Politicians big and small have commented variously on democracy. But the most perceptive observation came from an Anglican priest-turned-Cambridge professor named W R Inge. “Democracy”, he said, “is only an experiment in government, and it has the obvious disadvantage of merely counting the votes instead of weighing them”.
What a world of difference there is between counting and weighing. India’s plight is evidence enough. As many as 1,580 people involved in criminal cases sit in our current Parliament and state legislatures because all that matters is mere counting of votes. Criminals lodged in prison have fought and won elections in UP-Bihar; a police officer who had prepared a list of cases, including murder, against a mafia leader-turned-minister was shot dead; eleven MPs were caught in 2005 taking bribe for asking questions in Parliament—all because riff-raff gets to the top when counting alone matters.
Suppose someone invents a system of weighing votes instead of just counting them. Even to suppose is not easy considering the political conditions in our country today. Regionalism, casteism and cronyism, the criteria that govern our lives, won’t allow the weighing of merit. This was picturesquely described by Congress leader Jairam Ramesh when he said not long ago: “I will not make it in politics because I am Brahmin, I am South Indian, I am good-looking, and I am brilliant.”
To a limited extent the last handicap helped him get over the other handicaps. But hurdles to making it in India are numerous. Nevertheless, we can still dream. Suppose a system emerges in our dream where the count of values matters more than the count of votes, where merit decides things, where those who have brought real progress to the country through their work get precedence over those who trade in politics—then democracy may cease to be only an experiment and become a model.
The advantage of being in the dream mode is that we can dream big. Dream of a Parliament that will be filled with a class of Indians who have brought prestige to India through skill and dedication—Anand Mahindra, Deepak Parekh, Azim Premji, Sudha/Narayana Murthy, Subroto Bagchi. And also Raghuram Rajan, Gita Gopinath, Sunder Pichai, Satya Nadella, Kaushik Basu. And also Jean Dreze, Pankaj Mishra, Manu S Pillai, Patrick French, Gautam Bhatia. And also Anita Desai, Shashi Deshpande, K R Meera, Girish Karnad, T M Krishna. And also Indra Nooyi, Padmasree Warrior, Mira Nair, Arundhati Nag, Revathi.
Just imagining them as MPs is thrilling. How blessed our country is with talent. And how bereft of talent our Parliament is! In the current list, how many MPs actually deserve to be MPs? Arun Jaitley does. Parliament would be poorer without his intellectual brilliance. It will be poorer without the intelligence of Nitin Gadkari. It will be poorer without the cerebral brightness of Shashi Tharoor. It will be poorer without Manmohan Singh, however miserly he is with words. It will be poorer without Kapil Sibal, an MA in history, an LLB and an alumnus of Harvard Law School.
Alas, the number of people in Parliament who make us proud is tiny compared to the number of those who make us ashamed. Only in an India driven by the politics of communal polarisation would strange individuals like Sakshi Maharaj and Niranjan Jyoti and Giriraj Singh become members of Parliament. What does a “movement” like Mayawati actually signify? All we got from her reign in UP was a landscape of elephants. A person who identifies the destiny of a great country like India with her private ego now wants to be the prime minister. What does the sum of Smriti Irani add up in the totality of India? What can Kummanam Rajasekharan contribute to the substance and image of India? He is the candidate the BJP has put up to defeat Shashi Tharoor. If he wins, can he do for India what Tharoor does beyond party politics? It will be a case of BJP’s win amounting to India’s loss. There are national interests that must supercede party interests.
But we live in an age where national interests are discarded—often arrogantly—to promote narrow political interests. In any other age it would have been unthinkable for Air India to issue boarding passes with the Prime Minister’s photo on them. Domestic airlines were instructed in February to issue leaflets to passengers describing the achievements of the BJP government. This is politics gone bizarre. This is taking the citizen for a fool. This is India hijacked. Can’t we get our India back?