Saturday, 28 March 2009

The Present and Future of Indian Politics

As a child, I had the unique fortune of living in a township adjacent to a village, witnessing the simple lives that majority of Indians lead. There were two predominant sources of employment for the community – agriculture and the township’s factory. There were two temples and a mosque in the village and there were varied castes living in the community. There were just two schools where children from all walks of life went and interacted with each other. There was one hospital in the township that catered to the needs of all the people in the vicinity. It was a harmonious existence and the child in me thought that the world was as peaceful as our rural community.

The normal and mundane life of the little village was interrupted on very few occasions. The most vivid memories that I have of such events are of the visits of passing by politicians, stopping to use the guest accommodations of the factory. Those visits were like weddings – the cooks were busy preparing delicacies, security staff shunted around ensuring decorum and safety, flower arrangements adorned the guest house building and all senior factory officials with their wives were in attendance. The drama made no sense to me and the importance of the visiting Prime Ministers, Chief Ministers and Home Ministers etc. escaped my eight year old brain. They might have been important people but never struck me as intelligent and powerful office holders.

Gifted and authoritative to me were the collectors and the other Indian Administrative Services (IAS) officers, who visited our township and held intense discussions over rather normal meals, without elaborate displays. Despite the humour and light conversation, ironically the lack of fanfare to me was an indication of the respect that they commanded. That they interacted effortlessly and directly with all the inhabitants of the rural community made them real and humane. These were the people, who I thought, really cared about the community. Reality struck gradually as I grew up and moved out of that little cocoon in to the real world. Today, having lived in a number of Indian cities and abroad, I definitely have a wider perspective.

The upcoming 2009 elections, however, have refreshed my memories and I am forced to think that maybe my child brain was correct to a large extent. The political leadership in India is indeed about self promotion and self profit. There is mass exploitation of people’s sentiments, with all promises made at the beginning and none even remotely fulfilled at the end of the ministerial tenure. Take the example of the local candidates in the holy city of Tirupati. They are busy distributing gold coins worth INR 3,000, with Lord Balaji embossed on them, to the public. The aim is to use the religious sentiments of the populace to strengthen the vote bank! Or take the example of the Maharashtra Nav Nirman Sena chief, who tried to use ethnicity as a trump card, stating that the financial capital of India should be foremost for the indigenous people of the state. I cannot remember reading of any promises made whatsoever; however, there is enough evidence to suggest that this very party, fighting for the rights of the local people, has been conspicuous in its absence post the November attacks on Mumbai. There was no help extended by the party during or after the crisis. All the bravado and valour of the party members were and are being used against innocent civilians but none against any perpetrator violating the peace and development of their very own city!

Why is it that Indian politicians need to resort to sentiment exploitation to enrich their vote banks? One reason is a lack of inspirational leaders who can motivate either by example or by oratory skills. Thus the simplest way to incite the crowd is to inflame emotions leading to mass following. Communal politics seems to be the lowest hanging fruit to encash upon. Even in the current elections, the struggling heir of the grand old Indian political family has used religious hatred to garner support. Sad that an educated youth leader would resort to these tactics.

However sad the truth maybe, it is to quite a degree due to the second pillar supporting sectarian politics in India. The most active participants in the country’s politics are the poor and the uneducated. These people, desperately craving a change, are willing to believe anyone who brings the slightest of glimmer of hope. The urban educated middle class, upper middle class and the elite are the weakest link in the democratic setup of the country. These individuals with the wherewithal should not only be active participants but also proponents of civil rights and civic duties. However, these are the very people who encourage corruption and chaos by attempting the short routes to meet their aims. In the garb of having no capable candidate to vote for, they remain completely detached from elections, preventing any weeding out of the most undeserving candidates.

Indian businesses and lobby groups are also culpable in this propaganda. It is true that businesses cannot survive without lobbying as politicians do not make it easy for them. However, if the country’s revenue generators were to take a tough stand against parliamentary wrongdoings, then the sheer lack of economic gains would bring discipline in Indian politics.

The picture is not as gloomy as I portray it to be. The November attacks on Mumbai seem to have played the role of a catalyst in awakening the youth and the able. There is an entry of the upper middle class and elite into politics; key examples being Meera Sanyal (a banker) and Captain Gopinath (a retired Indian Army soldier and an entrepreneur). They might be just two individuals, however, even if they can inspire 200,000 youth it will be a start. The silver lining in the cloud is that these individuals are not attaching themselves to any political party but contesting as independents. This implies that they really aim of doing the right things, in the right way, for the people. Indian political leadership is also not completely devoid of able leadership. There are individuals of mettle such as Sri Arun Shourie, the former disinvestment minister of India. A learned economist and a passionate advocate of his beliefs, he is truly an inspiration. However, such credible names are few and far in between.

There is a ray of hope of change and it is the educated youth who can turn this dream into a reality. I do hope that youth in India recognise their importance and play their role judiciously. The American youth ensured that Obama took helm not just as the first ever African-American president of the United States of America, but also as the voice of the country’s future. Similarly, I hope that Indian youth will see party politics for what it is and start the process of weeding out the most undeserving players from our political arena. It is not realistic to hope for a complete turn around in these elections, however, it is practical to desire the beginning of a new era –an era which once again witnesses the educated and the aware framing the country’s law and policies, leading the country by example and shaping our young nation as a global power of reckoning. It is now over to the educated and able India, it is over to you.


Anonymous said...

Before I even start this comment, I want to re-iterate that I am an Optimistic Cynic.

If the country’s revenue generators were to take a tough stand against parliamentary wrongdoings, then the sheer lack of economic gains would not bring discipline in Indian politics but rather give them every incentive to run everything as Government Run Enterprises and that would lead to even more chaos. Isn't that the fear that they drive across corporates and the corporates oblige to grease the palms ??

Also, I do not know how far and wide you have traveled within India and how many youth you have interacted with.

The cities are definitely different, but rural India which makes up the largest vote bank and turnout has been pushed so deep into communal politics and my inference is that, even after making them literate, their emotions run so deep and though I do not want to say it, the prospects of change look rather DULL.

Though it may sound crazy..!!! My recommendation would be for someone like Abdul Kalam to become the dictator of India.

Change will definitely happen in India. Whether the change will be good for the country at large?????????? That has more question marks than I can type here.

The simple question is what would it take for people to NOT act based on Self Interest ????

Will there be a situation when the prime driver of human action be Ethics and Altruism ??????

Everyone needs to loose things that they cannot replace and the lights from heaven have to shine meaning providence intervenes and even then its uncertain if they will realize what they have gotten themselves into.

Who knows, they might change God to be one of us and open the curtains for a more entertaining and chaotic show.

We all can join hands and Applaud..!!!!!!

Tanushree Bagrodia said...

Dear Optimistic Cynic,

Having grown up all over India, travelled across the country and interacted closely with urban and rural youth; I can say this quite confidently that while the rural youth and even youngsters hailing from Tier III cities have this desire to achieve something and struggle and fight for it, the urban youth is not hesitant in paying their way through. It is an apathy that urban middle class has towards doing something constructive to bring about change. The impatience and the need for self fulfilment obscures the fact that a small step from them could make a big difference.

Corporate India by the same token, in the instances where it resorts to shortcuts, does not grease the palms out of fear but of greed. Then be it election funding, hosting holidays overseas or lobbying for relaxations; it is not to avoid negative rulings but to attract favours.

Communal politics is not only prevalent in the interiors. Even in the cities, it is very deep rooted and once again it is with the middle class as much as it is with the poor. However, that will take some time to weed out but we need to start somewhere. If we, the educated, stop voting for the unwanted elements in the parliament, start explaining things to the uninitiated in our immediate contact then we are already beginning to do some of our duties.

People do act without selfish motives and do lead by example. Meera Sanyal, Capt. Gopinath, Mallika Sarabhai are all examples; especially since they are fighting as indipendent candidates. Gandhi, Sardar Patel and Mother Teresa; all set examples. However, Independent India has not seen such examples in its youth, its future. That is where we NEED to change our attitude.

The youth need to think beyond tomorrow and next year. We need to have a lomg term vision and see the bigger picture. Interacting with highly qualified professionals in the course of my work also I am frustrated to see the short sighted views and the back side covering attitude of peers. If this tunnel vision approach plagues the professionals, the educated and the ones with exposure then the problem definitely needs addressing and no one else can do that but we ourselves.

We need not compare ourselves with anyone. But we need to set our own benchmarks and learn from our past and contemporaries. Assimilation of best practices from these worlds is bound to take us on the right path to progress.

Dictatorship is not the answer. External pressures cause the lava to rumble and eventually the volcano errupts. Democracy is the way forward but we need to understand our duties and exercise our franchise responsibly. Two minds are better than one and hence I am not a supporter of dictatorship.

I am critical of our policies and governance. I am realistic about what we should expect. I am an advocate of doing whatever each one of us can to bring about change. However, I am not a cynic. Cynicsm will only prevent a full hearted effort from being implemented and that already is half the battle lost. I am a cautious and patient believer.

Thanks for your thoughts and hopefully Indian youth and temper your cynicism with their enthusiasm.

Anonymous said...

Very Nice..!!! My best wishes and I definitely will play my part in our march forward..!!!