Saturday, August 27, 2011

Profound alienation from political parties

During the Emergency, the citizens of India weren’t merely exposed to Indira Gandhi’s 20-point programme. They were subjected to the additional torture of being exposed to the five point-programme of ‘youth leader’ Sanjay Gandhi.

One of Sanjay’s more memorable nuggets of wisdom was: “Work more, talk less.” I recall it being carefully painted on a billboard somewhere close to the “Leader is right, future is bright” hoarding in Delhi’s Connaught Place. Underneath Sanjay’s profundity, some “anti-national”, “rumour monger” (the favourite description of criminality those days) had scrawled, “Talk less, but talk sense.” The anecdote from history may well be lost on the contemporary ‘youth icon’ who muttered “I think first and then speak” (or something to that effect) when asked why he had delayed his self-confessed “game changer” speech for so long. Yet, the mere fact that the Congress’s designated heir apparent of democratic India felt obliged to deviate from his invisible man routine and deliver a pre-scripted ‘I have a dream’ address in the Zero Hour of Lok Sabha is revealing. It suggests that the Anna Hazare movement, for all its imperfections and silly transgressions, has put the political status quo in jeopardy, forcing even the head boy of the babalog brigade to react.

But it is not merely the beneficiaries of the Congress’s hereditary mansabdari system that were worried. Sharad Yadav’s witty, acerbic appeal to the Lok Sabha on Saturday afternoon to rid the country of the chattering ‘bioscope dabba’, his earthy description of 24x7 TV, was more than wholesome entertainment. The JD(U) leader, a veteran of umpteen agitations and a stalwart of the now-truncated socialist movement, was actually expressing his resentment that Anna’s protest was following a very different idiom. Why, he seemed to be asking, were the youth flocking to Ramlila Maidan and other protest venues so dismissive of traditional student politics? Why were they not associating with the NSUI, ABVP, SFI or something similar? Why were they being attracted to the shrill anti-politician rhetoric of Anna’s associates?

More than the content of the Jan Lokpal Bill, it is the disavowal of existing politics and existing politicians that is agitating India’s parliamentarians. The concern is legitimate. If those who are driven by a concern for India’s betterment retreat into the world of NGOs, fragmentary ‘people’s movements’ and cynicism, electoral politics will end up becoming the preserve of the children of privilege and those out to cynically leverage their caste or religion to maximum advantage.

Every system needs an injection of new blood for renewal. In the past, it was either agitational politics —viz Indira Gandhi’s battle against the Syndicate, the Jayaprakash Narayan movement, the Ram Mandir movement, student agitations, et al — or the intellectual appeal of ideology that kept political parties alive. Even Sanjay Gandhi’s activism during the Emergency produced a generation of activists, many of whom occupy important positions in the Congress. When the stream of selfless recruits dried up, the political movement also folded — the socialist movement is an example.

To be fair, Rahul Gandhi has been more aware of this problem than many other political functionaries. His brick-by-brick approach to building the Youth Congress may be excessively managerial and less focussed on politics as is conventionally understood in India, but it follows the path followed by many European parties of both the Right and Centre-Left. Yet, Rahul’s approach is offset by the fact that the Congress is seen to be actively building provincial dynasties to complement the national Gandhi dynasty that has been accorded the divine right to be at the helm in Delhi. The ‘young MPs’ of the Congress — so much in demand in Delhi’s social occasions — are almost all sons and daughters of politicians and with one or two exceptions almost all of them have absolutely nothing insightful to say about the country and its future. For them, politics is another form of entitlement.

If the Congress conveys an impression of being a closed shop, the situation is not very different in the BJP. Inheritance may not count for all that much in the saffron party but it is an open secret that anyone who doesn’t enter the party from the ranks of the RSS encounters a glass ceiling sooner or later. Just as members of dynasties, big or small, get a privileged position in the Congress, RSS pracharaks (including those with exceptionally low levels of competence) enjoy a privileged position in the party. RSS membership, therefore, creates an exceptional class of privileged members that separate the ‘pure’ from the ordinary. I have often described the system as Hindu Leninism.

The Anna movement has exposed the profound alienation of the country’s youth and middle classes from the main political parties. It has a universal appeal but as of now its social appeal is restricted to about one-third of India that is either middle class or has middle class aspirations. The movement has acquired momentum because, among other things, there is a widespread realisation that pervasive sleaze is preventing India from realising its full potential. What is implicit is the feeling that India needs an efficient and honest Government and an equal opportunity society that allows every individual to realise his/her potential — without distortions.

India’s tragedy is that both the parties have in-built distortions that reward privilege and deny opportunities. To my mind, that is also a form of corruption.

Sunday Pioneer, August 28, 2011

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