The corrupt are our friends : How hatred for Modi changed the discourse around corruption

Growing up in India, it was not long before I became aware of the monster called “corruption”. We all talked about it, we all shook our heads about it… none of us could do anything about it.

The sinister term for the proceeds of corruption was “black money”. From street corner discussions to Bollywood movies, we all heard about how the monster of corruption chews up the common people in this country. In the belly of this monster lies the so called “black money”.

And we all understood that the corruption went right to the top. The peons at government offices were corrupt. The cashiers and accountants were corrupt. Their managers were corrupt. The IAS bureaucrats who ruled over them were corrupt. And the ministers those bureaucrats reported to were corrupt.

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Not surprisingly, every common Indian carries within himself this seething, helpless anger against corruption and black money. And so it happened that when a band of “revolutionaries” arrived at Jantar Mantar in Delhi, early in the summer of 2011, this anger exploded. The language used at that time was fully laced with undertones of violence, showing the depth of our anger and frustration. “Final War against corruption” they would call it:

Arvind Kejriwal fasting against corruption
Can you see “Final War Against Corruption” written in the background?

Or they would call it the “Second Battle for Independence”.

Note the imagery conveyed by the words. Corruption was the ultimate monster and we have to begin “final war” against it. No sacrifice is too great in this battle. Because this is the second battle for independence. How can we as patriots not be ready to sacrifice everything we have? This is how corruption and black money was visualized:

India Against Corruption cartoons
The monster of corruption, wearing the cap of a politician. Soon that cap will be worn by anti-corruption activists.

How could we not fight back? Right?

We fought, and the UPA government, seen as massively corrupt, was thrown out. A new government under the leadership of Narendra Modi was formed.

A few months after taking charge, the new government revealed names of a few people having black money in foreign lands.

The liberal echo chamber erupted with laughter. Ha Ha Ha! After so much ado, this is all that Modi sarkar could do to catch the monster? You stupid bhakts… LOL!

And this laughter reappeared, every time the government tried to do something that was remotely related to fighting corruption or enabling the poor to get into the system that had kept them out for decades.

Ha ha ha! Most of those Jan Dhan accounts are totally empty. You stupid bhakts again.

Ha ha ha! The income disclosure scheme unearthed just Rs 65,000 crore. You silly bhakts. Can’t stop laughing.

And then at 8 pm on Nov 8, Modi fired a single shot. A single shot that was heard around the world. For black money holders, the world came to an abrupt end.

But then a miraculous thing happened. The intellectual echo chamber swiftly shifted the consensus view on what black money was:

Firstpost's apologetic headline on corruption
Honey I shrank the corruption monster

Oh look how wonderful! From a ravenous flesh hungry monster, corruption has suddenly become gentle as sheep. What’s wrong with those poor black sheep? They never hurt anybody, did they? Can’t we just live and let live?

Here is Firstpost again, telling us that Corruption is all a big yawn:

Firstpost whitewashes Manmohan Singh's crimes
Can’t we forget all those scams because he quoted John Maynard Keynes?

Yes. Why talk of scams? It’s all too boring and too old. It is not like corruption is a problem, is it?

Not just the media, our leaders were not far behind:

Raj Thackeray on demonetisation
From monster to sheep to mouse

See? Corruption is no man eating monster. Corruption is a teeny tiny mouse.

You know, now that I think about it, corruption is a cute little mouse like Jerry. We have all cheered for the lovable Jerry trying to give big bad Tom the slip. Why can’t we cheer for corruption as well?

It gets even better :

Akhilesh Yadav on black money
From a monster, it is now a mitra (friend).

Not only is corruption our cute cuddly house pet. How can we forget all the good things that corruption does for us? Black money is our ever faithful friend who stood with us in times of distress and now we want to turn our backs on it.

Coming as it is from the current heartthrob of Lutyens Delhi, I expect them to write children’s fables about  the friendship between India and black money. When the nation was on a knife edge of disaster, we were saved by our faithful friend : black money.

I even learned that we are demeaning our loyal friend through the use of the term “black money”.

Black money is racist
Corruption is being maligned, we need to fight for it, not fight against it.

And don’t you silly bhakts dare talk about sacrifices for the sake of nationalism now. The fight against corruption no longer needs sacrifices like leaving your job or joining marches and rallies day after day. Even standing in a queue is too much to ask for:

Rhetoric are no longer required
Only rhetorical terms like “Emergency” and “Fascism” need to be respected. “Patriotism” is a bhakt thing that must be taken literally and mocked.

So what happened to the imagery of “Final War against Corruption” and “Second Battle for Independence”?

All I see today is liberals mocking Narendra Modi and his “bhakts” for telling people to bear some pain for the sake of the nation. Why can’t we talk about patriotism now? NOW suddenly it is silly to talk about soldiers at the border? Who used to talk about the “Second Battle” and “Final War”? What happened? Why did that rhetoric change?

Friends, I assure you the day is not far when the echo chamber will sing paeans to black money. Instead of “Tom and Jerry”, there will be cartoons like “Modi and Black Money”, where big bad Modi chases around poor little black money. Bollywood will make movies about how the helpless poor were saved by the generosity of black money holders.

When we were growing up, we had to write essays in school about “People who help us”. This would include essays such as “Our friend the postman” and “Our friend the policeman”. Don’t be surprised if one of these days, your child comes back from school with a writing assignment on “Our friends the corrupt”.

Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or not be an Assistant Professor at IISc Bangalore.

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