MUMBAI - Meet "demogagiri", a word that describes the unique Indian political
circus to elect a prime minister and a timely Asia Times Online contribution to
"Indlish" - the masala mix of English and older Indian languages.
Demogagiri, joining celebrated Indlish vocabulary cousins like "dadagiri" -
meaning overbearing big brotherly behavior - and "Gandhigiri" - effective
non-violent protests - describes the unprecedented, unprincipled political
shenanigans that India suffered the past month.
“Enough is enough,” said India's electorate, which decided to vote out
demogagiri and give the Sonia Gandhi-led ruling United
Progressive Alliance (UPA) and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh another chance.
Defying pre-poll predictions, the UPA fell only a dozen seats short of the
majority 272 seats needed in parliament, with relatively lesser demogagiri
required to gather in allies to bridge the shortfall.
It spared India the prospect of cringing with embarrassment this week. I have
never seen an electoral process like the one that has taken place in recent
weeks, involving such an unabashed, desperate scramble for political alliances
without even token tributes to common causes uniting credible partnerships.
Elections here can never be accused of lacking color, controversies, conflicts,
confusion and contradictions. But the latest polls to decide India's 18th prime
minister appear to take not just the biscuit, but the bakery and baker as well.
Until Sunday, a serious demogagiri outbreak appeared certain. On Saturday May
16, the day the counting process started, India's leading English daily,
Hindustan Times, declared in a screaming front page headline: "Let the games
The games will be now less frenzied, defying a bleak pre-poll scenario when the
only defining factor to form coalition partnerships were not shared values and
issues but which party would bag more seats.
For instance, former Tamil Nadu chief minister and movie star Jayalalitha
Jayaram, India's haughtier version of former Philippines leader Imelda Marcos,
declared that her party would consider an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata
Party only if the latter won 150 seats. That was like a wooed lady bluntly
telling desperate suitors, "Let's talk marriage after you have enough money."
Both parties were routed in the elections.
Demogagiri - root from democracy, the Greek "demagogy" and English "demagogue"
- could best describe the poll opera in the world's largest democracy. The
original inventors of democracy in ancient Greece, such as lawmakers
Epaminondas of Thebes and Lycurgus of Sparta, were not served accusations of
suitcases of cash helping decide which party allies with which other party.
Power before policies dominates demogagiri. Unlike in India's sister democracy,
the United States, where presidential candidates slug it out in politely
referred public debates, Indian prime ministerial contenders were not forced to
explain their brilliant policies to cope with recession, health care,
education, environment or foreign policy.
Not surprisingly, public cynicism was high concerning poll promises being kept.
On the vote counting morning of May 16, I talked to taxi driver Prakash Yadav,
who was listening to radio commentary on poll results. "Who cares?" he asked
wearily. "These politicians are all the same. You can't trust them. At age 37,
I still earn only 150 rupees a day [US$3] to look after my wife and kids, while
the netas [political leaders] make money from my vote."
On May 18, street food vendor Narayan Mane made a wry face when asked about
poll results. "Whether it is the Congress or any other party, the only thing
politicians want from Mumbai is our money [Mumbai contributes nearly 40% of
India's total direct tax collection]. Nothing much changes for us."
Politicians are yet to digest the disgust more than indifference that was
behind low voter turnout in constituencies such as South Mumbai. Two of
Mumbai's most incompetent political leaders, former chief minister Vilasrao
Deshmukh and dictatorial cartoonist Bal Thackeray, were among some disgruntled
politicians demanding that voting be made compulsory.
Having not voted, I have no problems with politicians making voting compulsory
if politicians accept that the following also be made compulsory:
Candidates declare to the Election Commission not just the value of their
assets, but specify details on how they acquired their wealth.
To reduce demogagiri, candidates produce a certificate from Dhamma Giri, or
from over 40 other Vipassana centers across India, that they have undertaken a
10-day Vipassana course.
Vipassana centers such as Dhamma Giri, meaning Hill of Truth, and Dhamma
Pattana, meaning "Island of Dhamma", near Mumbai can help cure politicians and
their addiction to demogagiri.
Vipassana, a powerful reality-check to help us discover the truth of who we
really are instead of delusions of who we think we are, was re-discovered by
Gotama  the Buddha. Vipassana is being taught worldwide in its pure form by
Myanmar-born principal teacher Sayagyi U S N Goenka and his dedicated assistant
A nation cannot change for the better unless individuals, particularly
political leaders, change for the better. Vipassana enables such a beneficial
force of change.
After having practiced and voluntarily served in Vipassana courses the past 14
years, and experienced how it helped me to realize my mistakes, I have no doubt
that India could change for the better in coming years through this ancient
Vipassana is spreading rapidly through word of mouth across India. Courses in
Dhamma Giri and Dhamma Pattana usually have long waiting lists. The vast
cross-section of dedicated Vipassana practitioners includes Priyanka Gandhi,
the charismatic daughter of Sonia, who campaigned for her mother and brother
Rahul during the recent elections but is yet to formally enter politics.
"In recent years, the practice of Vipassana is attracting more and more people
of all ages in India," Sonia Gandhi said in her message to mark the formal
inauguration of the Global Vipassana Pagoda in Mumbai on February 8. "Its
meditation regime, that emphasizes self-observation and mental purification,
enables us to better understand ourselves, and through detachment, to
rediscover the universal and eternal truth that are often lost sight of in the
midst of busy, stressful daily lives."
Such detached objectively to look at the inner mirror requires hard work and
courage to overcome the usual habit pattern of dodging reality. Fortunately,
some politicians are starting to take Vipassana courses. They quickly become
de-addicted from demogagiri. One such participating cabinet minister met his
assistant teacher during the 10-day Vipassana course and tearfully said, "For
the first time in my life I have seen the life that I lead."
Proof of how Vipassana can transform a corrupt political environment happened
during the life of Sayagyi U Ba Khin (1899-1971), independent Myanmar's first
accountant general and Vipassana teacher of Goenkaji. By conducting Vipassana
courses for officials in public service, U Ba Khin successfully reformed
various governmental departments that prime minister U Nu had entrusted asked
him to lead.
"Sayagyi U Ba Khin held important executive posts where he could have easily
amassed millions clandestinely in foreign banks," Goenkaji said of his
remarkable teacher, "But that was not the way of Dhamma [universal laws of
nature]. That was not the way of U Ba Khin. He felt fully satisfied to have
left only a small cottage-style house for his son and daughters as the sole
saving of his honest earnings."
Goenkaji explains how Vipassana practice gave U Ba Khin the strength to resist
both inducements of money from dishonest traders and threats from political
bosses. "There were many occasions in his life when he displeased the business
magnates of the country, his colleagues in the civil service and cabinet
ministers, because he would not comply with their wishes, which he found
illegal and immoral," Goenkaji said. "Neither fear nor favor could shake him
from taking right decisions and actions in his mundane duties."
The Vipassana key to being fearless in public and personal life is the practice
of Metta Bhavana, a powerful mental exercise of practical compassion that is
the important part and product of Vipassana practice. Metta enables sharing our
benefits gained with all beings, and to act wisely and strongly without causing
resentment and ill will.
Politicians indulging in demogagiri, instead of investing time in universities
of the mind such as Dhamma Giri, would disinterest the electorate as they did
the last elections. In fact, the ongoing US$2 billion cricket Indian Premier
League (IPL), the world's fastest-growing and Asia's richest sporting league,
emphatically scored over the Indian Political League in television ratings.
The IPL, featuring cricket matches in a vastly more popular three-hour version
instead of the outdated, ridiculously time-wasting five-day contests, was moved
to South Africa from India due to concerns about security should it be held
alongside general elections.
There was no contest in the popularity stakes though, as more of India
preferred watching the high quality cricket festival unfolding amid joyous
Asian and South African crowds in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban, Port
Elizabeth and Bloemfontein rather than the political demogagiri.
Market research agency aMap said that Set Max, the TV channel telecasting IPL,
gathered a whopping gross rating points of 50.7, compared to politics serving
news channels NDTV, Times Now and CNN-IBN that gathered a mere 2.0, 2.4 and 2.2
daily GRPs respectively during May 2 to 8.
The demogagiri-addicted Indian Political League players can learn from
Vipassana as well as the Indian Premier League. One lesson would be how
important right timing is in life and cricket, as my favorite prime ministerial
contender and maverick railway minister Lalu Prasad Yadav has learned.
Yadav overplayed his hand too soon by falling out with his Congress ally days
before the elections, and was decimated in his home state of Bihar. His
Rashtriya Jananta Dal party won a mere four parliamentary seats from the
previous tally of 24. Having lost his power base, Yadav also looks likely to
lose his Railway Ministry portfolio as well as the clout he wielded in New
Delhi the past five years.
Yadav, a cricket fan whose cricket-playing son was picked up by an IPL
franchise, would know that a cricket batsman awkwardly lunging for the ball
that is yet to reach him ends up timing his shot badly, looking ungainly, most
likely getting out and letting down his team. But if he waits that little bit
more, proper timing ensures that beneficial results flow with easy elegance.
The time has to ripen.
As the seed is so the fruit will be, and results come in due course with
honest, hard work. One cannot force things to happen according to one's
time-table, as a chastened Yadav realized after expressing regret yesterday for
breaking away from the UPA before the elections.
The weekend's poll results can also teach Yadav that success can be one's worst
enemy if it inflates the ego, and failure can be one's best friend if one
calmly looks within to correct mistakes instead of blaming others. He could
serve himself and India better by following Priyanka Gandhi's example in taking
a Vipassana course. More politicians heading to Dhamma Giri will help ensure
India benefits from a Dhamma-filled democracy, and not suffer demogagiri.
Note 1. According to the Vipassana Research Institute, "Gotama"
is the correct spelling of the family name prince Siddhartha who became the
Buddha, and not "Gautama". Vipassana Research Institute, Igatpuri, 422 403,
District Nashik, Maharashtra, India. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org