The Window Seat is a collection of articles by journalist Supriya Sharma as she undertakes a 2,500-kilometer train journey across India. The compilation is available on the scroll.in site and is aptly complemented by photos from this vast stretch of land as it readies itself to vote in the 2015 Indian elections. In this blog piece, I look at a few key elements that emerge after reading the compilation. It is a satisfying and insightful read but most importantly it is a compelling work.
A work of labor, it throws light on what the grass root level thinks of India and its government. As India preps for the biggest democratic elections in the world in 2014, The writer followed the NAMO wave even before he became the Prime Minister of India. Across the northern states spread across 2500 kms, the main nuances that emerged from her research were:
- People wanted change; their biggest grouch being inflation.
- Most were influenced by the growth model of Gujarat story and expected a similar transformation of India particularly in the eradication of unemployment.
- Minorities (primarily, Muslims) were scared with the NAMO wave. As a woman put it they were afraid of violence because riots could separate them from their children.
From the tea gardens of Assam to the last bordering village in Kashmir, every family was striving to make a better living for their children and with each act of violence the dreams of a better life became more distance. Across the North, the people were seeking freedom – from militancy, poverty, trade unions, drugs, disease and most importantly government apathy. For many, NAMO was just a name that held the promise of change.
Out of the haunting stories in this collection, the story of Kashmir emerged a sad potpourri of messed up lives and aspirations. The people are squashed between militancy and the presence of Indian troops. Most want a wall built on the border; the troops to be withdrawn and if possible an independent existence wherein they have a trade agreement/partnership with India. If you ask the people of Kashmir, they will give practical solutions to their problems but would the politicians of the world listen!
Similarly, if you ask the people from anywhere in India, they would give you the solution to their problems – solutions that fall on deaf years, promises that change hands with each changing leader. Sadly, in India state politics further isolates the most aggrieved states from these promises of growth. Politics is hinged on mafia, money and misdemeanor of all kinds. The common man is just a pawn in this game of power and riches.
As I finished reading this compilation, I realized power changed hands in India because of hopes of the young and in the face of communal odds. The Prime Ministerial candidate has been projected as a man of spiritual calling. Meanwhile, a new party – AAP – emerges and gains hold by launching a fight against corruption. Whether anti-incumbency dynamics are at play, disillusionment finding a foothold, or the campaigners more charismastic, an entire nation, mostly living hand-to-mouth, has their hopes hinged the promise of change and development.