It’s all in the name in Indian political game

T J S George says that though Arvind Kejriwal’s intentions of launching an anti-corruption political party might be well meaning and he might have the people’s support.

Published: 06th December 2012 12:40 PM  |   Last Updated: 06th December 2012 12:40 PM   |  A+A-


The name Arvind Kejriwal & co have chosen for their political party will not run. Their cause is noble. Corruption has become a Frankenstein’s monster and all Indians outside the political class want to see it destroyed. But in politics details like names are important. Sentiments matter —sentiments associated with recognised heroes and traditions. Aam aadmi is at best a slogan, like garibi. It can be the title of a newspaper column or of a cartoon feature like Laxman’s Common Man. But it does not have the gravitas or emotional connect a party name needs. We only have to look at the words ‘Congress’ and ‘Janata’ to understand this.

A O Hume and his Theosophical Society friends picked a name that consisted of three unimpeachable terms — ‘Indian’, ‘National’ and ‘Union’ (which was later changed to Congress). As a name, Indian National Congress had such a universal appeal that the Nelson Mandela movement named its party the African National Congress. In Indian politics ‘Congress’ lost its Englishness and became a generic term that suggested a sort of political legitimacy. Hence the numerous parties that adopted the  term, from the Nationalist Congress Party to the Trinamool Congress, not to mention the Karnataka Congress Party of late chief minister S Bangarappa, and a string of Kerala Congress parties identified by the initials of each group’s leader. The same logic worked for the word ‘Janata’, directly understood in every Indian language.

Following the atrocities of the Emergency, when Indira Gandhi was summarily defeated, Opposition groups came together under the banner of the Janata Party led by Jayaprakash Narayan. But that party let the people down and Subramanian Swamy hijacked the party’s name on technical grounds.  Yet the magic of the name remained.

So the Hindutva lobby that was part of the Janata Party formed the Bharatiya Janata Party, quickly becoming the Congress’s main rival. Others too took advantage of the word’s popular appeal — Janata (United), Janata (Secular), Biju Janata. Even B S Yeddyurappa, BJP’s fallen star who believes that it is his right and no one else’s to rule Karnataka, could think of only one name when he considered forming his own party: Karnataka Janata Party.

It is not for nothing that almost every party in Tamil Nadu has a D connection, legitimising its Dravida authenticity. Periyar Ramaswamy’s original Dravida Kazhagam is politically nowhere. But the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam are in the forefront of the power game. Never mind what DMDK, MDMK and PDK stand for. As long as the D is there, everything else is secondary. Ensuring the aptness of names is in the realm of creative minds.

Look at the names Vyasa picked. The Du in Duryodhana was no accident. Several of his brothers also had names beginning with that inauspicious sound —Dushyasana, Dhurmukan, even Dussala for their only sister.

On the other hand, names like Dhritarashtra and Bhishma, Shakuni and Shikandi hold a mirror to their respective characters.

In English there was no one to beat Rudyard Kipling in this art. Consider the sheer genius of a name like Kaa for a python, Shere Khan for a tiger, Bagheera for a leopard. Vidyadhar Suryaprasad would have been a turn-off compared to V S Naipaul. His characters had names that reflected their identity problems: Willie Chandran, Ralph Singh (a westernisation of Ranjit Kripal Singh). Whether in literature or in real life names that click win the day. The Americans, trying hard to break out of their two-party logjam, have been trying to form a platform that will emerge as a third alternative.

 Forget eccentric formations like the American Nazi Party and the US Marijuana Party, but the American Independent Party got 10 million voters for its 1968 presidential candidate George Wallace. Beyond that, nothing.

What chance then, for a humdrum, unimaginative, just-for-today-sounding Aam Aadmi Party that will only give operators like Robert Vadra a chance to crack cheap mango jokes? It’s no answer to the millions waiting for salvation from the stranglehold of the corrupt Congress and the corrupt BJP.

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