When the all-powerful politician squirms in discomfort at accusations of wrong-doing, fumbles for answers to sharp, irreverent questions and loses his trademark swagger before the general public, it’s indication that his confidence is crumbling. After Arvind Kejriwal’s big bang arrival on the scene with the anti-corruption agenda and his unrelenting attack on the political class, the halo of invincibility around our leaders has slipped. His hit-and-run tactics won’t sustain for long, but so long as it provides us the pleasure of watching the mighty turn miserable, nobody has to reason to complain.
Kejriwal has kicked off something good by demystifying the mysterious politician and exposing his vulnerabilities. But it is not enough. His guerilla attack has seriously dented the credibility of the politician but there’s no assault yet on the latter’s powers or preponderance in the leadership space across spheres. A change in the template of politics in the country is not possible without addressing the latter two issues.
Both militate against the idea of a healthy democratic culture which is inherently distributive.
Let’s come to power first. The combined power wielded by the political class is in far excess of its cumulative ability. The lack ability lies exposed in the failure to address change, particularly in the post-liberalisation India. Moreover, the power is not linked to productivity of any kind. That’s an anachronism in a world expecting results from its leaders, political, business and otherwise. There’s no denying that there’s the rare exceptional brilliance in politics but it’s true of all fields.
When mediocrity is the grand average here there’s no need why politicians should be treated as first among equals. The power is manifest in several ways, discretionary privileges, the authority to make public laws and frame policies, enviable perks, red beacon atop vehicles, preferential treatment in public spaces etc. There’s no point overstating that the power has been grossly abused and misused by politicians of all shades. For a whole lot of entrants in polity power is not a means to an end, it is an end in itself.
This has to change. Politicians have used their power at the expense of others and they have created victims all around. There’s a sense of grievance everywhere — from land losers to displaced tribals to business players losing out on opportunities due to crony capitalism to ordinary men forced to pay bribes at government offices to disabled people failing to receive equipment due to them. The source of this grievance — there’s some agreement on this now — is the power vested in a limited, incompetent few.
The present clamour is all about wresting the excessive power with the political class and redistributing it among people. There’s no systematic attack on it yet. Discrediting politicians could be the first step towards it but there’s need for a more focused attack.
The other area that needs urgent attention is the preponderance of politicians in all spheres. Why, for instance, must a politician head a sports body, farmers’ cooperative or educational trust or even a literary society? Right now the leadership space in several avenues is monopolised by the politicians — just look into how many of the sports associations are headed by leaders, the disconcerting picture will hit you in the face. They have virtually blocked more efficient and non-partisan leadership from taking shape or asserting itself.
This is patently undemocratic to say the least and is damaging to the long-term interests of the core constituents of the bodies. It is only appropriate that the scope of the political leadership to play god everywhere is pruned. They must be made to make space for others. Since they won’t do it on their own — given the privileges and perception of status involved — they need to be thrown out.
This should be the next big challenge for the civil society. But one Kejriwal would not be enough for the task. The rest of the civil society must take their place in selective spheres and take on the pervading influence of the politician. Here’s the final word: damaging the credibility of the political class is alright, but it means little by itself. The ultimate objective should be to snatch big chunks of power away from the politicians and distribute these among people.