While some politicians may certainly be black sheep, it is erroneous to portray the entire system as faulty. To take a cricketing analogy, when a few players are found guilty of match fixing, do we ban the sport altogether?
Last August, while we were filling nursery admission application forms for our daughter, most friends advised me not to mention “politics” as my profession, as it could impact her chances of admission. After all, the Anna movement was at its peak and the reputation of politicians at an all-time low. I, however, decided to remain firm in my conviction, only to get a bitter taste of how politicians were regarded during the parental interaction at one of the premier schools. Around the same time, my niece, studying in Class VI, commented that since I was a politician, I must be corrupt.
The recent cartoon controversy can also be seen in this context, and maybe as a reaction of the political class against the constant attacks on it. Politicians across the spectrum rose in unison to speak against the use of cartoons in textbooks, arguing that it would create a negative impression in the minds of teenagers who would see all politicians in a poor light, much like my niece. The lone voice of dissent, suggesting that politicians themselves were perhaps also responsible for their portrayal in cartoons, was drowned out in the chorus.
It is indeed sad that today people have developed a negative perception of politics and politicians, however justified. Recent times have seen a number of examples where the conduct of our politicians is much below what we desire/expect of them. Scams, corruption cases, unethical personal conduct, and blatant use of money and muscle power — the examples are many.
Rather than just criticise, Parliament should have used this situation and the occasion of 60th year of Indian parliamentary democracy to reflect and introspect on, debate and address this growing discontent among the people and take concrete steps, by creating a road map, to further strengthen our democratic structures. This would have shown the way forward for the other pillars of our system. What could have been a perfect opportunity, however, was sadly lost in the cacophony of outrage.
Parliamentarians, while debating the cartoons controversy, were articulating their general concern at a growing trend in which politics and politician bashing has become fashionable among the media, civil society and other social groups. The media play an important role in formulating public opinion, especially in this age of 24-hour television. In the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks, the media focussed attention on fuelling public anger against politicians, instead of dwelling more on the root cause of terror and its solutions. Irrationality became the order of the day on primetime television.
A similar story played out last year during the Anna Hazare movement on the Lokpal Bill, when all politicians were painted as thieves and dacoits and the entire system was attacked! All forms of mass media — newspapers, television channels, films and social networks — united in painting an erroneous picture of the politician as the villain in the democratic system, some even going so far as to advocate autocracy and totalitarianism! While some politicians may certainly be the black sheep, it is erroneous to portray the entire system as faulty. To take a cricketing analogy, when a few players are found guilty of match fixing, do we ban the sport altogether? Do we stop idolising Tendulkar, Dravid, Dhoni or Ganguly as individuals even when the team does badly?
Unlike other professions, politicians have to face their ‘clients’, the citizens of the country for a referendum every five years. In a democratic system, the onus therefore lies with us, the general public, to either elect leaders of our choice or, better still, become a part of the system ourselves and change it for the better. And we should not need an Aamir Khan goading us to do so before we finally wake up.
Amid the prevalent negativity, I today remain even more convinced that parliamentary democracy remains the best form of governance in India, in spite of all its complications and scope for further improvements. Attacks on its very foundation, of the kind seen in recent times will only serve to increase the levels of cynicism and despair among people. The situation that has developed in the country in the last few years is extremely traumatic for someone like me — educated, from a middle class family, without any political inheritance or godfather — yet someone who chose politics as a means to serve the nation despite other career options.
However, as has been clearly pointed out to me during my daughter’s admission process, I cannot call myself a politician, simply because I am not yet an MP or MLA! And of course there is no guarantee that I may become one! For me, politics is also about participative democracy and making a positive impact on society.
Let me cite a recent example from my village. There was a long-standing property dispute between two families, who were neighbours. It even led to physical violence and court cases. Finally, knowing that I was a politician, they asked me to mediate, and I was able to facilitate an amicable solution to the issue and also bring about reconciliation between the parties.
Although a small incident, this case gave me tremendous satisfaction as I was able to make a positive impact. However, persistent negativity about politicians and the political system could become a de-motivating factor for many others, who are young, enlightened, honest and committed and who aspire, in their own little ways, to create an impact on the democratic system and contribute to nation-building.
The need of the hour is to take steps to further strengthen our democratic foundations. Our politicians need to take a leading role in combating the continued negative portrayal, by reasserting their roles and responsibilities in the democratic fabric of the country, both within and outside Parliament. Like our forefathers, today’s leaders need to set examples and be figures of inspiration for the younger generation. This will ultimately see Indian democracy emerging stronger in the days ahead. And as for my daughter, she secured admission to another premier institute, where even as a politician, I was well received.
(The writer has a PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and is a former National General Secretary, Indian Youth Congress. His email is email@example.com)
Keywords: Indian politics