People don't figure in Indian politics

People don

During celebration of the 50th anniversary of adoption of the Republican Constitution, President K. R. Narayanan made an extremely perceptive and...

During celebration of the 50th anniversary of adoption of the Republican Constitution, President K. R. Narayanan made an extremely perceptive and insightful assertion that encapsulated the quintessence of our collective existence as a people and a nation �"Our Constitution has not failed us, but it is we who have failed our Constitution." President Narayanan, of course, in the line of some of his illustrious predecessors, was an erudite liberal and a thorough constitutionalist. The fact that he was a Dalit by birth made him a shining embodiment of deep-seated cravings for achieving economic and social equality.

Instead of a deeper probe into the validity of the constitutional precepts, examining causalities of President Narayanan's lament would be more meaningful. Undoubtedly, that lament appears to be symptomatic of a much wider sense of despair that people and the nation are faced with. The bigger challenge that stares us in the face is that, unlike the great freedom fighters who made this Constitution and grasped the social and civilisational context to transform India into a forward-looking modern nation, the present crop of political leadership is failing to fire the imagination of citizens, not to speak of translating the spirit and precepts of the Constitution.

While the generation of freedom fighters who envisioned a modern, democratic, secular and socially just society is no longer around, the current generations of leaders do not essentially consider politics as a service to the people and consequently fail to relate to the people. To that extent they are prone to be influenced by powerful business interests. In such a context it is becoming obvious that the focus is moving away from policy and programmes those Governments and political parties pursue and their possible impact on the people � particularly the vulnerable sections. It is quite natural that this will lead to disproportionate emphasis on individual personalities.

Therefore, it is not a mere coincidence that contrary to the political party system based constitutional democracy where accountability is the centerpiece, the current developments highlight a clash of personalities. The parliamentary system, with a Cabinet structure of government, is sought to be virtually transformed into a presidential system. This course is unsuited to the specifics of the Indian context. The size of the country and its population and the rich diversity make it incumbent that centralization of decision-making powers in individuals with enormous executive powers at their disposal do pose a serious threat for the future.

But for obvious reasons, dominant public discourse driven largely by corporate-controlled mass media reduces political and, more importantly, electoral contests to clash of individuals. For example, the current build-up for the Lok Sabha elections slated to be held in 2014 is sought to be played out between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. Naturally, such a possibility is making scrutiny of these personalities, particularly their evolution as the principal public face of their respective parties, inevitable. Notwithstanding the full-throated support of the media to such a course, this is throwing up interesting details.

To start with Narendra Modi; it is quite apparent from the biographical narratives that abound in this electoral high-season that the single most important factor for his name to fame is his association with the RSS as a swayamsevak and pracharak. In the BJP his meteoric rise can be attributed to his close proximity to Advani and his rabid communal agenda centering Somnath temple. Still later, the highlights of his record as the Chief Minister of Gujarat bring us to his association with the State sponsored carnage. His latest image makeover involves a champion of 'development', a euphemism for unabashed and aggressive promotion of powerful corporate interest.

Therefore, it is hardly a coincidence that the campaign to catapult him ahead of his other colleagues in the BJP hierarchy is flanked by RSS and corporate India. What is to be underlined in this is sinister narrative is the conspicuous absence of the people. Rahul Gandhi's story is no less bizarre. This scion of the Gandhi-Nehru lineage owes his prominence primarily to his clan's legacy. But in today's milieu of increasingly visible 'babalogs' and 'babylogs', and the elevation of offspring of lesser acclaimed political families, 'lineage' alone should not be held against this young Vice- President of INC. But having conceded this ground and even after taking into account the 'sacrifice', what one has to look for is his actual track record in public life.

During his stint for almost a decade in the Lok Sabha, it is even difficult to recall the number of times he actually spoke, not to speak of any single moment of brilliance to light up the national psyche. His foray in the choppy electoral waters of Uttar Pradesh to stage a comeback for his party ended in disaster. To be fair, 'people' did figure in his effort; with orchestrated visit to Kalavati's hutment and night stays in Dalit households; 'impassioned exhortations of 'idealism' to 'awestruck' and giggling teenagers in several colleges. But even to his most ardent fans this would hardly be considered adequate to establish his credentials as a 'people's man'. To most, however, this will go down as outright tokenism. All these cannot but leave us with a bad taste in the mouth. These narratives give us a picture of leaders who have very little to do with the people, particularly the vulnerable 'aam aadmi'.

But what is far more serious is the cynical attempt of the media-inspired public discourse to surreptitiously substitute political parties and their programmes and policies with 'high profile' personalities. Specific case studies reveal that this is just one step short of demolishing these individuals as 'people-less wonders'. The ultimate consequence of this sinister sequence is delegitimising of 'politics' itself; because with people consigned to the backburner, politics inevitably has to become the refuge of 'market, money and muscle' power.

President Narayanan's lament, therefore, reflects the anguish of the people. Ambedkar and his contemporaries authored the Constitution. And it has proved to be a truly enduring document because, as impassioned patriots, they ensured that this national lifeline became essentially a product of the freedom struggle with its historical and social underpinnings. Narayanan's recognition of the vitality of the Constitution should help reinvent our democracy and politics, away from 'market friendliness' to a refreshing 'people centric' paradigm. Those Indians who can show the capacity to lead the aam aadmi on such a journey can redeem the palpable frustration which stalks the nation. Politics should not be allowed to become the 'last refuge of scoundrels'.

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