Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Paradox of Indian Politics

'There are two ways of making politics one’s vocation: Either one lives “for” politics or one lives “off” it' - the great German sociologist Max Weber once remarked.

In our case, we are today dominated by the later case. Our political leaders would face massive unemployment if they stopped being political leaders. Firstly most of them have businesses which would not be profitable if they do not control the state machinery. The ventures in real estate, infrastructure and liquor licenses do not require skills of entrepreneurship as much as they require favors from public administration. In order to get land allocated at dirt cheap rates or to get licenses and tenders within weeks, you have to be a relative of an MLA or an MP. To bring such prosperity in ones family, people do have to overlook interests of general public.

After independence, the old guard of Congress that ruled India for a decade, was one which lived for politics, they weren't in it for personal interests. Their ideology was defined by the examples of Tilak, Nehru and Gandhi. Austerity was a habit. Pandit Nehru didn't win every general election of his time by rigging elections or by spending more on his election campaign that his rivals. He was successful because of his moral authority. A leader of his stature would still debate with his opposition, accept their better suggestions over his own ideas, listen to his own party's leaders who, though lesser than him, still had their opinions. The famous Kamaraj plan, in which the chief ministers and cabinet ministers of Congress resigned to dispel the lure of power and work for their organization could only have been possible in that era.

After Indira Gandhi's authoritarian regime, in which Congress organization was dissected, mutilated and divided; the era of one Leader, one Family began, which slowly engrossed all political parties. No one would like to part with this lucrative business and would never like to see the control going to someone outside their family. Mulayam Singh Yadav could not look for a better socialist leader in his party except for his own son Akhilesh. When Lalu had to go to jail and give up his chair of Chief Minister, farthest he could look for, was his own spouse, whose only experience before becoming the Chief Minister of Bihar was in home and kitchen. When Bal Thackeray was asked to nominate a heir, he couldn't find anyone other than his son Udbhav. Indira Gandhi made sure that Sanjay would succeed her to carry on her 'legacy', when things didn't go the right way, it was accidentally inherited by Rajeev Gandhi, and dynasty was continues with Sonia Gandhi, while Rahul Gandhi is the undisputed heir to the throne of prime minister and would be crowned whenever he thinks is the right moment. Mr. Manmohan Singh keeps the seat warm until that time comes. India has not seen a statesman, a true leader for more than a decade now.

Indian democracy is now a slave to the whims of just a few families. The leadership skills flow in their blood. The only genuine nationalist party which stood for true democracy and unity, was itself split to serve the personal interests of just one person, and since then it has been a slave to their family.

When one party comes into power, the party going in opposition, swaps its agenda and ideology with them. The Congress party which originally started the liberalization of economy and disinvestment of public owned enterprises, took to the street during the period of 1998 to 2004, forgetting its own recent history when it has itself opened up the markets for private investment. When BJP was voted out of power, the paradox continued, they now opposed any new proposal of rolling back subsidies or new foreign investment in country, both in the Parliament as well as in the streets. Economic policy has remained more or less unchanged since 1991, but the shameful hypocrisy with which the political parties themselves forget their own policies when in Opposition is the reason why reforms are slow, and a majority of Indian population is living below the poverty line. They oppose each and every policy and reform, just for the sake of opposing it. The debates in Parliament aren't intended at shaping country's policy or laws, because ruling party has its ears plugged. Bark all you like, we will do what we will do.

The opposition makes a big hue and cry over ruling party's corruption during the run up to the election, but there is a sense of honor among these thieves. They do not pursue cases of previous regime's corruption believing that they will receive same honorable treatment when they have to sit in the opposition.

'I know that most members of Parliament see the constitution for the first time when they take an oath on it. ' - Pramod Mahajan

This scenario of politics and politicians doesn't leave with much of a choice for the voters. They don't have much to choose, 'Saare neta chor hain', people have stopped expecting much change from change of governments, elections have become more of a ritual to redeem your legitimacy of being an India citizen for the educated middle class. As every option available leads to the same result... in India you do not cast your vote; you vote your caste.

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