Saturday, April 23, 2011

Political Aspirations, Anyone?

The past few months have seen a tremendous onslaught against the present government led by the Prime Minister. The citizenry was moved into agitation against corruption by a man in his early seventies. The demand was for a Lokpal Bill, the establishment of a ferocious watchdog for babu and neta alike. Suddenly Anna Hazaare became the talk of the town almost like the new brand coming to India and opening its retail outlet. Even people from my generation were moved at least apparently unlike I have seen in a long time. Once the hunger fast of the old man ended with a joint committee to draft a bill, everything sort of died down. Now we hear cacophony from a bogus government to defame members of civil society. I don’t know how the devil this makes life better for them. This government’s biggest enemy is their leaders themselves and their urge to debrief more than brief.

One might think this is another run of the mill, let’s stop corruption piece of writing (some might call it something a wee bit worse). However, this is not. I think those issues have been dealt with and are fairly simple to understand. These events however set of a chain of thoughts in my mind. This was the first time when people my age were politically charged at least it has never been so apparent. This was significant. I attempted to analyze this further.

I wish to share an experience I had to elucidate the theme of my writing. As a kid I have grown up around a lot of political talk given the fact that my mother is a journalist. And somehow I have always been very interested in it even more as I grew up. But one incident never leaves my memory. OBC reservations were to be introduced in IITs and IIMs and other central institutions. Many civil society and student protests had broken out against this. Shiv Khera, the author and speaker was leading one such protest at AIIMS which fortunately or unfortunately was close to my home. Shiv Khera was from my school and I had even heard him speak once. I felt the urge to go and join the protests. This was tenth grade with tuitions at their zenith. I decided to bunk mine and go to AIIMS. Once, I reached there I was more intrigued than ever before. Politics did not seem so academic any more. I remained only a keen observer until I was noticed by a colleague of my mother’s who was there to cover the protests. He feared a lathi charge and therefore was obviously concerned about me. I had no clue, he had noticed me nor did I recognize him. Suddenly, my mother called me up and I was asked to return home that instant. Her concern being entirely prudent. I returned home finding my usually calm grandfather paranoid. My father returned that evening and I received a blasting of The Blitz kind. I was told that this protests and thid politics business is not what we do nor are we supposed to. My mother returned and told me that these places aren’t safe and anything could happen. After the scolding my parents seem to joke about it. I found it very odd. I never could understand what happened and why did my family react in the way that it did.
Almost three years later I was at a conference where the subject was governance rather the lack of it. There were several political and apolitical speakers. Obviously the question of the politician came up and was found to be the source of all ills. Speakers spoke of dynasties and vote bank politics leaving no choice. One such speaker came up. Her name is Sunita Narain, she has been one of India’s most well known environmental experts. She had undertaken a study exposing various harmful substances in Coca Cola and Pepsi, the study even found pesticides. Subsequent to the study a Joint Parliamentary Probe was set up. And there came to my mind that it was under the headship of Shri Sharad Pawar who at the time or I think even now is perceived to own one of the largest bottling plants of Pepsi. I said to myself that is the kind of politics this nation is subjected to, ridden with conflicts of interest and no code. There isn’t even an honour code among these thieves. Logically, I asked myself why. And the above stated experience came to my mind.

In America if a child said I’d like to be a Senator one day or even President, he is patted on the back. In India if someone said he would want to be a MP, a pat of another kind would find its way on the cheek. Every middle class or upper middle class parent whose family has never been directly involved in politics sees read as soon as their children show streaks of political activism the kind I showed when I went to those protests. One’s parents are always concerned of the dangers and the immense perils of politics and rightfully so. Dinner table conversation is where politics especially of the competitive kind must end. However, that is what ails our democracy. The middle class or the upper middle class is the one that across the world has thrown up the greatest leaders in a democracy. This class has seen the fruits of education and often the luxury of money. But in our country no child outside of a political dynasty is ever encouraged or even accepted for having political aspirations. Our middle class will complain about the performance of MPs but won’t go and vote. We will whine about a leadership vacuum but never should our child dream of representing his people in Parliament. This is the beginning of many troubles.

It creates a gulf between the people and their representatives from the very beginning. When you are a teenager even then you continue to feel that politics is someone else’s trade. Another consequence is that political office becomes fiefdoms controlled by cliques or dynasties. Political office must, in the interest of governance be discharged as a professional duty not as a favor to the electorate. The rot in the system continues since new people and fresh talent and merit hardly ever creeps in. Then why blame the politics of dynasty? It is we who elect such people even if we don’t cast our vote and it is we who have over the years limited our choice to dishonorable thieves. Cherry on top, we become cynics of democracy.

Every parent in every middle class household having seen the fruits of education must feel the agony we face because we stop our children from ever dreaming to be in politics. Our taboo of politics and the business of the nation is the genesis of the misrule we suffer. I hope and wish someday a mother is proud to say that my fourteen year old son wants to be an elected representative.

Jai Hind!