Since I’m the journalist in this rather motley group, and since elections seems to be the talk of the hour, and since I must – like any good journalist – cater to the idiosyncrasies of the readership – I will do just that. I will talk politics. Not boring politics though – not bad politics. Good politics, Enlightening politics.
In the post-Independence India – through the 60s & 70s – through much of our 66 year independence – India was a nation of extremely untrained and unaware political thought. This has been gone over hundreds of times, year after year – most recently by the BJP, as they proclaimed the ignorance of Indian voters voting the Congress back to power again and again in spite of their pathetic governance. The nitty-gritties are irrelevant for the moment – but focus on the point. Put these proclamations and analyses in the context of India today, and our visitors from our once-political-guru-nations USA, France, et al, and their exasperated, “All they talk about – all the bloody time – POLITICS. Even the goddamned taxi drivers.” It’s not the same – India has changed. So much so that my alternative heading to this article was “India’s Obsession with Politics.” But make no mistake – there is a revolution here – and it takes place on three levels, in three stages.
The first revolution, I feel, started in earnest roughly two years ago – but it was along time in the making. A long, long time. It faced a slump intervening, but has risen back up and shaken the nation again – keen not to let go – until the day of judgment. It is a revolution with a face, name and address – Narendra Modi. Okay that is oversimplifying it (so journalistic of me), and many of you may be already antagonized, but wait a moment. I am completely unbiased here (a tall claim) but the volcanic rise of the BJP deserves much credit, and so does their invincible PM candidate NaMo. I don’t want to over-analyze their revival – its been done to death – but quickly go over the factors that contributed. Anti-incumbency, an obvious result of scandals, corruption, economic regression and simply (trying hard to stay neutral here) inexcusable governance on the part of the Congress; the lack of a suitable PM candidate; the marginal moderation of the BJP’s right-wing agenda – and their sudden (and brilliant) mantra of development; and lastly, of course, their trump card, their ace in the hole, the Chief Minister of Gujarat – a powerful orator and strong leader, with a tragic past and an ultra right wing history – now reformed and now, ‘sugar and spice and everything nice’; along with this magic wand called the ‘Gujarat Model’ which no one understood and everyone loved. And my God did he know what to say. He whipped ‘em up into such a fervor – a kind never seen in any national leader after 1947 – he was just what the people wanted in a leader after the mute Manmohan, the Gandhi’s and their control from behind the scenes, and a Congress leadership that was too united to be accountable. I personally will neither endorse nor criticize him, my personal fears and hopes regarding him I will not bore you with. His critics still cite his alleged involvement in 2002, they point a shaking finger at his treatment of his party leaders and rivals (LK Advani) – and remain worried about the unanimity of our support for a man we may not fully understand. But they cannot deny that he is leading a revolution. 67 years – and we have had only 3 non-Congress governments few and far apart – one with a revolving PM at the front, one backed by Congress anyway, and the last – that might have made a difference – but never had the makings of a revolution. The minor BJP victory in 1999 did not lead to a government that made much of a difference, and was rooted in the absence of a Gandhi – an unsure poll by an unsure people. But today, the change Modi is leading – it is the true streamling of the opinion of a very confident people. It is the first and most mandatory revolution in any democracy – the revolution against the ruling party – who has been incumbent far, far too long for it to be called democracy. It happened in the US, the UK, and Bangladesh – it is yet to happen in Russia – but it is happening in India. And we can be sure that the government to come – will be like nothing we have seen before.
The second revolution also has a face, a man who recognizes the difference between governance and politics, and doesn’t care much for the latter. Where Narendra Modi and the BJP challenge the ruling party, our friend and his party challenge the political system. His party is that incredibly rare phenomenon in India – a party founded purely on an ideal – yes, I am talking about Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party. During the slump in the Modi wave, on the back of Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement, and preceding the Delhi elections, this fledgling party was formed – purely on the concept of ending corruption in government, a quasi-socialist party that would fight to champion the rights of the common man. The concept of a party founded (and recruiting) solely on concept excited us a great deal – a noble concept at that – we loved that something/someone with a cause had also entered the dirtiness of Indian politics. But we didn’t take them seriously – not at all – “these lovely guys are going to get crushed by the big boys,” we would say – until, they decimated the Congress in Delhi, and went on to form government. We thought – this is too good to be true – a party whose only manifesto was getting rid of corruption, that had transparent funds, had formed government in a state. Sadly, it was – as the AAP took a series of questionable political decisions that – whatever their cause – definitely harmed the party’s image and, perhaps, their prospects. Kejriwal came under a lot of fire for these decisions – which ranged from the continued support of Somnath Bharti to the more and more leftist nature of their policies (inevitable) to the unthinkable image of a CM in protest. But these paled in comparison to the icing on the cake – the resignation of their miraculously formed government after just 49 days – on the unsatisfying reason of the Lokpal legislation – for the pursuit of national power that Kejriwal repeatedly hinted he did not want personally. In the eyes of their voters, it was a shambles – it was the end. But nobody can deny that the Jhadoo is still a force in these elections – the series of bad decisions as Delhi’s government do not change the fact that there is a revolution that they are leading, a revolution – in my opinion – of even greater magnitude than Modi’s. The AAP have changed political thinking in India unbelievably – they have truly changed the game. First, of course, was the party based on an ideal – idealistic politics has been gone from India a long, long time – hopefully, its back. I have two more points though – firstly, many of us had discarded them after Delhi and scoffed at the promise of contesting in over 400 seats – but they have – and what’s more, they’ve become a viable third option. In nearly every single one of the seats, the AAP is a talking point – in a few, it is still the talking point – and its changed the kind of politics too. We have debates (!) between candidates and competition where there never is – and asking of questions that are never asked – it’s shocking. And there is now a real national alternative – non-communist, non-federal – to BJP and Congress. They may not be what we need as governance, and maybe they’re just a deceptive bubble – but they’ve changed things. I wonder if you remember a little thing called Vote Bank politics – the art of castes and religion and minorities and discrimination and division – all for that magical poll calculus – a horrific reality of Indian politics that dominates the elections and is the staple of every political party. Except one. There is now a party which doesn’t have a vote bank – that relies on us voters to choose them if we like them, and believe in the IDEAL, irrespective of caste, creed, gender, religion, etc. I don’t know whether to be relieved or ecstatic – but that is the revolution.
Now, this last paragraph of my excessively long write up will be the shortest – but it talks about the most important revolution of all – because the true revolution in not the BJP or the AAP, but something far more fundamental – something much bigger. It goes back to my beginning – we are now aware – and don’t just bandy that word around without understanding what lies behind – we now understand that the vote is a fundamental right – from the tribesman to the auto-driver to the salesman to the billionaire – we know that we must vote because it matters. We are aware of our options, we are aware of what they offer – whether you’re voting for AAP, INC, BJP, The Left, or a regional party – we now think before we vote, we question before we vote. Its not complete, of course, there are still those in Bangalore voting for Indira Gandhi, and tribals who will do what they’re told. But these are the exception rather than the rule – by and large – we know what are options are and we know that we must vote right – because we have seen what happens if we don’t. And we are now reaching that stage a democracy does – when voting is something honourable and respectable to do – something you’re expected to do – and a turnout of over 80% is expected. We are the aware and active Indian electorate – and it is us – not any one party that will change this nation.
Finally, if you thing none of this matters to you (and since I’m reading For Whom The Bell Tolls) I have a little quote for you –
“No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine own were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee.”
– John Donne
So basically, give a shit.
– Sumer Sharma
Sumer writes an award winning newsletter. Here’s an article about him.