What's happening -
Amidst the haze over our collective conscience, lies the dilemma of a common man - am I a political or apolitical one. Especially at the backdrop of growing social insurgencies and experiences of political discourse all around us, it is important to understand the politics, nay, be part of it.
Religion and politics, and at times a deadly mix of both, is infringing our socioeconomic wellbeing. Those who sail in the religio-political waves, presume, nothing can stop them. It’s fuelled also by our hero-worship culture, that’s prevalent not only for political but other sections, such as cinema. Once we vote for a certain candidate, we feel obliged, we convince ourselves into an unquestioned, biased legacy of supporting the elected representative – our psychological self-defence mechanisms kicking in, protecting a possible wrong choice we made. While protecting our choices, we tend to go defensive over our mistakes. When this extends to the political choices, we end-up extending our mistakes further, by blindly following and endorsing actions of the political leaders.
Great leaders such as Dr. Ambedkar challenged this notion of idolisation in politics by calling it a “sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship” which should be a wake-up call for the public, and the political parties. One needs to refrain from worshiping the politician as it can very well empower him to be invincible, resistant and unassailable to public criticism, legal accountability and transparency. And when that happens there will be no room for improvement or public opinion; the mistakes of the politician will be dismissed as paltry in the light of his being a flawless hero. Praise the leader, and you will be rewarded, worship him and he will reward himself at all times.
Real development issues seem to get faded and if/when they seem to portray them, politicians do to not stick to the tall promises they made while wooing the voters. The very core issues these politicians once opposed vehemently, now support after resuming the offices, or vice-versa. They are seen taking complete U-turns on issues they claimed to resolve if came to power, their flip-flops would leave the Cirque-du-Soleil smitten. The oratory could be safely classified as rhetoric during pre-election and statesmanship post-election. They use the media to garner favourable views and to quash when the winds are not favourable. The electorate, at times, knowingly elect candidates with questionable records, ideologies, falling prey to the inflated claims of work done.
Such a bad script -It’s a movie called ‘Indian Politics’ – starring actors garnering the most negative reviews imaginable. Not only the so-called “representatives of the people” are horrible at their proclaimed jobs, they are also foul-mouthed and unbelievably immature. A matured, reason-prevailed person would understand that people are different and we should respect the difference, but in politics, it's easy to turn into a bigot, blindly follow or oppose. They can’t do a single scene without throwing accusations and threatening each other. These are the people we trusted on creating, building and strengthening the sovereignty of our nation. What they end up scripting is blame games, U-turns, false promises, political gimmicks and amalgamation of one or more of these. Politicians don’t hesitate shedding their badge as a statesman and cross the thin red line which separates rhetoric from bigotry.
This phenomenon is becoming common among voters of all demographics, all mainstream parties and all regions. People have stopped judging their leaders by facts, and begun judging the facts based on their party loyalty. Derogatory debates, hate and cursing, just because we have different political preferences.
Indian election agendas for ages have been dominated by caste/religion. While we expect elections to be ‘development’ centric, it soon snowballs into an ugly sugar coated religion and caste based rhetoric. Every stakeholder comes up with their respective share of loose condemn-able statements, burning effigies of the trust we bestowed on them. Politicians have time and again rived us by hatred and held us hostage to the intolerant demands of religious natures.
In the last Presidential election (year 2012), out of the 776 MPs and 4,120 MLAs who were eligible to vote, 31% or 1,450 of them had criminal cases lodged against them (based on the information they provided in their election affidavits). Among the number mentioned, 641 of them had serious criminal charges against them (i.e., rape, attempt to murder, kidnapping, robbery and extortion against them.
Intolerance -Recent injection of some new elements of intolerance and authoritarianism into the lives of people has created unnecessary disturbances. A rampant culture of violence targeting freedom of expression, freedom of religion, intellectual freedoms. The most troubling aspect of the state of Indian democracy remains, as always, the appalling culture of impunity that kept infringing right since the days of partition, for mass crimes that target selective ethnicity with the explicit backing of leading political figures. It is appalling that politicians known to be complicit in large-scale communal violence have escaped legal retribution and are not even seen to be seriously threatened by legal sanctions.
These sustain the new cultures of intolerance by giving them a seeming legitimacy. Organised mysticism and cultures of gullibility has crept in. "You have hurt my sentiments" is the fiction used to justify both violence and intolerance. The so-called sentiments that are said to be hurt are manipulated – serial devices akin to the Nazi "stab in the back" theory that was used to justify the attacks on German democracy in the 1920s. A fundamental lack of equality, is a huge black hole at the heart of our democracy. Autonomous bodies are also being moved to the subservient to the views of the political parties, replacing the deserving with the stooge.
Canary in the coal mine -Rationalists who were active in combating the organised mysticism and cultures of gullibility have been ‘silenced’. It's slowly taking the form of canary in the coal mine: Secular voices, if censored, others will follow. How can any modern democracy flourish if the supposedly "popular" cultural base is one steeped in various forms of promoted mysticism and credulousness? Run by religious entrepreneurs, who have every stake in keeping the mass of the population in a state of abject subjugation have been flourishing. Nationalist gibes, the belligerent provocation of various Indian minorities has raised ethnic tensions.
Divisive, intolerant and insensitive statements of ruling-party leaders, their repeated transgressions and silence maintained by the head of the party constitutes tacit approval, - and that such endorsement is not acceptable, it's rather ominous. A quick resort to bans (to please those so-called religious sentiments, ultimately to garnish the political mileage) will chill all debate as everyone will be anguished by ideas they dislike. It is far better to improve the environment for ideas through tolerance and mutual respect, than strangulating sprouts of ideas.
Hero-worship -We generally look in awe or gloss over the expensive advertisements of our leaders and their deeds which could have been represented in a modest ad or an article. Huge Banners, flimsy hoarding, countless posters, and artistic graffiti, should make one think of the expenses driven into financing these grand motifs of narcissist propaganda and coverage. The holding of extravagant events, time and again disrupt public transport among other things; the space which is used to hold grand gatherings is open to defacement, littering, and even deforestation and not to mention the wastage of resources all on the expense of the common man. We have adjusted ourselves to ignorantly accept all this, knowingly or unknowingly.
A politically aware electorate is the backbone of any democracy. We are more likely to debate frequently about current affairs, be aware of legislations and have opinions about national issues. But a serious problem arises when the electorate stops judging the political class and instead identifies itself with it. This leads to hero-worship and blind belief, pretty much similar to our religious inclinations (described at length here: http://sceptacular.blogspot.com/2015/02/our-belief-system.html).
When people recognise themselves with the party they voted for in the last election, they see anyone with opposing ideologies as enemies. It is then that the national discourse becomes diluted, with well-informed citizens being replaced by star-struck, agenda-driven, criticism-abhorrent, propaganda-enslaved people who will defend their party or leaders no matter what they say or what they do. Many of us forget that the spirit of democracy lies in nurturing debate and responding to critics and opponents not by condescending phrases but by factual retaliation.
The truth remains that we, the citizens of this country, are behaving like voters less and political spokespersons more. This is very dangerous for a democracy. The political class needs to be ideologically divisive so voters have a diversity of choice; but when the voters stringently allot themselves to political blocs the national debate on all issues becomes corrupted.
Though many citizens find it unacceptable, nevertheless it is a public tendency in India (and in many other countries too) to praise the politician with blind adulation and reverence. Leaders who work for the downtrodden will always get unstinted support and respect, but that does not imply we have to overdo it by changing respect into a fawning submission. It is highly important to commend a person (leader or not) and felicitate them for the good work, as that will not only encourage their actions but also ensure the news of any good work is disseminated down to the grassroots and others also learn how to follow suit. But commendation when runs into the arena of holy worship, history tells us that it leads to the ruin of the democratic system of checks and balances.
We, the audience were promised a script filled with fairy-tales. But we were given were protests and offensive bantering. The screenplay remains mundane and the dialogue delivery rash and unsettling. The location settings, the only thing that (almost) saved the movie from being a complete disaster, a remarkably beautiful, ornate round building with pillars as strong as the actors’ vocal chords. It’s a pity this majestic monument must be the setting of such a bad movie with such an uninspiring cast. Indian Parliamentarians: In-charge of The Largest Democracy, disrespect it daily and the great nation, that has been built over countless sacrifices of our freedom-fighters and the soldiers who lay their lives in protecting it. Not that the entire cast is horrible; it’s just that they’re not good enough to compensate for the group which never stops shouting lines that are not even in the script. They never improved, always bickered amongst themselves, and let down the millions who vouch for them every day.
We, the People -
The problem is rather propagated by us, and lies in our gullibility. We place the politicians on a holy pedestal. There are also those figures who reach such a place because their fans are trying to flatter and win their sanction. People give them a grand treatment unwittingly granting him/her full immunity. The common masses do not realise that in their pampering of their leader they are contributing to his/her:
- full exemption hence prone to corruption.
- unaccountability hence prone to breaking the law.
- absolute power hence prone to mistreating his underlings, workers and the civilians.
There might be exceptions, but it's a great risk to gamble on rare exceptions and at the cost of having to deal with a dictator in a democratic society.
The issue of communalism has attracted the centre stage in Indian Politics for quite some time now. Fringe groups of all hues make statements to incite people and the result being small incidents lead to large communal disturbances. Although secularism is proceeding rapid in many of the world’s societies, and this trend seems connected in some way to the process of economic development, nevertheless religion continues to be an important political phenomenon throughout the world, for multiple reasons. Even the most secularised countries (Sweden is typically cited as a prime example) include substantial numbers of people who still identify themselves as religious. Communal harmony is paramount for the functioning of a great democracy like India.
Parliament is about reaching a consensus; but all we see is disruptions, continuing for weeks. We need to see beyond the lies and chaos of politics and understand the central point: we need politicians who can debate in a civil, decent manner, who can uphold the dignity of the parliament and defend democracy. Due to this known track-record of unruly, immature, indecency – many elite people stay away from politics; unfortunately leaving the undeserving to serve(?) the nation.
Do we really need to buy all this, helping them to create block-blusters for themselves, while we keep suffering?
Do we need to surrender our loyalty to the elected candidates? We ‘the people’ have the rights to question/demand their loyalty.
We need someone who will intervene decisively to crush the extremist fringe and refocus the country’s attention where it matters. The vast mass of citizens in this country have to ask themselves whether that is the vision of India they seriously subscribe to. We the common people need to understand that we can love our country without having to love our government. Sadly, we have come to realise that all the politicians have similar faces, but different masks! It is always us, ‘common people’ that are chosen as victims. Those who fall prey to the communal incidences are common people, not the politicians.
We should not allow the political class to divide us – we must understand that we are not a herd to blindly follow political leaders. We do not owe any politician anything; we don’t need to defend anything and everything that they say. We have the right to criticise our politicians when they need it, and defend them when they deserve it. We don’t owe them our unquestionable loyalty – they owe us their unquestionable loyalty. Our allegiance lies to the Tricolour, the Constitution and the Law, not to the party we voted for in the last election.
Let us promise ourselves to be more tolerant of diversity of ideologies. Let us promise ourselves to have meaningful debates with factual accuracy and relevant logic. Let us promise to not judge each other by our political preferences and thrive together as learned, secular citizens of India.