Saturday, August 18, 2007

My first political thought

As I draw close to the end of the most intriguing history of independent India's democracy, I feel the urge to express my political thoughts, or rather meta-thoughts. And, as a believer in democracy, I desire to express it within the purview of law and morality. For long, I have felt that politics of our country has not yet touched my life, or my limited horizon of thought, but this book has hugely succeeded in changing that outlook. Although, I am not yet convinced about the exact ways in which this country's administration and policies are affecting me, for better or worse, I am finding it more encouraged to at least think about it.

By far, the chapter "Rulers" in the concluding part of Ramchandra Guha's India After Gandhi ranks at the top of my favourites. This chapter overviews the various rulers this country has seen, and without no doubt deals a definite impact on the reader.
"The Great German sociologist Marx Weber once remarked that 'there are two ways of making politics one's vocation: Either one lives "for" politics or one lives "off" it. The first generation of Indian leaders lived mostly for politics. They were attracted by the authority they wielded, but also often motivated by a spirit of service and sacrifice. The current generation of Indian politicians, however, are more likely to enter politics to live off it. They are attracted by the power and prestige it offers, and also by the opportunities for financial reward. Control over state machinery, they know, can bestow glittering prizes upon those in charge. (page 682)
I can't help but believe that the power to govern the people, the power that shapes their future for better or worse, is so close to the famous villain of the Lord of the Rings. The One Ring of power could summon all evil in the world and could destroy even the best of human (or Hobbit) spirit. This villainous spirit could be the best (!) villain that an author can come up with, since it's a self destructing spirit. There is no way the ring can be mastered (except by the Dark Lord himself), there is no hope that the ring can work positive wonders for the peoples of the middle earth.

The urge for power, or the greed to succeed in politics, or personal political ambitions has so many parallels to the One Ring imagined by the genius of J R R Tolkein. Multitude of examples can be found by digging into the history in which individuals of noblest principles started their careers in order to bring greater good to the people they reported to. Over time, the power took over and the same individuals took to corruption, unconstitutional decisions and provocations appealing to caste, religion and race. The fantastic villain of Power within was at work, slowly eating away the tremendous good these people once possessed.

When independent India came into existence sixty years ago, the minds were fresh (although perhaps the bodies were tired of the freedom struggle) and willing to take on the renewed challenges upbringing of their country. The political leadership, though having some conflicts, was more or less aligned to work towards success of the country, which they realized was not near in sights, but had to be patiently waited for. The first generation of politicians was much better prepared to wait out that difficult period, it was much more patient and composed. Guha continues, taking us

Back in 1949, in his last speech to the Constituent Assembly, Dr B R Ambedkar had urged that disputes in India be settled by constitutional means, not be recourse to popular protest. He had also warned against the dangers of bhakti, or hero-worship, of placing individual leaders on a pedestal so high that they were always immune from criticism.

Ambedkar's warnings have been disregarded. As shown most dramatically by the Mandal and Mandir disputes, the settlement of political differences is as likely to be sought on the streets rather than in the legislature. The process has been encouraged by the rise of identity politics, with groups organizing themselves on the basis of caste of religion and seeking to assert themselves by force of numbers rather than by the quality of their arguments. Parliamentary debates, once of a very high order, have degenerated into slanging matches. At the slightest of excuse political parties organize strikes, shutdowns, marches and fasts, seeking to have their way by threat and intimidation rather than by reason or argument. The law-makers of India are, more often than not, its most regular law-breakers. (page 690)
Whether in terms of forwarding provocative e-mails asking to wake the (as if never existent) religious corner of your mind and to hate a certain other religious thought and actions, or disrupting a parliament session (which runs using taxes we pay) all we are demonstrating is impatience. Impatience to square the score-line by (many times) giving up traces human intelligence and the gift of reason. Although I believe in the scientific explanation of 'tit-for-tat' approach winning game-theoretic duals, I can not yield to its use to situations where human lives are at stake or where security of a certain people is under attack. If all the issues and conflicts at hand cannot be tackled and closed within legal system, then it's an indication of weakness of the law. That must be corrected immediately. If right implementation of law is being compromised, the system responsible for it should be held accountable and corrected.

The people of this country are complex and the people are too many. Therefore, it can be anybody's guess that to come up with the right dose of miraculous antidote is next-to-impossible task. Looking at the economic growth indicators, we cannot deny that we have fared badly. We are winning, but course. But at the same time, I have no doubts in my belief that we could have been winning way much better.

The Ring of Power, I guess cannot be destroyed as in the fiction, but can it be wielded in the righteous way? In the bygone early days, probably it was (probably, because I have no way of knowing it myself). In today's world? I doubt. Assuming the Ring will keep showing up now and then, it's the responsibility of the leaders to keep its evil in check, so that it is reduced to a fraction of the overall good.

I wonder how it will be done. Yet, I do sense a hope that it can be done!

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