A deep gloom descended on me as I watched President Obama debate Mitt Romney in the first of this American elections debates last week and for the oddest reason. Hearing them present their views on the economy,governance,healthcare and education made me brood over how many Indian political leaders could hold their own in such a debate. It did not cheer me up when the list I came up with did not get beyond the fingers of one hand. In it featured a couple of chief ministers and a couple of Cabinet ministers. That was it. There were a few more that came to mind,but I eliminated them when I realised that they would not be able to say what they wanted to in two minutes.
Why is the Indian political stage currently occupied by such a large number of players who would not get standing room in public life in a more sophisticated democracy? Why is it that even our newest political party,born last week under the leadership of Arvind Kejriwal,offers us a vision document so bereft of new ideas?
The most obvious reason for why things have got so bad is,without question,dynasty. Thanks to the sad reality that nearly all our political parties have become family firms,we have a situation in which people with real political skills,and a real interest in serving the country,are kept out by scions of the party boss. In nearly every case,these heirs are mediocrities who their daddies (or mummies) have brought into politics because they would not be able to hold down a proper job in another area of enterprise. They do not like to have intelligent,educated,public-spirited people in their inner circle because this would show up their limitations,so they prefer to surround themselves with sycophants and underlings. This does not help them develop political or economic ideas that would be of use to our unlucky country.
There are often complaints about our most famous political heirs inability to express a coherent view on anything. But,Rahul Gandhi is far from being the only inarticulate political prince around. If you listen carefully to the man who is now chief minister of Indias largest state,you will hear him echo the views of his Daddyji,who learned his politics from Ram Manohar Lohia who died long before socialism became discredited as a political ideology. On account of Akhilesh Yadav not being able to come up with more modern ideas of politics,economics and governance,there is little likelihood of Uttar Pradesh coming anywhere close to catching up with better governed Indian states.
Powerful political leaders,whose parties exist because of them,do not bring their children into politics just because they want an heir to their political legacy. They bring them into politics often to look after the money they have made from serving the people of India. In many cases,such great wealth has been made,and so quickly,that it makes the richest Indian industrialists look poor by comparison. An industrialist makes at the end of a lifetime of hard work what a clever politician can make out of one deal. This has become amply evident from the 2G episode and Coalgate. There are deals of one kind or other to be made in almost every ministry on account of ministerial discretionary powers.
When it became obvious that politics was the easiest way to become a crorepati in India,criminals and crooked businessmen abandoned their old professions to get a ticket to Parliament. Those who did not want the bother of contesting an election,bought their way into the Rajya Sabha and the rot in the political system deepened. Nobody understands this better than our veteran political leaders,so they try to whitewash the rotten core by encouraging entitlements based on caste and gender.
They know that it will make little difference to women or the lower castes if they have seats reserved for them in our legislatures but they hope that this will distract attention from their real failure.
What is this real failure? It is the failure to sell India a new dream. How sad that even our newest political party has managed to come up with a vision that is no more than a patchwork of the remnants of the socialist ideas that kept India growing at less than 3 per cent for decades. How sad that Anna Hazares team,such huge middle-class heroes till just the other day,have been exposed as hollow men with not a single new idea between them. All they seem to want is to come to power so that they can create a huge new structure of bureaucracy over the huge structure that already exists in the name of ending corruption. They have clearly understood nothing.
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