Indian politics is becoming more and more like Indian news channels—too loud, too self-obsessed and too deficient in substance. Channel culture is four people shouting at the same time and the anchor outshouting them all. Channels also claim “first on my channel” for items that are on half a dozen channels. Another claim is: “the most watched No. 1” and each channel quotes authoritative statistics to prove the claim. Only in India, the land of the rope trick, is it possible to have five channels each of which is No. 1.
Politicians flatter the channels by imitation—outshouting one another, each claiming to be first with reform ideas, each quoting statistics and polls to prove that it is No. 1. Irrespective of party labels, those in power have a tendency to see that they, and they alone, are right. Hence the decision by Sonia Gandhi’s Congress to turn P V Narasimha Rao into a non-person. Hence also the BJP line that Indians were ashamed of India for 60 years and became proud only a year ago. That is a rude summing up of Indians. The fact is that Indians were proud of their country always. Even politically, they were proud of India during the highlight years of Jawaharlal Nehru and after victory in the Bangladesh war. They were proud, too, when they defeated the Emergency. These cannot be erased by mere microphone oratory.
Indians were terribly ashamed of the mega scams that destroyed much of the country’s soul during the Manmohan Singh-Sonia Gandhi years. They were not just ashamed, but angry. It was this anger that turned into votes against the Congress, a major factor behind the BJP’s landslide victory last year. The moral is obvious: The people of India are fully aware of what is what and who is who. If politicians use them as an item to be toyed with in their propaganda campaigns, the people will take it out on them some day.
So politicians from all sides will do well to review their channel-like habit of exaggerated claims, constant shouting and holier-than-thou attitudes. Aam Aadmi’s Arvind Kejriwal shouts that Narendra Modi is establishing a dictatorship in the country. Maybe, but Kejriwal was not exactly democratic when he booted out senior members of his party who asked for inner-party democracy. BJP’s president declares that `12 lakh crore worth of scams occurred during the UPA period. Maybe, but what was the combined figure of the scams under BJP’s Yeddyurappa in Karnataka and the ongoing Vyapam corruption scandal in Madhya Pradesh? What national purpose was served by Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi saying that those who wanted to eat beef must go to Pakistan? It irritated even his own ministerial colleague, the Buddhist Kiren Rijiju. One of the coolest members of the Modi cabinet, Rijiju raised a question with an unstated parallel question that deserve attention: “Why,” he asked, “do we need to say something against Hindus to become secular?” The parallel question is: “Why do we need to say something against non-Hindus to become Hindu?” If the common sense behind these twin questions is absorbed by the politicians, our country will become mature enough to turn development from a slogan into an action programme.
But the chances are not very bright because the same people act as different animals in power and out of it. The BJP government went into a wholesale ordinance regime, criticising the opposition for blocking the passage of bills. The party forgot that it had blocked entire sessions of Parliament when it was in the Opposition. Even Arun Jaitley, one of the most brilliant minds in our country, does not, as a politician, want to see the iniquities of partisanship. Claiming that the government had scored successes on all fronts, he asked the Congress to set aside political competition and back the government. Just as the BJP, when in Opposition, had set aside competition and backed the Congress government? Do unto others as you want others do unto you.
Perhaps the problems lie with our kind of democracy. When a party is voted to power, it tends to believe that it has the right to do anything. They all ignore the spirit of the Constitution and the letter of the law to the extent they can. The judiciary itself is invaded, in crude powerplay as Indira Gandhi did, subtly as the present government is doing. That we still have a functioning anarchy is a stroke of luck. Let’s be grateful for small mercies.