Society and Culture

It isn't about money: poverty and democracy in India

I am an outsider in politics, as I described myself in my political memoir. Somehow I have not written about two very precious experiences as a three-term parliamentarian in my book. Recent shameful episodes revealing the influence of money in politics have engendered a sense of cynicism about the quality of our democracy. It is this disenchantment with politics that brought back memories of two heart-warming moments in my election campaigns.

Apr 21, 2016
By Krishna Bose
 
I am an outsider in politics, as I described myself in my political memoir. Somehow I have not written about two very precious experiences as a three-term parliamentarian in my book. Recent shameful episodes revealing the influence of money in politics have engendered a sense of cynicism about the quality of our democracy. It is this disenchantment with politics that brought back memories of two heart-warming moments in my election campaigns.
 
The first incident occurred in early 1998. I was campaigning in the streets of Kolkata as a candidate of the new-born Trinamool Congress. In 1996, I had been elected from the Jadavpur parliamentary constituency on a Congress ticket. In 1998, the breakaway party had no funds or resources, considered necessary for a parliamentary campaign. With great difficulty, I had managed to get hold of an old dilapidated Jeep to move about in my constituency.
 
One day, as I approached the main crossing of Behala in south Kolkata, a rather venerable looking old man raised his hand and stopped my jalopy. There were hundreds of people on either side of the street who watched what followed. The old man raised a hundred rupee note towards me and begged me to accept it. I declined politely. The old man came closer, raised his voice and said, “Ma, I am an old freedom fighter, I get a pension. I have brought this for you from my meagre pension. Please accept it.” I replied that I knew all about the poverty-stricken life of freedom fighters and implored him to forgive me and take back his gift. “I have come all this way to bless you,” the old man said, “please do not refuse me.”
 
I could see he looked hurt and would feel insulted if I still turned him back. So I was obliged to accept it, as a huge crowd watched on. Back home, I touched the note to my forehead, put it in an envelope and kept it among my papers. It still lies there. I have never had the heart to use it. With the old freedom fighter’s blessings, I won a great victory in a most tough constituency.
 
Now let me describe the second incident. In 1999, the government fell by one vote in the Lok Sabha. So there was another election to fight within a year and a half. The campaign was in full swing when late one evening my doorbell rang. Although very exhausted, I came down and opened the door myself. A few young chaps who looked extremely poor stood there. They said they drove auto rickshaws in the streets of Behala. “We skipped our midday tiffin for the last few days,” they said. “With the money we saved we have brought this for you.” They held a cloth banner in their hands. The cloth was of poor quality. On it was written, in an uneven hand in Bengali, “Stamp on this symbol for Krishna Bose.”
I accepted their precious gift with tears in my eyes. There were no press photographers or, what is very common and fashionable these days, a sting operator with a hidden camera. They do not know what a wonderful shot they missed.
 
As I remember these two poignant moments in my parliamentary life, my heart is full of pride for the poor and obscure in our country. They are the ones who uplift the quality of Indian democracy. Perhaps there is the possibility of a politics beyond money power and its consequent cynicism.
 
The Indian Express, April 21, 2016

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