Politics and the vanishing individual  

A pleasantly cool mid-December forenoon in Tiruvannamalai in 2018.

Published: 03rd January 2019 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 03rd January 2019 01:38 AM   |  A+A-

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A pleasantly cool mid-December forenoon in Tiruvannamalai in 2018. The wedding hall is agog with excitement. The bride’s parents and relatives are ready to receive the bridegroom and his party. The procession arrives but at a sudden command from its captain, halts at the gate.“Take down those banners,” demands the groom’s father. The bride’s father protests. The exchange escalates into a quarrel. Well-wishers propose to plant an equal number of banners of the rival parties. But by then the emotions of the would-be relatives reach a ferocious height. The bride withdraws from the venue and soon an eerie silence claims the air, despite alluring smells from the adjacent kitchen wafting into the hall.

The occurrence was not unexpected. Briefly visiting a certain city a writer was about to depart when by chance he met a political leader, the elder brother of his childhood friend. “You cannot leave before blessing my daughter getting married tomorrow,” exhorted the leader.

The writer obliged him, eager to meet his friend too. There were hectic activities. The writer asked the leader’s confidant to call his friend. “But he is no longer in our party! No problem; our cadres are managing fine!” the confidant calmly informed the writer.Silently the writer suffered the realisation—how grotesquely has politics gnawed its way into the fabric of family relationship considered almost sacred till the other day.

Thanks to the media, one wonders if an individual will have any identity disassociated from politics. A sample, not literally exact though, of politics vis-a-vis  the individual: “Brother-in-law of Z party vice president arrested for rape!” As if the person committed the crime in his capacity as the politician’s brother-in-law. But how have so many people come to view politics as the raison d’etre of their lives? Several factors may be listed as the answer, but one that would outshine all is their irresistible attraction to power in the raw sense of the term. It seems that we as a people are in the grip of a bizarre atavism, experiencing an upsurge of a bloody primitive thirst.

Look at the processions, fireworks and the hullabaloo after one’s election—a camouflaged outburst of the ancient conqueror’s ecstasy. While it should be a moment of solemn humility for the elected, he proudly raises the Victory sign with fingers. This gesticulation was seen in its silly worst when recently a politician showed it after he was chosen as the leader of his party; this time he had vanquished the rival claimant(s) in his own party.

We the people have developed an uncanny resilience to shocks meted out to us by politicos who in no time transform a joke into a principle. “Politics makes strange bedfellows” is no longer ironical, but the norm. “In order to band together we need a common enemy,” says Nicholas Christakis of Yale University, a researcher on human behaviour. What our politicians have forgotten is, in democratic politics there are no enemies, only alternatives.

The foremost sign of we the people’s uncanny resilience is we grin and bear with an ambitious leader shepherding our representatives. In the nineties of the last century a party was in a position to form the government in a state and the leader was chosen. But another gentleman claimed his right to that position and boldly herded and led a considerable number of MLAs into some luxurious fortification and detained them for days.

It was as though holding civilisation itself hostage. Neither he nor his captives viewed this as pathetic. They never bothered about the caricature they were making of democratic politics. We looked agape, many, I hope, feeling terribly embarrassed and frustrated. But the shepherd achieved his end before long. Well, we the people have since learnt to take in stride any repetition of that grand experiment.

Should we not keep alive in us a few basic questions for the sake of  the future of democracy? There is so much to be done in every walk of life and society. A minister sincerely wishing to serve his state or the country can do wonders in any field. Why must most of them covet a few so-called key portfolios? In choosing ministers must their leader be eternally guided by consideration of regional and communal representations at the cost of efficiency?

Must there be power rotations? Must there be bargaining for the post of a deputy leader, etc.? We must not forget that such arrangements, for the sake of pragmatic reasons to which we are not only getting immune but also are being conditioned to look upon as ideal, are signs of an ominous trend: We are ignoring the basic goal of administration in a democracy, which is service to the country. Those we have empowered are viewing the power at their disposal as their personal achievement which they can enjoy through means often dubious and also leave behind as family inheritance.

We often remember Lord Acton’s warning: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” But what he said next was: “Great men are always bad men”! By great he meant the powerful. At his time, the later part of the 18th century, today’s democracy was a dream. Today we must expect good men to be in power. We may not mutiny against the bad, but must stop reconciling to the uncouth dance of their ambitions. A collective will for culture in politics will fruition tomorrow, if not today.

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