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India needs its dynamic youth hold the baton

"Mahatma Gandi realized the essentiality of youth involvement to get the nation free and the youth brigade played a vital role in taking the nationalist movement of India to its peak and attaining freedom. After 62 years of freedom India again looks for the youth to hold the baton of nation’s progress, realizes writer and lawyer Biraja Mahapatra."

Biraja Mahapatra : September 28, 2009

Is politics the last resort of the scoundrels? Our high school and college teachers  in Orissa have told us so. Our educated class agree. In fact, the degree of our hatred for politics is often used as a measure of our honesty. Our parents in general blindly accept this view and repeatedly warned us that we must hate politics.

So, should we hate politics in a democracy like India? If our answer is “Yes”, then probably we are doing the biggest disservice to our civilized society. I would even say that hating politics in a democracy is a crime against the nation.

Let us not forget that we have given ourselves and adopted our Constitution which reigns supreme. We gave ourselves fundamental rights and fundamental duties as well. Thus each of us is morally bound to participate in the act of governance of this country. Unfortunately, in India teachers hate politics; educated class hate politics; the common man hates politics too. They look down upon politics as if it is a “scoundrel’s job”.

Consequently, any prudent individual with the zeal to serve the nation doesn’t come forward to join politics. This suits existing political classes and the criminals who have been clinging on to the politicians’ bandwagon. In order to retain their grip on power, even foremost political leaders generally ignore the will of the people. As a result, the people have an uncaring leadership thrust onto them.  We don’t have much of a choice when we go out to vote. Elections are openly referred to as a choice between evils. Voting has almost become a mechanical task and not a spontaneous one. I do not wish to make a sweeping statement because there are still a few politicians who are great statesmen and actually doing a great job. But, the fact remains that we have an inherent hatred against politics and politicians.

We talk of corruption, inefficiency and nepotism. We shout from the rooftops that the system is corrupt, that politicians are corrupt, and that this country cannot do without corruption. A litany of corruption cases and scams come to our minds. Notorious among them are the JMM MPs bribery case, hawala scam, St. Kitts forgery case, Bofors, fodder scam, petrol pump allotment scam, housing scam and a host of cases related to electoral malpractice involving even prime ministers, chief ministers, top bureaucrats and prominent industrialists.

In fact, we have given ourselves a Constitution and a democracy and it is we who decide who should come to power. Popular will is reflected in the vote and governments change accordingly. Therefore, we are associated with the governance of the state in some form or the other. Why then have we inculcated this hatred against politics in our minds? Why then is politics always taken in a pejorative sense?

The common saying is,“Politics becomes the last resort of scoundrels because it never becomes the first resort of honest and sincere people. If politics was all that bad why did our Freedom Fighters take to it? Why do we have names such as Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Jinnah and Maulana Azad at the tip of our tongues when we think of the Freedom Movement?

“Instead of the definitions that are attributed to politics, I’d prefer to remind all of us (including myself) time and again that society is only a reflection of what its individuals are. If politics is to be loathed, so should we as individuals. How many of us value the Freedom that was given to us on a platter? How many of us consider our duties before we seek our rights as citizens? How many of us have the courage that our forefathers had to take up a cause and fight for it? How many of us would want to be the harbinger of the change that we would like to see in society? And how many of us would stop seeing the differences between each other and look at our similarities instead?

Newspapers are flooded every day with news of corruption and crime involving politicians. But the duty of correcting the system lies with each individual. This is a burden that every Indian has to share. Instead, all we do is point fingers. If you blame politicians, why don’t you get involved and cleanse the system yourself? It is something like not jumping into the water to save a drowning child even when we know how to swim but waiting for someone else to do it.

Actually there is no dearth of good people in all  walks of life. Even in politics we need not go too far to find good, efficient and honest people. Political parties have simply got to have a vision and transform themselves into a pool of trained manpower with all kinds of specializations. Our politicians need to be trained in several arts, including statecraft, management, economics and others.

Far from being the refuge of scoundrels, I believe politics is the finest form of management. Politics involves the management of resources and people. It is also a study of human behaviour. But one of the reasons why ordinary people do not take the plunge into politics is its glorious uncertainty.

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In the Preamble to the Constitution, it is explicitly stated that it is “we the people of India” who have given to ourselves this supreme document. The Constitution represents the paramount will of the people. But sadly enough, many of our lawmakers are by popular perception mere criminals, touts, manipulators and semi-literate opportunists. Very few top lawyers, professors, doctors, engineers, opinion-leaders or scions of educated families take to politics as a career of choice these days. An ordinary individual with the required education and leadership skills will either be nipped in the bud in or hounded out from politics for fear of competition by those who have entrenched themselves.

Politicians explain that winnability is the most important criterion when it comes to backing a candidate. Everything else, including honesty and incorrupti­bi­li­ty, education and ability, are cast aside. We have spawned a culture of cronyism and nepotism in the guise of winnability. The favoured class favours its own. This means in reality we have a functioning oligarchy under the garb of democracy. Such an oligarchy has been in place in all parties, notwithstanding their ideology, since the time of Independence.

Those who do not belong to influential families or have other such advantages turn to sycophancy to survive in politics. If this state of affairs continues, what would happen to the quality of our lawmakers and laws? Can we blame politicians alone for this situation? Unfortunately, most people would say yes. But the fact remains that our politicians are drawn from among ourselves.

During my interactions with several senior  politicians, I have come to feel that most of them are extremely insecure. They are afraid of losing elections, portfolios, vote banks and public support. Even if a politician wishes to do something good for the people he is thwarted by the system and frustra­ted by compulsions. And compulsions - there are many: Lack of education and legislative competence to participate in parliam­en­tary proceedings and pitch for their constituencies; the need to keep everyone from the contractor to the party boss happy; and electoral dividend rather than common good come in the way of the best intentions. It is perhaps these compulsions that make politicians vulnerable to corruption. And, no wonder politicians are on the top of the media’s hit-list for sting operations.

A politician’s biggest nightmare is whether he figures on the CBI’s list of corrupt public servants. He is also under constant scrutiny from his adversaries. Thus, all politicians bear the risk of being called corrupt.

During discussions, I have heard bureaucrats and judges say corruption always flows from the top to the bottom. They also blame politicians and the system for corruption. A former sessions judge of Delhi, Mr. Prem Kumar, told me that politicians are responsible for our decayed system. Our hatred for politicians is no more or less than our loathing of politics.

But hardly is there any debate on how money and muscle power can be divorced from politics or how we can cleanse the system so that the good and honest youth and energetic people get involved in politics. Instead, we parrot our favourite line: “Let politics be, it is the last resort of the scoundrel”. I do not think we have a system in place to keep track of how much a political party earns and how much it spends. Its sources of income and heads of expenditure are never opened up for public scrutiny. Laws have failed to prevent the marriage of money and muscle power to political activity. This needs to be debated, and debated earnestly.

If a citizen of a democracy says he hates politics I believe he does not have the slightest respect for the democratic institution. One has to accept that. In a democracy you have no right to say that politics is dirty and leave it at that. If you realize that politics is dirty, why don’t you do something to cleanse it? Instead of calling politicians scoundrels why don’t all good men get involved and do the job in place of the “scoundrels” doing that. In fact, I think there are few professions nobler than politics because it involves the very fate of the nation.

Now, in order to have a situation conducive for the common man and those who love the country to get into politics, we need to evolve a political system that does not make money and muscle power the bottom-line. This needs to be debated exhaustively.

For such a system to be in place, we need an entirely different set of politicians. A politician has to be a good economist. He will not make a good leader unless he understands the economy and finance of the country. This is a tall task. Babus may come and go but a politician has to struggle in his turf for his entire career, and even when he is not in power. Since honest and educated people keep themselves aloof from politics, political parties are left with intellectual bankruptcy. Professionals such as doctors, lawyers, engineers, professors and scien­tists make a bigger asset for the political parties than the moneybags who dominate them today. For these are the people who can guide the country with an insight.

To be a successful public representative, one has to nourish his constituency and maintain a cons­tant rapport with its people. He must be familiar with the resources, culture, social parameters such as education, health, employment and the environment, and the problems that the people of his constituency face. In a way a successful public representative oversees the work of a bureaucrat and provides useful insights for the development. At the district level, if an MP has to meet the expectations of his electorate he has to be more informed and efficient than his co­l­l­ector or district magistrate. Apart from serving the interests of the people he also has to discharge the duties of a lawmaker. For this he needs to know the Constitution, the important laws and regulations, and also keep abreast of latest developments that concern our society. Hence, a true politician has to be a manager of the finest grain of affairs involving his particular region. This is possible only if the leader culls out time for his people, for study and for better managerial activity. Hence, politics is the most evolved form of management.

In fact, I believe politics should be a subject of specialized study at the University level. The biggest thrust of this study can be the Unit Area Management System with a village knowledge centre as dreamt of by our former President. India is the largest democracy in the world. It has an unparalleled working Constitution that is constantly evolving. It is a lively treatise on governance that features democratic gems such as the Fundamental Rights, and the principles of Liberty and Equality. It is for us to demonstrate to the rest of the world that politics is not to be loathed since politics in a democracy means the empowerment of its citizens.

With this end in mind, I feel that we need to have a University of politics to nurture the intellectual pool of from where the youth will emerge a better politicians, diplomats and statesmen.

Is it not painful to see that the states like Orissa are not able to spend their allocated funds and aid for development projects? It’s a matter of concern that we have the money but are not able to spend them for the public good even after 62 years of Independence. We cry for hospitals, schools, roads and factories but the paperwork for all these gets bogged down in the bottomless cesspool of red-tapism, leaving us nothing. We have to address our weaknesses and utilize our strengths to make our system efficient  for a holistic development of Orissa.

(Author is a writer and lawyer based in New Delhi and, also, the founder of Build India group that campaigns for a citizens pledge to the country)




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