June 28, 2008

Breaking The Shackles Of Indian Politics

Filed under: Governance,Politics — Bottom's Up @ 11:32 am
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Ramchandra Guha, after his delightful and hugely entertaining history of modern India, continues to display his excellent ability to describe the India around us in this wonderful and well balanced essay in Outlook. Guha is spot on with the points that he asserts are hurting India.

According to Guha, one of the biggest problems facing India today is that of extremism and in this essay, Guha shows equal contempt for that of the right and that of the left. The right wing Hindu extremist brigade continues to use the tactic of making a schism within India through its politics of them vs us. To this extreme wing of India, Muslims and Christians are despicable minorities that need to either accept Hindu superiority or else leave the country altogether. Guha does not delve much on the causes of and contradictions in this political philosophy. For one, identity and divisive politics in the most extreme are more often than not, according to this writer, products of frustration with the status quo and an inability to change one’s own condition for the better. Granted that even if everything is great and people are happy, there would still always be some amount of divisive politics, such being the nature of politics. However, the the degree of absurdity and the lack of discourse on the consequences is usually more prevalent during times of social frustration. With regards to the causes, Guha should have given more ink to the role played by the divisive and appeasement politics indulged in by members of the so called centrist secularists such as the Congress, the SP, the BSP, etc. While it is difficult to say what came first here, the chicken or the egg, it would not be too wrong to say that the Hindutavadis and the appeasement secularists drive each other to new absurdities. He does mention that the fact that extreme fringe elements represent the minorities and a moderate voice gets drowned out from their politics does not help matters either. Coming back to the contradiction of right wing politics which Guha does not touch upon is their claim to work for a stronger India. However in the following two scenarios of a Hindu rashtra, a strong India cannot occur –

  1. Hindus are the superior class of people and the minorities are second class citizens :  When a large chunk of a populace such as that in India (10-15%), albeit a minority is treated as second class, a peaceful and thus prosperous nation is unsustainable long term. A time always comes when equal rights are demanded and peace goes out of the door.
  2. The other option often presented is to no longer have these minorities as a part of the nation : Again when you are talking about close to 150 million people, unless your solution is to convert all of these to your own faith (which is impossible), the idea that such a large mass of people will leave and go somewhere just like that is absurd. The only solution is to give them land where they can migrate to, i.e. a future partition of the very India the right wing claims to care for. An unacceptable option to say the least.

Thus the final goal of the extreme right is but impractical and unachievable. Also, while these extreme elements claim to speak for the Hindus, and try to find religious justification to their political ideology, they can scarcely do so since there is nothing in the religion itself to justify oppression of others.

Guha also mentions something quite relevant and that is the lack of spine and the incompetence of the State when it comes to tackling extremism, both the causes and the effects. Thus the State has time and again been spineless to deal with elements that have tried to destroyed the fabric of Indian social life and spread disharmony. Raj Thackeray never had to worry about consequences, nor did Congress leaders in 1984 or BJP leaders in Gujarat.  Equally importantly, the causes are never tackled and fuel more anti-State sentiments. More often than not, liberation movements – be it the Naxalite movement, the movements in the Eastern States or even the much more complicated Kashmiri movement – can find either the cause or the solution if not both to their woes in greater political and economic participation. While dealing with the anti-State symptoms of these movements of the terrorism kind is important and is something which the State has done, dealing with the cause is just as important and this is where the State has failed miserably over the years.  Dealing with the communist threat – a threat which Guha talks about explicitly here – will be better done by bringing prosperity and participation to these people and not through debacles like Salva Judum and Binayak Sen.

Guha also talks at length of various other issues such as rising inequality and the non existent efficacy of the State to do much about it, failure of State schemes in primary health and education, destruction of the environment and corruption.  These are all equally important and worrisome aspects of the India of today. However, this writer believes that it all boils down to one 500lb gorilla in the room. Indian Politics. We have a politics where the choice is between bad and worse. Competence rarely matters and the idea is to maintain the status quo. Populism has replaced courageous politics. A vibrant and healthy debate on policy issues by its representatives is the hallmark of a healthy democracy. However, in India, politicians rarely know the issues well enough to debate them and bring about policies. Instead a politics that panders to the lowest common denominator at the expense of overall development and progress is the norm. Parties like the Congress are personal fiefdoms of their leaders and have little or no democratic internal institutions so to speak of.  Parties like the BJP may not be fiefdoms but lack a vision or care much about anything more than coming to power. Corruption and  a lack of political will and direction is the hallmark of all parties. The policies of an all imposing center initiated by Mrs Indira Gandhi have resulted in this era of coalition politics where little of consequence ever gets done at the center (For that matter; with her policies of destroying democracy within her party, attempting to make the center all powerful, turning from a politics of courage towards one of populism and turning away further away from free markets at a time when the basic infrastructure had been put into place by the state and India should have espoused free markets; this writer believes Mrs Gandhi has had a negative impact on Indian politics and policy more than any other leader or event).

Till this system of politics changes, India may never reach its full potential to be an influential world power. However, the problem is that the system feeds upon itself. Individuals if they oppose the system do not go very far and manage little.  However, there are a couple of forces in action which give one more reason to hope. One is the rise of media and private institutes. Thus we have seen a spurt of media and watchdog institution activities in bringing the State to task on its failures. Failures by the State in areas such as education and public health are also being made less relevant due to functioning private institutions. The second force is that of the rise of the middle class. As India’s middle class expands and the prosperity of its people increases, we see a rise in expectations from the State. We also see more and more people with not just the desire but also the time and ability to bring about  change in India. Currently this group of courageous individuals is working as a part of the growing non profit sector. From starting with non controversial social issues, more and more people are taking up issues of policy and local self governance. It is but a matter of time when individuals like these enter mainstream politics and try to change the very system itself. Thus some of the political mismanagement is already reducing due to the media and such and a lot of it will change when these neo activists enter full fledged into governance. When that happens, the potential of India will be truly unleashed.


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