Why are politicians unable to stop people from carelessly breeding dengue causing mosquitoes year after year at home, why are politicians unable to get people to segregate waste, Why can they not even begin to solve the parking mess, why are politicians unable to get toilets made and maintained, why are politicians so ineffective as leaders who can challenge the writ of the Khap Panchayats
Why have politicians failed to build consensus in communities to reduce dowry deaths, why have politicians failed to do much on gender equity, sexual harassment at work till pushed into a corner by courts? Why is this task being only done by activists? Why are politicians scared to take the rights of the LGBT community into parliament? Why do politicians think they will fail this test of humanity?
Now consider the following illustrations
- The matter concerning Art of Living and its use of the Yamuna river bank has seen silence from politicians except the odd pot shot taken. Only activists are arguing on what is of paramount interest to millions. One would think it should rightly be elected leaders doing this job
- Look at Gay rights- No politicians. Look at marital rape- The arguments are offered by activists and Babas
Are Politicians simply indifferent to and unconcerned about issues that bother us? Or are they simply without moral authority? Are they incapable of thinking and arguing for what is right?
Is there anything such as politician’s moral influence? They take pot shots but they do not argue. I have not seen politicians take bold stand on any important issue of justice or public health. Scared of crossing stated party positions, scared of aggressive media interrogation and being challenged by activists, they abdicate their responsibility as leaders who are rightly placed to bring about socio-political change
There is a serious absence of political contribution to public discourse, and if not addressed by politicians themselves, will only reduce them further with dangerous consequences for democracy
This budget session of 2016, after long, gave many an opportunity to hear debates in the Parliament. Arguments, repartee, acerbic humour and challenging facts and fiction renewed faith in the parliament which is meant to argue and debate, so that, regardless of our political persuasion we have access to conflicting arguments. The arguments articulated by peoples’ representatives are significant. They reflect a certain reality and therefore, a reality check.
We are a democracy and our work is meant to be carried forward by a government made of elected representatives of the people. Parliamentary democracy works on the principle that the elected representative is better positioned to empathize with the needs of the public that elects them. This is why the idea of a minimum educational qualification for elected representatives has been met with resistance, and rightly so.
It is disheartening to see elected representatives from two major political parties becoming OEMs* for unelected activists and ideologues from the RSS and the left. Both opposing ideologies (the left & the right) have become kind of ‘hatchet men’ for political parties to carry out their work in the media and public space. In this process activists have been positioned as champions of what is good for people and politicians are positioned as legislators out to exploit people.
The politician, despite being the peoples’ representatives has been perceived, as one ill-placed, to have any moral authority. The reasons for this are too varied for this piece. This moral authority becomes the sole preserve of the activist and it is believed that were it not for the activist the politician will sell off the country. This idea has taken such deep roots that, depending on your own ideology, activists whether on the right, or the left, have become the keepers of the Nation’s better instincts.
This disdain for those elected does not augur well for democracy. A convincing argument must also be tested at the altar of votes. The idea that ‘just because it gets votes does not make it right’, may be true, but if the intent of democracy is to ensure that ‘what is right gets votes’, it can only emerge through the moral authority of political leaders and not through self-righteous indignation of the unelected.
It is only if electoral politics evolves through argument, victory and defeat in polls, the true work of democracy will be accomplished. A politician’s job is difficult and his constituency should see him as their leader who should openly defend his own position, or the constituency’s’ interests, rather than sub- contracting ideologues to do that work. An elected position requires a clear willingness to engage variously in consensus building, power-sharing and accommodative arrangements within a diverse section of interests in the constituency. While it is also possible that political expediency can require that systemic change be deferred, or forgotten to further the needs of a re-election among a diverse & also a very easily divisible people.
This does not mean that a politician cannot assist or be supportive of progressive causes. Indeed the job of carrying together a large number of people to support change should come through a politician with moral authority in our country.
If political leadership and moral leadership are completely mutually exclusive then we are in for trouble
Elected representatives are the key players in building consensus as well as opposition in the task of taking forward the country through this push and slide. It is only through them that people can see the meaning of good Governments elected on the basis of valued principles. If not, the political leadership will continue to be seen as cynical and immoral & not much will change on the ground towards social transformation.
For principles of justice, equality, and equal opportunity to be truly meaningful, they must pass the test of votes. Justice, humanity, equal rights, clean air and water, saving our forests and rivers have to become popular enough to affect elections. Politicians have to be the ones to carry people along in this task in a democracy. Politicians privately admit to their inability to articulate a moral position but they are more often unable to lead their voters which has allowed an oligarchy of the unelected to fill the role, which in a democracy is meant for our elected representatives.
Politicians must recover lost ground. There is still time. They must seize all opportunity including the next parliamentary session to reinforce their ability to speak for progress for their voters, for what may be unpopular but is right.
Ashutosh Dikshit March 2016
*A company that markets a product manufactured by others under its own brand name.