During good old days, Pathans, and in most cases, their look-alike or namesakes would sell ‘Kushta’ and ‘Sallajeet’ (a rock extract) on the streets of Kashmir. These street-smart showmen, found virtually in every nook and corner, would attract handsome crowds to their “vitality medicines”. The allure of reinvigorating the lost prowess is so great a temptation for the men of all ages that even the wise and the elderly would also be among the so many onlookers at their street-shows (remember these were the days when Viagra was yet to be discovered).
Although the efficacy of their “medicine” was always doubtful, but these ‘Nim Hakeems’ or quacks selling the vigour formulae, possessed great communication skills, and they could easily engage a group of people and do their business. Exploiting the weakness or infatuation of gullible public for “youthfulness” was their main forte and skill. These small-time professional performers would thus sell their product. If interested, one could buy, or else a ‘tamasha’ (show) was free nevertheless, even if for the sake of fun -- no qualms about it!
Today, when Kushta has lost its appeal to the better and proven vitality drugs, we no longer see old Pathan Sallajeet sellers here, although a different class of people have taken upon themselves the responsibility of charming the common people with their ideas. Some are engaged in selling “Taraqi & Khushali” (development and prosperity), some “Azaadi” (freedom), some “Self-Rule” and some the idea of “Autonomy”. Some are trying to instigate love for Pakistan, and some eulogizing virtues of Indian democracy and secularism. Even though the ‘buyers’ (common people) are no longer interested in these self-serving exercises which are not even remotely related with or aiming at any public good, but today’s Sallajeet sellers have so many tricks up their sleeves to attract and charm the gullible and then pass them on as their supporters that one can’t help but be a piece of data in the overall head-count for each group, at least by default.
Now one may ask what is then the difference between the Sallajeet-sellers of then and now?
The only difference between the two is that the ‘Khan Saheb’ of old days would sell Sallajeet promising that it would work wonders, and at no point of time did they give an impression that they were doing whatever they did out of their benevolence and love for the society. They were simply there to earn their living and this is what they did. But with their modern-day version in politics, the case is not so simple. Even though political leaders of different hues too do whatever they do for their own bread and butter --but great hypocrites as they are -- they try to paint themselves as selfless people committed to the over-all good of the society.
Aristotle said in ‘Politics’, “Everyone thinks chiefly of his own, hardly ever of the public interest.” And that organizational genius called Adam Smith, puts it much more succinctly in ‘The Wealth of Nations’ when he notes that “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard for their own self-interest.”
Now those who are in public life and yet keep on claiming moral high-grounds by portraying themselves as self-less saints, they better be careful – people no longer believe them, and indeed they should not.
Again Adam Smith gives us the reason. “… we address ourselves not to their (a butcher’s, brewer’s or baker’s or even a politician’s) humanity, but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantage.”
So next time you see a Sallajeet seller, just remind yourself that in politics, everything, including even the so-called morality is part of a larger continuum which has shifting self-interests as both focal point as well as axis of rotation.