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What is Wrong With Indian Politics?

March 31, 2015

Indian Politics“One of the reasons people hate politics is that truth is rarely a politician’s objective. Election and power are” – Cal Thomas

This is one subject that could take an encyclopedia to wrap up but lets try and figure it out within the scope of this space.

Indian politics is often described as being feisty, vibrant, colourful, controversial, debatable, provocative, all of that and more. It all depends on which side of the spectrum you stand and there is a perspective, always. Ask a billion people what is wrong with Indian politics and you will get a billion perspectives. That, in itself tells a story. People are aware, concerned and involved, good or bad, it shows the vibrancy of politics in India.

People confuse politics with governance. That’s not true. Politics is the means to effect change. All countries and societies effect change all the time; politics is the means to bring about that change. The kind of politics practiced can vary and remain a subject of debate. However, it is at the core of people’s participation in deciding who governs them and how.

Governance is for administrators and bureaucracy, politics is for people’s representatives. People don’t really indulge in politics, they indulge in making political choices and gather groups that agree with them, to elect the leader of their choice. Politics is what the leaders indulge in before and after being elected.

The art of politics lies in being successful in gathering consensus through discussion, debate and persuasion and then pushing that consensus into legislation that results in action and implementation.

What’s Right With Indian Politics?

So when we ask what is wrong with Indian politics, you have to first acknowledge what is right about it. After all, after 68 years since Independence, Indian politics and democracy is alive and vibrant. It becomes even more relevant when we take into account the sheer geographical size of the country and diversity of its people, culture, religion and lifestyle. To get all of that to come together and give people the freedom to choose their voice, can only evoke admiration. This is perhaps India’s single biggest achievement, since independence and one, it can be proud of.

Take a look at the concept of Panchayati Raj in India. There is no other country that can match India’s established system of self-governance at the grass-root level, where people have the right to elect their own representatives and have their own mechanism of checks and balances built in. Politics is actively practiced at the grass-root level and we have been doing it for years. It’s all about successfully bringing about consensus through discussion and debate.

Sure, it has its flaws, but then what system doesn’t. It’s all about evolving and bringing about change, for the better, through people consensus. That’s politics and it has worked for India. So before we pull out the knives on Indian politics, bear in mind what we have achieved, thus far. It may not be without flaws but it is still the best option. This is our brand of politics and it has worked, for us.

So What’s Wrong With it?

Plenty. We shout over roof tops that we are the world’s largest democracy and assume that it is also the best. Well, look again. Is the system truly representative? At the time of voting, people make choices based on their belief and understanding of the leader they choose and that leader, post being elected, represents the people, as their voice. That’s idealistic but is that really true? Does the elected leader really reflect what the people want or is it mostly about what that leader wants, often for his own reasons?

Look at the fact on the ground. Majority of the Indian people still live in rural India, in poverty and poor living conditions, and with little education or awareness of matters outside their areas of residence. Yet, 98% of the people who would fall in this category are responsible for choosing a government which will legislate over the future of the country.

Too Many Questions….

It is one man – one vote and that is all that matters. Well is it? Is the vast majority really capable of understanding and judging the leaders they choose? The lack of education and awareness, coupled with abject poverty, often forces the voters to elect leaders who seem to offer them solutions for a better life but instead end up buying or coercing them to vote. So do they really represent the people?

Isn’t it common to see votes being bought and sold in its crudest form? Don’t we see vote bank politics being practiced in its worst form, or votes being garnered on the basis of caste or religion? What about votes garnered through threat or at gunpoint? It all happens and is part of Indian politics.

So can anyone stand up and claim the virtues of Indian democracy as being truly fair and truly representative? Should we really beat our chests with pride while proudly claiming to be the world’s oldest democracy?

Free and Fair…. Really?

I just mentioned about the success of the Panchayati Raj above. Well, there is another side to it. The ground reality is that politics played at the grass root level can be nasty, coercive and corrupt. Electing representatives to the Panchayat is often based on clan and kinship. And most times, its money that buys a position in the Panchayat. After all, at the village level, it’s the landholding that determines the level of respect and influence that an individual commands. That’s the reality and plays a part in the election process.

So can one really say that Indian politics, at all levels, is truly free and fair? The voting process may be free and fair, at least in most cases, but the process of politics that goes into the run up to elections, and thereafter, is what is questionable. And that’s what is wrong with Indian politics.

Let’s take a look at another example. Bihar has always been in the forefront of entertaining politics. But when the Chief Minister gets convicted of serious crime and he appoints his wife as his proxy with nonchalance, it is time to sit up and question the ‘quality’ of politics that we practice. It may be ‘Indian’ politics but it is wrong, very wrong.

The list of misuse in politics is endless and the ‘quality’ of politics practiced, questionable. The intelligentsia and civil society is aware of the failings, as you and I are too, but the big question before us is – what are we doing about it?

Intolerance to Dissent is a Big Threat

Question, dissent and debate are an essential part of politics and democracy. The ‘quality’ of democracy and politics is judged by the level of debate and dissent allowed, within the party and outside of it.

India is witnessing increasing levels of intolerance to the above and that is very visible in state and national politics. Older parties like the Congress and BJP have shown signs of intolerance, as have new age parties like AAP. All parties are guilty of quashing dissent in any form. What is a worrying trend is that several parties are resorting to violent means whenever questioned by the people or members of their own parties. Even the media, which serves as a watchdog for the people, has not been spared.

Another problem with Indian politics is increasing rowdyism in parliament and state assemblies. On paper, it’s a forum for free and fair debate but in practice, only those with high decibel shouting and aggressive behaviour get heard. What chance does a Manmohan Singh have against a loud and aggressive politician from another party? Yet, on a daily basis we have incessant shouting that passes off as debate. So is this fair on those who do not possess the requisite shouting ability? Is that supposed to be a pre-qualification? The voice of each representative in Parliament must have equal and fair weight and must be given equal opportunity to express his or her viewpoint. That’s easier said, as in practice, it is almost always to the contrary.

And now for the biggest problem of them all, influence and impact of money on Indian politics. Politics has degenerated into a business which has a lot of money, some legal but mostly unaccounted, being plowed into it by vested interests. It’s a global phenomenon but a big problem nevertheless. As long as unaccounted money makes its way into politics, it will never be free or fair. And we, as a nation, have to come together to try and figure out how to address this, if Indian democracy has to prosper on the bed of fair politics.

It is time for the people to raise their voice and question their leaders and political parties, and force them to change for the better. For we have one non-negotiable weapon, our vote. Isn’t that what democracy is all about?

 

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