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To philosophise or professionalise?

To philosophise or professionalise?
Highlights

To philosophise or professionalise. Training is not an instrument that can change political culture. The content of politics cannot change with or without professionalism.

Training is not an instrument that can change political culture. The content of politics cannot change with or without professionalism. However, the form and sustainability can certainly be determined by the professional capabilities of people in the rough and tumble of politics. The moot point is that training, despite overbearing positives, cannot purify politics. Commitment in political life, purity and probity in public life are products of political ideas and political culture. But an attempt to professionalise politics should be welcomed in its limited perspective

The political school conducted by Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) at Nagarjuna Sagar has become a hot topic of debate in political circles. Obviously, opposition parties had too many complaints with most being political and technical in nature. The Congress contends that the TRS politicians with alleged tainted and criminal backgrounds underwent training during the meet. The fact of the matter is that as long as they are elected members, the Legislators and the Ministers will continue to perform functions that require professional inputs. For that matter, such tainted politicians are not just confined to TRS. The Congress talking about it can best be described as devils quoting the scriptures.

Criminalisation of politics is a larger problem. Professional training cannot be questioned on this ground. In fact, training becomes much more imperative given the kind of political culture that prevails all across. The other question raised by both the Congress and the TDP is in regard to senior government officials offering their services to the leaders of a particular party. This issue is essentially technical in nature and has little to do with the overall question of whether or not our politicians need training.

Leaving aside this controversy, the consensus across political spectrum is that our politicians need training. The Left parties in India have a continuous political training. Political schooling is part of Left political activity. Non-Left parties have started focusing on training in a rather unstructured manner. Former Chief Minister K Rosaiah has publicly attributed his political skills to the training he received under the leadership of NG Ranga. But, subsequently as political values declined, grammar of politics changed, consequent to which professional training has been relegated to the backburner.

Certainly, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) should be credited for its elaborate organisational machinery for human resources development. Lest one forgets, even K Chandrashekar Rao is a product of such political schooling. Understandably, he seems to be roping in not just leaders from TDP but even systems and processes adopted by the ruling party in Andhra Pradesh. Of course, none can have a monopoly on such a practice. The TRS deserves to be complemented for organising a workshop to infuse an element of professionalism in politics.

Despite shortcomings along the way, such efforts contribute to the process of strengthening the democratic polity. In an age of competitive politics, this can become an infectious trend as more and more are likely to take cue and follow suit. A report from Canada underlines the need for imparting professional skills for politicians. It says, “Rules and procedures are opaque, processes inefficient and human resource decisions baffling. Politicians are ill-equipped to cope with the demands and vagaries in Parliament.”

If this is the case with democracy in an advanced country, one can understand the importance of political training in our country. It‘s rather ludicrous to note that in India, training is provided before one becomes a nurse, teacher or a mechanic. But, Members of Parliament and Legislature, and thereby Ministers, need not have any prior training before taking up their respective jobs. Yet, they enact laws that would have a far-reaching effect on people’s lives. They adopt and execute policies that shape our destiny. They preside over public spending to the tune of billions of rupees.

However, there are reasons that made political training not so important in public life. Politicians often perform their functions as dictated by the party. The performance of even elected politicians is not subject to any kind of appraisal. Accountability is completely missing except when they face the people in the next elections. Many of our MPs and MLAs complete their term even without asking a single question or participating in a single debate in the House.

What’s more, they are re-elected to Parliament and Legislature. Therefore, there is a complete disconnect between parliamentary or legislative performance and success in the elections at the end of the term. As the demand for political professionalism is found wanting, so is the supply of such skills. But, things are fast changing. People are increasingly becoming restless. New forms of public scrutiny are emerging. Social media has become one such public platform. Public perceptions and performance are increasingly determining the electoral success. The media-rich environment is exposing dubious activities in the name of politics, thus making politicians vulnerable.

Chanakya in the Artha Shastra said that the king should live the life of the last man of his kingdom. If the last man can’t afford a neat bed, the king, too, is expected to sleep on the floor. A king has no personal choices other than what is beneficial to his subjects. The ideal of a philosopher-king was born in Plato’s dialogue Republic. Philosopher kings are the rulers of Plato's Utopian Kallipolis. If his ideal city-state is to ever come into being, "philosophers [must] become kings…or those now called kings [must]…genuinely and adequately philosophize.”

But, this is surely idealism that is far from reality. Indian polity is no way nearer to such an ideal state. But, the demographic transition is imposing new languages and newer political and governance standards in India. In line with Amartya Sen’s line of thought, the argumentative Indian, whose expectations are rising, is questioning. The technological change is redefining the form of political communication. All these demand a new brand of politics. However, training is not an instrument that can change political culture. The content of politics cannot change with or without professionalism. However, the form and sustainability can certainly be determined by the professional capabilities of people in the rough and tumble of politics. The moot point is that training, despite overbearing positives, cannot purify politics.

Such political schools organised by TRS are at best polytechnics that can polish the skills. But, they are not universities that can shape ideas and usher in changed mindsets. The battle for political change should continue. Ideas and skills should not be seen alike. Commitment in political life, purity and probity in public life are products of political ideas and political culture. But an attempt to professionalise politics should, therefore, be welcomed in its limited perspective. Merely conducting training sessions can never be perceived as an effective by-product or a panacea for the malaises besetting the Indian political system.

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