We get the Neta we deserve


DB Post 1 December 2018


Yogendra Nirmal, the sitting BJP MLA from Waraseoni, is known for his simplicity and honesty. His austere lifestyle inspires both awe and amusement. Dressed in knickers and vest, every morning he can be seen sweeping not only his house but also the street in front of it.

He did not pick up the broomstick because of the Modi Government’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. He has been wielding it long before he became a member of the MP Assembly, long before he became the chairman of the local municipal committee.

Most of the voters in the constituency have their favourite Wodehousian tale to share about their MLA’s unimpressive appearance. “Once, I went to Bhopal to meet him,” recalls Balaghat journalist Atul, “he opened the doors in his chaddi and then went to the kitchen to make tea for me.”

His dress sense, rather lack of it, has become part of the political folklore in the area. He is oblivious to his crumpled shirt, unshaved face with several days of growth and the habit of wearing his trousers without belt. “And he would climb the stage in that kind of dress even to address a rally with the CM,” says Devesh.

The 65-year-old RSS activist, who runs a homeopathy clinic in the small town, has been re-nominated by the BJP to contest the 2018 assembly election. Even his opponents admire him for his honesty. “He is not corrupt,” says Pradeep Jaiswal, the former Congress MLA he defeated in 2013 election. “He has the reputation of being an honest person,” admits Sanjay Masani, his Congress opponent.

Nirmal refuses to touch party funds supplied for electioneering. And he refuses to spend his own money, whatever little he has, for contesting the election. A group of RSS and BJP volunteers deal with funding and expenses.

For doctor sahib, as Nirmal is known among the electorate, cleanliness does not stop at sweeping the streets. The law-maker does not interfere in official work, like asking the police to release a detained man or contracts to his favourites. “If someone goes to him for any work,” says Atul, “doctor sahib tells him point blank that he will do only what is right.”

One may think Mr Clean will win hands down. But Nirmal faces strong anti-incumbency. Few like his candid approach. Fewer still like his ‘unhelpful’ attitude. Taking advantage of the discontent, a BJP rebel candidate had thrown his hat in the ring. The CM had to intervene to make him withdraw.

People talk derisively about his frugal nature: “Bina belt ka neta hai.” He is leader without belt. They are dismayed that when he comes to attend weddings, he gives only Rs 11 or Rs 21 as gift, remembering with fondness his Congress predecessor who used to give at least Rs 500 or Rs 1,001. So, many are unhappy “Logon ka taste badal gaya hai,” explains Devesh. People’s tastes have changed.

Waraseoni assembly constituency in Balaghat district can be a good case study for political pundits and sociologists. Nirmal’s two main opponents are archetypical Netas of modern India. Both are rich, liberal with their money and pragmatic men who do not care much about right and wrong in politics. Both run successful businesses on the side, beside their zeal for serving the people. One has the image of a strongman and the other is a high-flyer.

The rebel Congress candidate Pradeep Jaiswal, 53, is a three-time MLA who jumped into the fray when refused ticket. He owns assets totalling Rs 30 crore and an annual income of Rs 17 lakh. Constituents say he is liberal with his money. “I created the Congress party here,” he boasts.

The Congress candidate is quite famous — Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s street-smart brother-in-law Sanjay Singh Masani. Masani belongs to neighbouring Maharashtra. But he made Waraseoni his political playground after his brother-in-law became the CM of MP. Basking in reflected glory, he used to move around in vehicles with flashing red beacon.

Denied ticket by the BJP, he switched sides swiftly before the election. The Congress, which had been targeting him earlier as a conduit of the CM’s alleged corruption and misuse of power, promptly fielded him as its official candidate. Masani, 46, is rich. In 2017-18 he and his wife declared an annual income of Rs 93.34 lakh. They also possess assets totalling Rs 12 crore, most of it self-acquired.

Nirmal may or may not win the elections. Masani and Jaiswal may lose. That is not the point here. But Waraseoni comes across as a typical case study of a distorted value system that inflicts upon us the leaders that we deserve.

Powers That Be, my column in DB Post of 1 December 2018

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