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Monday, October 25, 2021

When politics tries your patience

When the shock of 26/11 took place,the first reactions were angry. A lot of Mumbai citizens expressed their dissatisfaction with the leaders....

Written by Meghnad Desai |
May 3, 2009 12:01:22 am

When the shock of 26/11 took place,the first reactions were angry. A lot of Mumbai citizens expressed their dissatisfaction with the leaders and with the political system. Many resolved to change the system. Indeed I recall many agonised meetings at lunches and dinners where debates were held as to what was to be done. It looked for a while as if there was going to be a middle class renaissance in India’s politics.

Now we know better. Mumbai citizens showed their commitment by turning up in an even smaller percentage than last time around and about 15 per cent below the national average. Yes,there is a long weekend and many have gone away. There are many other excuses. The system will never improve. There is no real choice between the available candidates. Why bother?

When I was first invited to take part in the discussions last Christmas about starting a new politics,I could see the problems ahead. Middle class Indians have no patience and high expectations of what they can achieve. Each thought that all it would take to clean up politics was for him or her to ‘do something’. Enter politics. Run for Lok Sabha. Start a party. Just like that. I could not tell them that political activity is often boring and seems pointless. There are few political parties in India which function outside elections as regular meeting places. Middle class people think that their sheer intention to act is enough.

I joined the Labour Party in my local area in Islington 38 years ago. I began at the ward level and began to attend monthly meetings. We often had few political debates. Conversations were about local complaints from local authority housing tenants who came just to meet their councillor who would be at the meeting. Month after month I spent many evenings and learnt the way of taking active part in politics. The Labour Party has a structure of monthly meetings at ward level and then at constituency level where delegates come from wards. I canvassed at elections and went to interminable meetings where we discussed many issues on which there were major disagreements. Many weekends we went to the local markets to meet voters and talk about party policy,often getting abuse from the locals.

But in the end I felt myself part of a political process whose final result is some change in society. But it takes years and many people’s joint effort,people who often quarrel as much as they cooperate. Above all it takes time and patience and effort. Middle classes in India want instant gratification. Contrast,however,their behaviour with the people who set up the Bahujan Samaj Party. Kanshi Ram first set up a trade union for Dalits and then it became a party 10 years later. Today the BSP is 25 years old and there is a serious chance that its leader could become Prime Minister. It took Mayawati three defeats before she won an election to the Lok Sabha and now,15 years on,she is at the very top.

Or take the BJP. As Jana Sangh,its members struggled for many years before they were a serious presence in Indian politics. In 1984 the BJP was down to two MPs. By 1998 they were 180-plus. Similar stories can be told about the CPI(M) and the CPI,which have a structure of regular meetings and some ideology which bears discussion and constant activity on the part of its rank and file.

Everyone who gets into political parties has to be ready for the long haul. There is no fast food in politics. Only dynastic parties,where sons and daughters get privileged lifts to be MPs or MLAs,offer quick reward. But they encourage despair among the ordinary citizens who may wish to take part in politics. They know that the road is blocked to them if they are not part of the family firm.

Even so,if you want to get into politics,it is not too late. Join a party or start your own with a few friends. If you work at it and don’t despair I promise you success. But only by 2025. Start now.

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