], their sub castes, other backward classes[OBC], Yadav, Jat, Gujjar, Brahmin, Kshetriya, Vaishya, Kayasth, Shudra, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian- the list is endless. All elections here are fought entirely on caste basis. When will they stop fighting elections on the basis of these socio-religious, communal divides? Social engineering is a term that has come into existence during the last decade or so; whichever party that can have the right mathematical combinations can win elections. In earlier elections, a political party’s manifesto was of great importance and journalists used to collect them and analyze them. Today, manifestoes are brought out by parties at the last moment and instead of analyzing them, the caste equations are analyzed by the media to calculate which caste combination would ultimately win the elections!

I have a dream; may be a utopian dream! Future elections in the country will be fought without caste considerations and the media would stop mentioning religions, communities and castes!

One of the channels carried a long story based on interviews with migrant labour leaving Delhi for Eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. They were travelling to their villages by unreserved railway compartments with the mercury touching 40-43 degree Celsius, packed like sardines; sitting wherever they could- on the floor, doorways and even toilets. Truly ‘cattle class’!

Asked where they were going and why, they said they were going to their respective villages to exercise their franchise. On what issue would they vote? For a better tomorrow; for more comfortable trains; for living in their villages with jobs avoiding such long distance travels to Delhi and back; for a change in government and of course for electing a ‘strong’ government’! They seem to be conscious of their democratic rights and duties unlike the ‘namdars’ or what the Prime Minister calls ‘Khan Marketwalle’ almost half of who never voted last Sunday[12th April]in the national capital. Of course while the poor who travelled in miserable conditions to vote may not complain, the Khan Marketwalle who did not vote would definitely complain about lack of civic amenities including lack of parking space for their limousines!

I have a dream! Let these poor citizens get jobs in their own places so that they don’t have to travel long distances in subhuman conditions and ‘enjoy’ the hospitality of our railways! Can they ever dream of high speed air conditioned trains and of course BULLET TRAINS?

Many channels carried the problem of unemployment in the country. Young educated, skilled and unskilled in the country opined of dreaming of a job. Unfortunately their voices appeared to be feeble and the more politically voluble youngsters got carried away by emotional issues which many people felt had barely any connection to bread and butter issues and of course elusive employment. There was this girl from Uttar Pradesh who wanted a university to be built where there are inter community land disputes. Let them dream of a tomorrow without communal disputes and clashes with every young person finding a suitable employment with decent wages.

Despite being a cliché it has to be said that women and children are the most vulnerable sections of our society. Though political parties as a matter of routine give lip sympathy to these groups, in reality by way of action and implementation there is no visible change on the ground. They are victims of the worst type of atrocities and violence. This is the impression one got from interviews with women and children on the channels. Their safety is still a matter of shame for the country. In politics and administration presence of women is almost negligible. Major political parties give very few seats for them to even contest elections. The Women’s Reservation Bill or the Constitution [108th Amendment] Bill,2008 is still pending in the Parliament. Once passed, 33% of all seats in the Lok Sabha and in all state Legislative Assemblies will be reserved for women. Let our women dream of one third reservation and de facto power in our legislatures.

There are many other dreams of people yet to be fulfilled. They include pollution free environment, quality education, a hunger free India, universal health care, nutrition of children, welfare of the aged and a host of other pressing issues. How many times did these issues feature in the speeches of our leaders during the 2019 election campaigns? Instead it was rather focused on our neighboring country with a heavy dose of nationalism, our military prowess, impractical promises by major political parties, hate and fake speeches, personal attacks including attack even on people who are no more which lacked civility and rectitude, triumphalism and chest thumping, mutual abuse, misogyny and violent communication.

I have a dream that in future elections real issues affecting the happiness and quality of life would be discussed by our politicians!