बुधवार, 1 जुलाई 2009

Politics and Politicians in India

When an Indian looks at the political scenario of his/her country, two opposite emotions grip the person simultaneously. First is the overwhelming sense of pride for being a citizen of the biggest democracy - successfully functioning in the most unviable conditions and second is the feeling of disgust. People hopelessly watch the great potential of the country callously being wasted endlessly. This story of missed opportunities and unrealised potentialities is embedded in the nature of political processes of the country. Politics is the most dominant aspect of human life. Politics is something which involves everyone, whether willing or not. And the orientation of any person in a democracy, i.e., his/her understanding and actions which may include even absolute non-understanding and total inaction and the person concerned no matter how marginalised or unconcerned s/he may be, do affect politics greatly. In this sense every person is a participant in politics but by a politician one means a person who is associated with the core of political processes directly, i.e., with governance. This categorisation excludes people manning administration as non-elected government employees. These are people who man the government through elections or contest for the same. They are also the people who mediate between the government and the citizenry excluding those working for trade unions, associations, other interest groups and civil society organisations. They may be freelancers or working through political parties but political parties and electioneering are their main platform and concern respectively.

Politics is largely the management of public affairs in a polity. The politics of a polity depends a lot on its political culture as the actual politics does reflect that culture, particularly in democracies. But the actual politics which does include the inputs from the public and its outcome as policies towards people is largely shaped by these politicians. This may be through acts of commissions as well as acts of omissions. Nonetheless they are the most powerful agents of social dynamics. And the good of all other aspects of social life ultimately depends on their deeds. The wisdom is that politics may not be able to deliver the good, but it is certainly capable of preventing the good. Hence good politics is crucial to the social good and good politicians are needed for good politics.

Politicians in a democracy
In democracies people are at least theoretically masters of their own destinies and they have vital discretion with regard to the politicians. The exercise of this discretion is institutionalised and how do people live largely depends on their exercise of this discretion. The citizens therefore must do a careful scrutiny of the politicians they have and be very discerning about whom they are extending their support to. This discretion on the part of citizens is fundamental in a democracy. Democracies are for all practical purposes representative democracies and these politicians ultimately man the apparatus which stands in the name of ‘by the people, of the people and for the people.’ Ultimately politicians are the persons who represent people or contest to represent them. Hence people must understand their politicians; they must be very watchful of persons who are in politics and who want to be in.

The people’s control over politics, though never substantial in practical conditions, is not important only from the national viewpoint. Today this responsibility has global ramifications and it is to the extent that it involves the very survival of humanity. First as today, economy is global and in this scenario a laidback nation is bound to lose.. On the negative side the global order throws immense challenges too. Today every nation is caught in a peculiar war – a war between global hegemony and its dissenters but this is not a war between good and evil. It’s a war between evils threatening each and every one with their menacing manoeuvres. Today every national of any nation is in the firing line in battles which are waged internationally - very literally as the terror attacks on unsuspecting civilians anywhere in the world have shown.

It is not only the security threat posed by the militaries, militias, terrorists and others like drug traffickers or diseases such as AIDS or natural scourges, there is another threat which is more ominous. It is the threat of environmental degradation, which has pushed humanity to the brink. Global warming and ozone depletion are threatening the very survival of humanity. Today every human inhabitant of the planet needs to think very seriously about how do they want to live together on this planet? This issue has reached a level where the option of survival is really getting tougher with ecological imbalances becoming severer day by day.

Environmental problems are after all manmade problems and can be resolved through human actions. It is ultimately politics which have almost all levers of societal engine under its control and all problems ultimately need political resolution. Thus for the sake of survival and for living better, every human being must be dead serious of politics as this is a question of life and death, not only of individual persons but of the whole humanity, very literally. And the question of politics inevitably involves politicians.

In the context of India, this issue has become more pertinent as she is growingly getting integrated into the global economy and it cannot avoid its expanded role in international politics. Even otherwise, greater responsibilities beckon her for being the biggest democracy covering the one-fifth of the humanity. India’s recent strides in economy and phenomenal successes of her business leaders have engendered hope and confirm India’s great potentials. So that India can fulfil its responsibilities and realise its potential substantially, she needs nothing more than men and women of substance in politics. This is not going to happen on its own. Citizens therefore need to exercise their faculties and act sagaciously. This demands an understanding of politicians and their ilk.

The class of professional politicians
Indian democracy is generally run by a class of professional politicians. Their main, whole time occupation is politics. They seem to be quite normal and even inevitable. But their existence is not functional to democratic processes. This is antithetical to the spirit of representative democracy. Representations are always of interests. The representative democracy is true to its nature and purpose only when people from different walks of life become members of legislatures and political executives. The democratic politics is/should be open to all peoples. The politics is proper if people of different social backgrounds, education and occupations become active politicians. But the existence of a class of professional politicians indicates that the political system, particularly the system of governance has its own interests distinct form the interests of the citizens and their groups. In this situation the government is not a system wherein interests of different sections of society and of nation as a whole are placed, articulated, adjusted and pursued but the government has its own interests which are actually the interests of its personnel, elected or selected, which undercut the interests of all other sections of society. The government does not remain an agency for the general good but becomes an entity by itself. If the nature of government is such, a very powerful class of professional politicians is bound to emerge. They instead of serving the people lord over the masses and amass enormous riches by virtue of being in and around the government. In a truly democratic regime, public spirited persons and persons of eminence would have been needed to be persuaded to assume government offices and this would have been quite a temporary assignment for them. At more mundane level, various associations would have been cajoling one of their members to fight elections to espouse their interests in the governmental decision making processes. These are possibilities of an ideal situation which perhaps exists nowhere in the world but the size of the class of professional politicians and the degree of their predominance are proportionate to the power of government at the cost of the general good.

Good politics can easily be identified by knowing the politicians. In good politics, academicians, public intellectuals, true trade union leaders, business leaders, genuine farmers, professionals, social workers and for that matter any public spirited person would be getting in and out as per the requirements of their own occupations and their commitment to the public good. But who do dominate Indian politics today? Who are the professional politicians? For most of them, politics is a life time occupation which is also inheritable to the family members. Politics is a family or clan occupation. Their declared occupations may be anything but they are only meant to be cover-ups and used for parking ill-gotten money. These politicians do germinate from social movements, trade union politics and students’ politics etc and these are very legitimate mode of entry into professional politics. But mostly such politicians are feudal landlords, contractors, local bullies, dons and ex-personnel of bureaucracy, entertainers, shady businesspersons etc. Once any person who establishes himself as a politician, whatever may be his background, he becomes the founder of a dynasty and politics henceforth becomes the main occupation of his family. Such powerful political families behave kingly and even their relatives, regents and retainers are awarded with political posts and favours as rewards of loyalties.

Even apparently legitimate looking routes to political career via social movements, students’ politics and trade union movements are not assuring. Often social movements are guided by regional chauvinism, primordial values and parochialism. Mostly their mooring are retrograde and orientations anti-civic. The thin line often blurs between caste and community leaders on one hand and criminals on the other. True trade-unionism has perhaps yet to take roots in India. Mostly trade union leaders are politicians and fixers. They have least to do with the trade which they seek to espouse. Trade unions are mostly extended arms of political parties and are meant to benefit the political class rather than workers and professionals. Student’s politics is one area from where larger numbers graduate to active politics but the interference of political parties makes student politics pernicious like the mainstream politics.

In contrast, politics as family profession is a very attractive proposition. Mostly they are highly educated. Their top class upbringing and family name offer them immense influence and access. Such politicians inherit the political position and clout from their families. But their apparent demeanour is misleading. Today’s young generation of politicians of this variety shows the political moorings and orientations of this category of politicians. They are not young Turks – vociferous, impatient and seething with angst, as youths as they are expected to be. The present younger lot is suave, articulate and well versed in the rules of the game. They can outwit and beat any of the old guards in sycophancy, one-upmanship, primordial appeal, patron-client politics and penchant for good things of life.

The culture of the class of professional politicians
It is primarily the nature of governance which breeds this class of professional politicians. In India, the government is an all powerful organisation. The organisation is a cross product of medieval feudalism and modern colonialism and is entrusted to be ‘the emancipator of the wretched masses’ as ‘the vanguard of social revolution’ in independent India. Such governance positions their functionaries as masters and emancipators. It is highly gratifying and rewarding to be a government functionary and to be at the highest level ensures unquestioned mastery over people and untold riches. This situation has germinated a powerful group of vested interests who by all means stick to the governmental apparatus. They are neither the people who are moved by the spirit of public service nor they are persons who are persuaded by the public to represent them. Rather they employ all means mostly retrograde to be in the helms of governmental affairs.

Such behaviour of the political class is testified by the nature of political parties. The political parties in India are hardly public platforms for political actions. The organisational chain of any party starts from bottom and reach top on the basis of the relationship of patronage and loyalty. The lack of internal democracy in parties is a well known fact. Every organisation has a high command, which is the last voice on any matter of the party. This is not something which is informal and latent but is accepted and proclaimed very openly even by the bigwigs of any party. Parties are in fact contraptions to meet the goals of their leaders. To be more precise, the elite of political class have their own parties to fulfil their personal ambitions. They form, dissolve, split, merge and change parties at their convenience. Many of the political leaders also treat parties as vehicles of their political ambitions. They change parties with the drop of a hat. This is the worst degradation of the party system in a democracy. The parties do not enjoy the level of sanctity from its member which even a smaller firm may enjoy from its stakeholders or any association from its members.

This class of professional politicians and their venal and haughty ways is sustained by the poverty of civic culture. The political class takes all the pains to nurture a subject political culture wherein people do not behave as sovereign citizens but as dependent subjects. They often talk of the deliverance of the damned. This is deceit at its worst; the parasite proclaims to be the guardian of the host. However they often espouse pious sounding but hideous ideas and ideologies – caste pride, community interest, regional identity, lingual superiority, peoples emancipation, nationalist resurgence, social revolution etc. The idea is always to make the citizens lesser citizens and keep them dependent. They never talk of freedom, of full blown citizenry – where everyone, whether in government or outside, are no more or no less than fellow citizens. When politicians say they want to serve, they intend to deceive; when they say they want to emancipate, they mean to enslave; and when they say they are helping, they are in the process of robbing. The professional politician would never say, ‘we should work together for improving our lot.’ The citizens also tow the line as they are confused as a result of the indoctrination by the propaganda apparatus of the state, which includes the whole paraphernalia of education and are afraid of the intimidating coercive arm of the state. At the same time their minds are clogged by centuries of iniquitous existence and they fail to recognise their own dignity and worth.

The outsiders
Apart from this class of professional politicians there are other persons from non-political backgrounds who get in politics or brought into politics. The most noticeable among them are the people from the entertainment world – the leading actors and actresses. They are instant hits in this field too because the people have tremendous tendency of confusing the life on reels with the real life. They also evaluate the worth of an actor by the fictitious roles s/he puppets on payment. This exposes the enormity of the crisis of political culture. At another level, masses too distressed of destitution in real life are fanatical of drama which they witness on screens. They do what looks the best to them – superimpose the drama on the dread of reality.

If the actors are the most noticed players in politics, the antisocial and criminals command the most ominous presence in the Indian democracy. They are quite unworthy of being in democratic processes but they have the wherewithal of being there. They have money, muscle and political patronage to sail through in a system where the rule of law prevails only in the law books. They are in politics because of the failings of politics. The collapse of the criminal justice system, of governance and of the party system makes them flourish and even win respectability. They have even a very humane job on their hands. They are dons – godfathers – who sometimes provide succour to the suffering lot and by their highhandedness make the administration deliver, which command most of the deliverables and is very reluctant to do so.
Besides jesters and lawbreakers, peoples from various other occupations like bureaucracy, professions like law, engineering, journalism and medicine do join politics. But they do not seek to represent their vocational interests or act as vanguards of public interests but they in a forthright manner seek to consolidate their positions in terms of wealth and prestige by having political power. The pursuit of power and power alone brings almost all of them in politics.

Liberalisation, vibrant civil society, decentralisation and far greater expansion of quality education can improve the civic culture. Only with enlightened civic culture the country can get rid of its rogue politicians. But for the time being people must be made to realise that the success of India and Indians depends much on the kind of politicians they can churn out. They must set aside their primordial and selfish loyalties and look for persons who are mentally sound, morally unwavering, intellectually profound and professionally competent to represent them. The politics must have the best persons participating in it. It is shame on the part of Indian citizenry that India despite its rapidly expanding economy and its rising international stature is far away from having a decent class of political leaders and activists. People must mend their political orientations and act as sovereign citizens so that they do not suffer the indignities of being lesser human beings as dependent subjects.

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