Hollow democracies make the most noise
Probably on account of my two consecutive pieces in this column on Covid and dengue, an observant and aware citizen approached me with the query of whether I was a medical doctor.
"Depends on what you are suffering from," was my response.
"Democracy," he said.
Floored though I was, having met patients suffering from "papacracy," "moneycracy," "celebritycracy, and the terminal "petticoatacracy," I was not in the least surprised. Amused, yes? More about these and other "-cracies" another day.
"Mmm... What are your symptoms?"
"Well, for one, I am allowed to speak on TV talk shows."
"Can a TV show be without any talking? What is this programme about?"
"A host, eedaning a hostess too, calls up several of his/her regular contacts a couple of hours before going on air to discuss anything – from the rising price of onions to 'Putinocracy'. Those of us who have nothing else to do agree to have our face powdered, and then deliberate on matters that we don't know about until the time is up. The art of being recalled is to wear a very chintito face, even when they hand you a handsome amount for keeping their airtime occupied."
"What do you get to say in these televised armchair sittings?"
"We say our hands and feet are tied, that the atmosphere is suffocating. But in reality, we can speak out against government issues, against opposition political parties, against any politician, businessman… Occasionally, we talkers get to the point of a fist fight, or at least in a situation where we generate incoherent clamour. Channel owners find that very exciting. Good for TRP."
"Does anyone not counter your claims?"
"They always have a lackey who speaks out against our issues nastily. Talk shows, in my mind, are true democratic platforms."
"Do these programmes have any audience?"
"Our family and friends, as well as enemies searching for weak points in our argument, listen to us with complete devotion."
"Don't the channels lose money?"
"Actually, no. Viewers are always switching channels, having 60-70 choices. So, no one is watching anything for long, unless it is a replay of a cricket match involving a rare Bangladesh win. Live matches are very stressful, not good for the weak of heart. In a way, channels, too, are surviving because of such democratic remote control."
"Mmm… any signs of the disease proliferating?"
"At public meetings, we have a field day. In the midst of our supporters (there could be the odd jasus), we can call our political opponents names, such as fascist, vote dacoit, liar, illegitimate, autocrat, residents of Begum Para, fugitives of the law…"
"Don't you need documented evidence to make such serious defamatory claims?"
"Not at all. It's a free-for-all situation with our MAGA partisan followers making such a din that much of the speech is a rambling of words. But we get a 'yay' at repeated intervals."
"Make Adversary Get Angry."
"Are you not vulnerable when you go home?"
"We don't, that is after any day of fiery rhetoric. For that sacrifice, maybe in the comfort of a friend or a family member's house, we earn sympathy from our fellow aficionados. Of course, we also register political points with our higher-ups."
"Is there no legal action against your brand of 'Democrats'?"
"No, things are soon forgotten. If perchance we are cornered by the law or some tough guy from the opposite camp or the media, we utter a readymade statement, 'It was a public meeting, not a court, bhai.' Never miss the bhai in the end. Or you may go missing."
"Does anyone else you know have similar symptoms?"
"Now you are talking, Doc. You never walk alone in this crazy world of democracy. This is a very contagious disease. Many, thousands of people I know suffer from this sort of democracy. Now seriously, do you have a cure for this ailment? Anything, Doc! I am sick and tired of lying through my nose day in, day out. My wife… oh, what the heck! She has gotten used to the idea."
"But I thought that was the trademark of a politician?"
"Your thoughts are totally garbled. There are many great leaders, famous for their truthful oratory, wonderful examples of mankind, icons for generations. I need a prescription, Doc."
"Did you try shaking hands with the opponent, as a gesture of atonement?"
"Wow! Doctor! You want me to make peace with those fascists, vote dacoits, liars, autocrats, residents of Begum Para, fugitives of the law…?"
"Easy, easy. But that is the only medicine that will work. You will not have to lie – well, occasionally maybe. You will be nice, as much as possible…"
"Thank you, Doc! I think I will get a second opinion."
"Yes, please do that. I know some doctors in Singapore."
Dr Nizamuddin Ahmed is an architect and a professor, a Commonwealth scholar and a fellow, Woodbadger scout leader, Baden-Powell fellow, and a Major Donor Rotarian.