Captivating Charm of Chamchas
It is an art. Everyone cannot become a sycophant. It requires a calm temperament, patience, thick skin and yet a certain level of sensitivity, gift of the gab, high IQ and the stamina to be at the beck and call of the leader 24X7. In our rich Hindustani lingo, sycophants are called chamchas. We have a surfeit of them. They have thrown their headgear of choice into the maelstrom of the political arena as an outspoken member of a political party and the ardent supporter of that political party’s fearless leader.
It might turn out that the fearless leader is, in fact, a nincompoop/ fascist/sexist/ criminal/deviant/ nepotist/plain old idiot of eye-watering magnitude. But chamcha remains stuck, because the first thing they do is to tweet a picture of the new party membership card to both their friends and to thousands who might come handy to them. It is an appalling situation. But chamchas can handle any situation — Through self-delusion and information manipulation. Every time the leader says something that feels like a piranha feeding on the eyeballs whilst both chamcha and his leader walk on a vat of acid, the clever chamcha immediately editorialises these utterances shrewdly, and deflect the awfulness. In short, the chamchas here mostly take care of personal errands of the leader or save him when he put foot in his mouth. A few examples:
The leader says: “Of course, we must never burn books in this free country. But this is a free country. So sometimes we should be able to burn books, if they are very bad.”
The chamcha tweets: “An utterly unambiguous defence of personal liberties by the only leader who cares for true freedom and who understands that this freedom comes with risks.”
The leader says: “How do I empower women? Sometimes I let them pay the bill! Ha ha!”
The chamcha tweets: “When was the last time we had a leader who was not afraid to talk about romantic relationship and sexual politics in public. A bold, brave statement of modernity combined with levity. But one we should not dwell on for too long.”
The leader says: “Gandhi? Over-rated in my opinion. One-hit wonder. Also I don’t get the point of that dressing sense and some of the songs were very bad.”
The chamcha tweets: “A controversial, but highly timely call to re-evaluate established historical notions. Someone had to say it. Any surprise that my leader said it first? Superb. Game changer.”
The leader says: “Oh sorry. I thought you meant Pooja Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi was a great man. Greatest man. A father figure of the millennium. No doubt.”
The chamcha tweets : “A giant amongst men who dabbles both in high culture and pop culture. This is the man who should be our prime minister in 2014. No two ways about it.”In the last few months, a number of chamchas have spawned and they have innovated new form of chamchagiri.
In the Congress, it is in-built in the psyche of the party men. When Rahul led assembly elections were lost, Salman Khurshid came to his leader’s rescue. He said: “We do not deserve him.”
But now Narendra Modi too is getting chamchas. The Censor Board’s Chief Pahlaj Nihalani’s unequivocal declaration that he is a chamcha of Modi made people deride him. And before that Anupam Kher had quite unabashedly said that he did not mind a wee bit being called a chamcha of Modi. These self-confessed ‘spoons’, in my view, are brave and have the courage to declare how they feel about someone.
Sycophancy is accepted for ages across the world as an outcome of the weakness in many of us to enjoy flattery and those who volunteer to do our bidding and those who have ambition beyond their means. When the two interact, each gets what each wants.
Watch the behaviour of people at a gathering when a VVIP arrives. Most would try to take positions from where the VVIP will pass. Is it not the first step towards chamchagiri? But all of them do not become chamchas. It is an art and requires special temperament. One has to be discerning about what is praising one stupidly and be caught and doing exactly the same with a certain finesse would ingratiate oneself to the ‘target’.
There is of course a proviso. Is one a chamcha to line up ones pocket or practices darbarigiri for some political objective. There is the famous story, one often hears while taking a private guided tour of Versailles. When one reaches the King’s bedroom, what strikes one is that a barrier separates visitors from the bed by about five feet. Why?
The King hated taking bath, often did not get out of the bed for days. Thus, he smelled awful and made all those who went to him to pay their respect by bowing and kissing his hand nauseated. So, the cardinal, known for tact, convinced the King through plain chamchagiri that he was divine and let not the ordinary people touch him. So, the King let the barrier to be built.
Well, the world history is replete with the tales of chamchas to the high and mighty. The great era of sycophants was during the King Louis of France, but the best-ever were in England during the long reign of Queen Victoria. And among them was an Indian called Brown Saheb. He got so close to the Empress that the matter was discussed at a Cabinet meeting. Do our chamchas compare with those greats? Yes, our Indian chamchas we find are no less in the art of sycophancy nor in the degree of success. In fact the great Indian chamchas of political leaders have given sycophancy, a new name — Ji huzoori and banda hazir hai.
Some of our senior leaders like N.D. Tewari, famous for his over-the-top virility, will go down in history as the chief minister who picked up Sanjay Gandhi’s chappals in the full view of huge crowd at Hazrat Mahal Park in Lucknow in 1976.
But the most classic chamchagiri, which could vie for the best ever, was the quip by Dev Kant Barooah, the President of the Congress Party during the Emergency. He will be remembered for his ingenuous: “India is Indira, Indira is India.”
A word of caution: Chamchas create such comfort zone that one gets totally delinked with the reality. Recall what happened to Indira Gandhi. India disowned her, albeit only for less than three years.
Take for instance the grand annual cricket match between Chief Minister XI and the IAS XI. The officers took care not to win and the officers bowling to the chief minister dread the moment that they might bowl him out. And once that dreaded moment did happen. The horror on the face of the officer told the whole story. Anyway, the chief minister was adjudged man of the match and his team won for the fourth consecutive year. This is an instance of cricket chamchagiri and I can tell you it is very effective.
Sometimes, you win by losing in India. Cricket has become a new source for sycophancy in India. At Lords, corporates and even individuals have boxes, which not only have the best view of the match, but one gets best of champagne and wines and most delicious meals and snacks throughout the day.
What’s the point of cleaning Mayawati’s shoes in 2011 when that virile old man of Indian politics, Narain Dutt Tiwari had already carried Sanjay Gandhi’s slippers in 1976?
Giani Zail Singh told us back in 1982 he would gladly sweep the ground Indiraji walked on. Chhattisgarh Congress in-charge Charandas Mahant could hardly top that in 2013 by offering to sweep the party office if Sonia Gandhi asked him to do so.
What was the use of a 44-kilo birthday cake for Rahul Gandhi, if the birthday boy was himself in an undisclosed foreign location?
Sycophancy needed to move beyond these overused symbols — cakes, brooms, slippers and outsized garlands. The Congress wrote the definitive handbook on it – the Layman’s Guide to the Art of
Living Sycophantically when AICC president Devkant Barooah told us: “Indira is India, India is Indira.” But all good things need updating for the new India.
Anything the Congress can do – MNREGA, toppling state governments, Aadhar — the BJP can do better. Union Minister Venakaiah Naidu is kindly taking the lead in showing us how to do sycophancy better. He is lexically prostrating himself before Narendra Modi or as he calls him, MODI-“Modifier of Developing India”. Jai Ho!
by Vijay Dutt
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