Aam aadmis in India are quite unlike their counterparts in democracies in Europe and the US. The aam aadmi cares about politics, discusses it avidly and in a variety of language, using vivid metaphors and pungent jokes, and on polling day, shows up enthusiastically in great numbers to vote. Why is this so?
Is it because the aam aadmi has faith in politicians and politics and thinks they will make life better? Evidence suggests not. Few voters in India think of politicians as public servants who enter politics to serve the country, not themselves. Politics is seen to be corrupting, the acidic drop of kanja ka tapka that curdles a whole pan of milk. Any individual who enters politics is seen to be blighted by it — or, as some paddy cultivators in Bengal put it, those who go to hell become the devil. Others described their “allergy” to politics, or called it a swamp that sucks down into its muck anyone who dips in even a toe.
Why this damning characterisation? Through 60-odd years, the aam aadmi has seen repeatedly how radically altered ordinary people became once they gained the slightest political power. Once voted in, most politicians seem to forget about the ordinary voters who put them in power. The aam aadmi sees politicians cultivating the rich and powerful instead, entering into deals of personal benefit and using public funds meant for dispensaries, roads and schools to fund their own business idea or son’s wedding.
Some politicians themselves confirm this portrayal. When asked, one politician explained patiently that he hadn’t joined politics to be noble and honest, and that it was impossible to have principles in politics, because the nature of the game was all about furthering your own agenda at the expense of your opponent. His opponent in another party was even more unabashed, stating that he was in politics to gain something. Earlier it was his father, and now it was his turn. True, there was also give-and -take, and they offered all those who supported them a share of the spoils. But ultimately they would not and could not tolerate criticism: Agar aap hamare saath hain toh hum aapko doodh nahi kheer khilanyange, aur agar aap haamre khilaf hain toh hum aapko cheer denge (if you are with us we will give you not just milk but cream, but if you oppose us we will cream you).
No wonder then that honest aspirants to politics find that the money and complicity required by political shenanigans often simply put them off. They return to private life to retain their integrity. One man embittered by his experience redefined the nature of India’s democracy as a “government that uses people, abuses people and ruins people”.
But despite their low opinion of politicians and politics, election campaigns are exciting and continued…