Shashi Warrier | The manufacture of discontent

The Asian Age.  | Shashi Warrier

Opinion, Columnists

The whole thing about discontent," he explained, "is to keep it simple, and to repeat it over and over.

Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge with party leaders Rahul Gandhi, K.C. Venugopal and Nana Patole during an interaction with party workers. (PTI Photo)

The other day my friend Murthy demonstrated that his nose for my Scotch is as keen as ever. I’d just got myself a couple of bottles in anticipation of a visit from a close friend when he turned up. He wasn’t alone: he had a in tow a stranger who looked like he could handle a hefty tot or two. “Meet Sridhar,” he said, when the drinks were on the table and the snacks frying in the kitchen. “Sridhar is into business.”

Sridhar held out his business card. “Cellphones, tablets, and laptops” he said. “Any time you want one of those with a proper warranty, get in touch. I’ll give you the best price you can get.”

“Thanks,” I said. “What brands do you handle?”

“Just one,” he said. He named a fruity brand that I never buy. Not that I have anything against it, but I can’t afford it. Any one of several Chinese brands is good enough. “Great!” I said. “I must visit your showroom one of these days.”

He pointed at the card, which was lying on the table. “Business is good,” he said. “Call before you come, and I’ll see to it that they treat you well.”

“Thanks,” I said. Turning to Murthy, I asked, “So what’s up?”

“The usual,” he said. “Some people are unhappy with the new government. They say the government haven’t kept the promises they made during the election campaign.”

“How does the government respond?” I asked.

“Saying that the Opposition’s lying,” replied Murthy. “Though the Opposition’s doing something else.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Manufacturing discontent,” he replied. “That’s how the system works. You get enough people frustrated at the government, they vote against the government, a new party becomes the government, and the old government begins to manufacture discontent.”

“But the government in Delhi keeps going,” I said.

“The whole thing about discontent,” he explained, “is to keep it simple, and to repeat it over and over. Goebbels figured that out nearly a century ago. But when you have a couple of small national parties and more than a dozen regional parties trying work it together, they find it very difficult to agree on what people should be discontented about. They have too many separate matters of discontent, and can’t agree which the most important should be.”

“And the truth?” I asked.

“That depends on which philosopher you believe,” he replied with a grin. “The truth could be a figment of your imagination, but it’s always irrelevant.” His grin widened. “The politician’s first axiom is this: if it gets you votes, it’s good for you. That’s just how the system works.”

“What about taking care of the needs of the country?” I asked.

“Irrelevant, again,” he replied. “Here’s axiom two: it’s easier for any Opposition to make people discontented than for any government to satisfy people. Axiom three is that you don’t do anything unless you absolutely have to. So nobody’s going to worry about what they should be doing. They’re only thinking of winning the next election, or the one after.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “The one after?”

“That’s if you’re in government,” he replied. “If you are, you resign yourself to losing the next election and focus on raising a war-chest big enough to win the one after. Unless, of course, you have a fragmented Opposition, in which case you raise a war-chest big enough to win another series of elections. But, in any case, there’s no need to do what you should be doing, meaning looking after the country’s people.”

“So the bottom line,” I said, “is that you look after yourself and choose which people to make unhappy.”

His face lit up. “You got it!” he said. “Now you’re fit to be a politician.” He looked at his watch. “I’ve got to be going now,” he said. “Sridhar will find his own way back home.”

Sridhar, who’d been listening to this conversation with open-mouthed concentration, smiled as Murthy headed for the door. After I resumed my seat, he said, “I’ve never heard Murthy speak like this.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I’ve just learned that I’m a politician, too,” he replied, his smile widening.

“How come?” I asked. “Isn’t your job customer satisfaction?”

He shook his head and grinned. “That’s a very small part of my job. My real job is to create new customers to whom I can sell more of my goods.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Customer satisfaction doesn’t last,” he said. “So when a customer is unhappy with the product, I persuade him to buy the next model. So, you see, most unhappy customers are customers who buys a more expensive product.”

“But you said your job is to create new customers,” I said. “What you said just now is about keeping customers, not creating them.”

“You got it!” he said, echoing Murthy. “The simplest way to create new customers is to make them unhappy with that they have. If you make enough people unhappy enough with what they have, at least some of those will buy your product.”

“But how do you make them unhappy?” I asked.

“Easy!” he said. “I tell them what their product can’t do that mine can. The manufacturer helps.”

“And what about the things their product can do that yours can’t?” I asked.

“I make them feel those features are passe,” he said. “No high end customer wants them.”

He finished his drink and rose. “Do come,” he said as he left.

When I looked at the sadly depleted bottle of Scotch, I couldn’t help thinking that I was another person that he’d left discontented...