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Balram resumes his letter to Premier Jiabao with a critique of Indian democracy, and warns him not to believe the pamphlet describing the government that he will undoubtedly receive from the Indian politicians. Balram’s first experience with Indian democracy was when his employer at the teashop in Laxmangahr sold all his employees’ votes to the Great Socialist’s party, leaving Balram without any political voice. When the official at the local voting booth tells Balram he must be eighteen years old to vote, he agrees to register as an eighteen-year-old, effectively receiving a “birthday” from the government.
Though Balram receives his “birthday” as a result of corrupt behavior by election officials and his former employer, this episode may have helped form his understanding of his own versatility and flexible identity. He has received a series of names and a birthday at random: no wonder he feels it is possible to reinvent himself into whoever he wishes to be. Meanwhile, it is now clear that the Indian government is just as corrupt as its “businessmen.”
The Great Socialists’ party dominated politics in the Darkness at the time of the first election in which Balram could vote. While the Great Socialist presents himself as a populist leader favoring the poor, he and his corrupt ministers murdered, raped, embezzled funds, and rigged elections to stay in power. His hold over the region is so complete and uncontested that any citizen who thinks he can vote for himself, for or against the Great Socialist party, is considered mad.
The notion that an Indian citizen might vote for his or herself is so foreign to the poor villagers that they merely feel pity for any individual persuaded to try. They have grown to reluctantly and unquestioningly accept the Great Socialist’s tyrannical rule, just as they accept the exploitation of the Four Animals.
The Great Socialist secured his power in Laxmangahr by cutting deals with the four local landlords (Stork, Raven, Wild Boar, Buffalo). In this particular voting year, however, the landlords are unhappy with the terms of their political agreement, and start their own oppositional party against the Great Socialist. Vijay, who has transformed himself from a bus driver into a political activist, outspokenly supports the Great Socialist against the new party. Finally, the two sides appear to reach an agreement, and the police arrive in town as they have during each preceding election to intimidate the townspeople and inform them, essentially, that going to the polls is useless: their votes will not be counted and the election will be tallied in favor of the Great Socialist.
The fact that the landlords have such power to influence an election’s course reflects the larger state of political inequality in India. The fate of millions of poor Indians is controlled by a very small handful of wealthy individuals, who use their money to pay off local officials and protect their family fortunes. And while those elites may clash from time to time, as they do in this election at first, ultimately they work out such clashes to ensure that they remain in power over the downtrodden poor. Note also how Vijay, once a poor man himself, now that he has moved up the social ladder supports the corrupt leaders. The game is rigged such that the only way for the poor to move up is to become as corrupt as the rich, to exploit the poor who they’ve left behind.
Balram recounts how on one election day, a rickshaw puller “went mad” and approached the polls, attempting to vote for himself. When he arrived at the polls where the Great Socialists had already “tallied” the votes (all in favor of their party), Vijay and a policeman beat him with sticks and then, with their feet, “stamp him into the earth.” Balram breaks into his narrative to point out the injustice of his being wanted for murder by the Indian police, who routinely terrorize and kill the poor.
By recounting incidents such as this one, Balram makes the reader see his own crime, the murder of Ashok, in a less harsh light. Against a backdrop of widespread police violence towards the innocent poor, the death of one rich man, himself part of the system of oppression, appears to be less obviously or exclusively a grave offense. Of course, this is also the logic that keeps India corrupt, and shows to the reader not necessarily what Balram intends it to: Balram’s point is that his killing was justified; the author Adiga’s point seems to be that India is so corrupt, its values so off base, that someone like Balram can come to see murder as not only justified but as a normal part of doing business.
After this brief history of Indian democracy as he knows it, Balram returns to describing the present elections. A few days after the trip to Laxmangahr, Vijay and the Great Socialist each separately visit the Stork’s family in Dhanbad. The Great Socialist demands a large sum of money from the family, presumably to punish their grab for political power. When the family protests, the politician reminds them that he has turned a blind eye all these years when they stole coal from government mines, apparently the source of their fortune. Balram listens in on the conversations that follow: Ashok, Mukesh Sir, and Pinky Madam decide that they have to move to Delhi to ensure that they can bribe the right people and protect their business.
The exchanges between the Stork’s family and the politicians reveal corruption on both sides. Both parties are trying to gain wealth and power in illicit ways without being caught, and each needs the other side’s cooperation. It is a delicate dance of exploitation and never-ending bribery: money trumps politics, which become almost an afterthought. Meanwhile, as all of these elite do “business,” the poor continue to suffer.
The Nepali tells Balram about the couple’s move to Delhi, and that he will help him go in exchange for 5,000 rupees: otherwise, Ram Persad would be the obvious choice. Desperate to go, Balram begins to scheme and watch Ram Persad closely. Persad had recently begun behaving strangely, cooking at night, eating alone, and disappearing from the master’s house at the same time each evening. Balram follows Ram Persad, and his suspicions are confirmed: the man is a Muslim, observing Ramadan. With the help of the Nepali, Ram Persad has concealed his faith from his Hindu master, who is deeply prejudiced against Muslims. Balram makes his discovery known to both the Nepali and Ram Persad, effectively blackmailing them so as to reverse the hierarchy among them to become “number one,” and earning the right to travel to Delhi.
In discovering Ram Persad’s secret, Balram demonstrates the strong intuition and observational powers of a “true entrepreneur”, who learns and advances by being aware of his surroundings. Of course, Balram is also seeing destroying someone else’s life as just another “entrepreneurial decision.” Once again, faith becomes simply another tool that Balram can use to increase his status and bring down his superiors, Persad and the Nepali. Despite (or because of) the fact that he was abused and put down by the older servants, Balram doesn’t spare them now that he is servant number one. He simply uses his new power to treat them with the same maliciousness they once showed him.