Is politics the last resort of the scoundrels? Our high school teachers and college lecturers have told us so. Our bureaucrats and businessmen agree. In fact, the degree of our hatred for politics is often used as a measure of our honesty. Our parents in general blindly accept this view and repeatedly warn us that we must hate politics.
So, should we hate politics in a democracy like India? If our answer is yes, then probably we are doing the biggest disservice to our civilized society. I would even say that hating politics in a democracy is a crime against the nation.
Let us not forget that we have given ourselves and adopted our Constitution, which reigns supreme. We gave ourselves fundamental rights and fundamental duties as well. Thus each of us is morally bound to participate in the act of governance of this country. Unfortunately, in India teachers hate politics; bureaucrats hate politics; the common man hates politics too. They look down upon politics as if it is a "scoundrel's job".
Consequently, any prudent individual with the zeal to serve the nation doesn't come forward to join politics. This suits existing political classes and the criminals who have been clinging on to the politicians' bandwagon. In order to retain their grip on power, even foremost political leaders generally ignore the will of the people. As a result, the people have an uncaring leadership thrust onto them. We don't have much of a choice when we go out to vote. Elections are openly referred to as a choice between evils. Voting has almost become a mechanical task and not a spontaneous one. We do not particularly want to vote for any candidate but do it any way. I do not wish to make a sweeping statement because there are still a few politicians who are great statesmen and actually doing a great job. But the fact remains that we have an inherent hatred against politics and politicians.
We talk of corruption, inefficiency and nepotism. We shout from the rooftops that the system is corrupt, that politicians are corrupt, and that this country cannot do without corruption. A litany of corruption cases and scams come to our minds. Notorious among them are the JMM MPs bribery case, hawala scam, St. Kitts forgery case, Bofors, fodder scam, petrol pump allotment scam, housing scam and a host of cases related to electoral malpractice involving even Prime Ministers, chief ministers, top bureaucrats and prominent industrialists.
A prominent Delhi lawyer tells me that he hates politics and also politicians. Our conversation went like this:
"Is politics the last resort of scoundrels?"
"Of course, yes! What a silly question, yaar."
"Do you hate all politicians all the time?"
"Do you hate politics?"
"Do you hate Mahatma Gandhi?"
"Do you hate Subhash Chandra Bose?"
"Do you hate Sardar Patel?"
"Not at all."
"Was not a Gandhi a politician? Was Netaji not a politician? Was Sardar Patel not a politician?"
"Er ... don't confuse me, yaar..."
"Is it correct to say that politics is participating in the act of governance of a country?"
"Yes," he said, a little hesitatingly. My lawyer friend sought to change the topic from this point, calling these issues irrelevant. No, it's not just him; there are millions who would react like he did.
In fact we have given ourselves a Constitution and a democracy and it is we who decide who should come to power. Popular will is reflected in the vote and governments change accordingly. Therefore, we are associated with the governance of the state in some form or the other. Why then have we inculcated this hatred against politics in our minds? Why then is politics always taken in a pejorative sense?
My journalist friend C.S. Rajnarayan says: "Politics becomes the last resort of scoundrels because it never becomes the first resort of honest and sincere people. If politics was all that bad why did our Freedom Fighters take to it? Why do we have names such as Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Jinnah and Maulana Azad at the tip of our tongues when we think of the Freedom Movement?
"Instead of the definitions that are attributed to politics, I'd prefer to remind all of us (including myself) time and again that society is only a reflection of what its individuals are. If politics is to be loathed, so should we as individuals. How many of us value the Freedom that was given to us on a platter? How many of us consider our duties before we seek our rights as citizens? How many of us have the courage that our forefathers had to take up a cause and fight for it? How many of us would want to be the harbinger of the change that we would like to see in society? And how many of us would stop seeing the differences between each other and look at our similarities instead?
"And finally, what is this India that we call our country? I feel it is a myth that only becomes a reality when we play Pakistan in cricket! Most of the time we are Punjabis, Gujaratis, Sindhis, Oriyas, Tamils, Malayalees, Telugus and others. And if that's not enough we have religion and caste to divide us further".
Rajnarayan goes on to say, "I believe we allow such divisions to perpetrate only because we are already a divided lot. We are a nation of weak people who constantly need to be told that they are good. We lack self esteem and courage of conviction. We can be influenced very easily as we think from the heart and not from the mind. So, I honestly don't believe that politics is to be blamed for this decay. We are ourselves to blame and the sooner we realize that, learn from our past and change our own inner-self the better the chance our nation will have to survive and prosper as a unified entity."
Newspapers are flooded every day with news of corruption and crime involving politicians. But the duty of correcting the system lies with each individual. This is a burden that every Indian has to share. Instead, all we do is point fingers. If you blame politicians, why don't you get involved and cleanse the system yourself? It is something like not jumping into the water to save a drowning child even when we know how to swim but waiting for someone else to do it.
Another very common occurrence comes to mind. When someone is hit in a road accident in front of us, we are usually reluctant to attend to him. Most of us would say, "the police are going to harass me and if I take the injured person to hospital". Some of us might feel how does it bother us if somebody dies in an accident? "It's the dead man's destiny" is the common refrain. But if our brothers or sisters or parents would lie unattended in a road accident, the same "we" would lament the callousness of the rest of us? "Doesn't anyone care for a human life?" is what we would cry in anguish.
The moot question boils down to the amount of commitment to society and the nation that we have. But sometimes we do come across such commitment in certain people and the results could be exemplary.
I remember an incident of some years ago. It was unique; I wish we could get to see more such things more often. Caught in a traffic signal during Delih's rush hour, hundreds of vehicles were stalled bumper-to-bumper. Everyone had to reach their destination before everyone else. Tempers were running high and irritation levels soared. Curses flew and those behind the wheels abused the government and the police while shouting at each other about their poor traffic sense. It was perhaps the commonest sight on Delhi's roads every day at rush hour.
That day I was in my lawyer friend T.A. Siddiqui's car. Siddiqui was behind the wheel. Traffic had come to a complete standstill. On our left a khaki-clad cop was trying to squeeze through with his Hero Honda. Two office-goers in the car on our right noticed the cop. Their conversation then went along predictable lines: The police are outright corrupt. Cops are in collusion with criminals everywhere. Stopping a vehicle abruptly and asking for a bribe from transporters, taxiwallahs and autowallahs comes naturally to the policeman. Traffic cops actually pay to get postings at busy intersections because the pickings are good. And the chain of corruption runs from the humble constable right to the top cop. Though the extent of corruption makes our blood boil, the situation is incorrigible. We are now so used to corruption that sometimes we actually justify a policeman accepting a bribe, unless we ourselves are caught in such a situation.
In the midst of this angst, an elderly couple, probably in their eighties, were trying to wriggle their way through the traffic snarl to cross the road. It was actually frightening to see them take one painful step after another in the midst of the cacophony of honking cars and impatient drivers. I had a feeling that they could also not see very clearly. The old man carried a stick, which had taken refuge under his right arm since there was no space on the road to use it. Some of those inside their cars even used some harsh words about the couple for choosing this stretch to cross the road, and blew their irritating horns even louder. For a moment I felt that but for the law some of them might even run over the couple if the traffic started moving.
Then, to our collective surprise, the policeman got off his bike and helped the couple cross over. For the aged couple, now looking relieved, it was like a godsend. All eyes were transfixed at the scene. The old man and his wife reached the other side of the road and profusely thanked the policeman. What amazed me was the fact that the sight of a policeman lending a helping hand to a citizen, which is his duty, could evoke so much surprise among us. All who witnessed the scene agreed that this is indeed rare, a sad commentary on the way we view our guardians of the law.
It is this sort of commitment that we must have in every field of endeavour. And actually there is no dearth of such people in many walks of life. Even in politics we need not go too far to find good, efficient and honest people. Political parties have simply got to have a vision, and transform themselves into a pool of trained manpower with all kinds of specializations. Our politicians need to be trained in several arts, including statecraft, management, economics and others.
Far from being the refuge of scoundrels, I believe politics is the finest form of management. Politics involves the management of resources and people. It is also a study of human behaviour. But one of the reasons why ordinary people do not take the plunge into politics is its glorious uncertainty.
In the Preamble to the Constitution it is explicitly stated that it is "we the people of India" who have given to ourselves this supreme document. The Constitution represents the paramount will of the people. But sadly enough, many of our lawmakers are by popular perception mere criminals, touts, manipulators and semi-literate opportunists. Very few top lawyers, professors, doctors, engineers, opinion-leaders or scions of educated families take to politics as a career of choice these days. An ordinary individual with the required education and leadership skills will either be nipped in the bud in or hounded out from politics for fear of competition by those who have entrenched themselves.
Politicians explain that winnability is the most important criterion when it comes to backing a candidate. Everything else, including honesty and incorruptibility, education and ability, are cast aside. We have spawned a culture of cronyism and nepotism in the guise of winnability. The favoured class favours its own. This means in reality we have a functioning oligarchy under the garb of democracy. Such an oligarchy has been in place in all parties, notwithstanding their ideology, since the time of Independence.
Those who do not belong to influential families or have other such advantages turn to sycophancy to survive in politics. If this state of affairs continues, what would happen to the quality of our lawmakers and laws? Can we blame politicians alone for this situation? Unfortunately most people would say yes. But the fact remains that our politicians are drawn from among ourselves.
During my interactions with many prominent politicians I have come to feel that most of them are extremely insecure. They are afraid of losing elections, portfolios, vote banks and public support. Even if a politician wishes to do something good for the people he is thwarted by the system and frustrated by compulsions. And compulsions there are many: Lack of education and legislative competence to participate in parliamen-tary proceedings and pitch for their constituencies; the need to keep everyone from the contractor to the party boss happy; and electoral dividend rather than common good come in the way of the best intentions. It is perhaps these compulsions that make politicians vulnerable to corruption. And no wonder politicians are on the top of the media's hit-list for sting operations.
A politician's biggest nightmare is whether he figures on the CBI's list of corrupt public servants. He is also under constant scrutiny from his adversaries. Thus all politicians bear the risk of being called corrupt.
During discussions, I have heard bureaucrats and judges say corruption always flows from the top to the bottom. They also blame politicians and the system for corruption. A former Sessions judge of Delhi, Mr. Perm Kumar, once told me that politicians are responsible for our decayed system. Our hatred for politicians is no more or less than our loathing of politics. My Campaigner friend Shanmugha Patro says politics boils down to an excess of interference. When we say there is "too much politics" in an institution we are usually referring to something about it that we do not like or that it is decaying.
But hardly is there any debate on how money and muscle power can be divorced from politics or how we can cleanse the system so that the good and honest get involved in politics. Instead, we parrot our favourite line: "Let politics be, it is the last resort of the scoundrel". I do not think we have a system in place to keep track of how much a political party earns and how much it spends. Its sources of income and heads of expenditure are never opened up for public scrutiny. Laws have failed to prevent the marriage of money and muscle power to political activity. This needs to be debated, and debated earnestly.
If a citizen of a democracy says he hates politics I believe he does not have the slightest respect for the democratic institution. One has to accept that. In a democracy you have no right to say that politics is dirty and leave it at that. If you realize that politics is dirty, why don't you do something to cleanse it? If a pond is full of mud, it will remain so till all the mud is taken out. And to take out the mud you have to wade into it. Will someone dare? Instead of calling politicians scoundrels why don't all good men get involved and do the job in place of the "scoundrels" doing that. In fact, I think there are few professions nobler than politics because it involves the very fate of the nation.
Now, in order to have a situation conducive for the common man and those who love the country to get into politics, we need to evolve a political system that does not make money and muscle power the bottom-line. This needs to be debated exhaustively.
For such a system to be in place, we need an entirely different set of politicians. A politician has to be a good economist. He will not make a good leader unless he understands the economy of the country. This is a tall task. Babus may come and go but a politician has to struggle in his turf for his entire career, and even when he is not in power. Since honest and educated people keep themselves aloof from politics, political parties are left with intellectual bankruptcy. Professionals such as doctors, lawyers, engineers, professors and scientists make a bigger asset for political parties than the moneybags who dominate them today. For these are the people who can guide the country with insight.
To be a successful public representative, one has to nourish his constituency and maintain a constant rapport with its people. He must be familiar with the resources, culture, social parameters such as education, health, employment and the environment, and the problems that the people of his constituency face. In a way a successful public representative oversees the work of a bureaucrat and provides useful insights for development. At the district level, if an MP has to meet the expectations of his electorate he has to be more informed and efficient than his collector or district magistrate. Apart from serving the interests of the people he also has to discharge the duties of a lawmaker. For this he needs to know the Constitution, the important laws and regulations, and also keep abreast of latest developments that concern our society. Hence, a true politician has to be a manager of the finest grain of affairs involving his particular region. This is possible only if the leader culls out time for his people, for study and for better managerial activity. Hence politics is the most evolved form of management.
In fact, I believe politics should be a subject of specialized study at the university level. The biggest thrust of this study can be the Unit Area Management System with a village knowledge centre as dreamt of by our former President. India is the largest democracy in the world. It has an unparalleled working Constitution that is constantly evolving. It is a lively treatise on governance that features democratic gems such as the Fundamental Rights, and the principles of Liberty and Equality. It is for us to demonstrate to the rest of the world that politics is not to be loathed since politics in a democracy means the empowerment of its citizens.
With this end in mind, I passionately feel that we need to have a university of politics to nurture the intellectual pool from where will emerge better politicians, diplomats and statesmen.
Is it not painful to see that the states are not able to spend their allocated funds and aid for development projects? It's a shame that we have the money but are not able to spend them for public good. We cry for hospitals, schools, roads and factories but the paperwork for all these gets bogged down in the bottomless cesspool of red-tape, leaving us nothing. We have to address our weaknesses and utilize our strengths to make our system efficient. My perception of these strengths and weaknesses are discussed in the next chapter.