Poriborton

I haven’t come out of my first book – Knowing the Known. I am reproducing here a part of my article – Who would you vote for Mr Gupta from this book.

It was election time. All around there was a ‘feel good’ atmosphere. The common man was made to feel important. But such ‘seasonal’ niceties do not amuse them anymore. There was debate on almost every conceivable issue on every available platform. In this frenzied atmosphere, Sudha Mahajan, a fresh graduate and a trainee with a major newspaper was given an assignment; interview a common man. Sudha was a little disappointed. In a profession where coverage matters the most, she was worried that her write-up would not get the desired attention. Who would care to read a novice’s write-up about a common man? Fresh interns do not have many choices. She took upon her inexperienced shoulders this responsibility with a very positive attitude. She assured herself, for an unbiased opinion, who could be better than a common man.

Sudha approached her neighbour Mr Alok Gupta, a Central Government officer, for this purpose. Mr Gupta was a little surprised. No newspaper ever asked or cared for his opinion. He readily agreed for the interview.

Sudha, after a preliminary introduction, asked a direct question: Who would you vote for Mr Gupta? I mean, would you vote for a particular candidate or a particular party?

Mr Gupta took some time to respond to Sudha’s question. Then he said, I have not thought about it before. I am not from any party. It would have been easier, had it been the case. All political parties want to make the country a great power. All want to strengthen national security and at the same time want to improve relations with neighbouring countries. All want to develop world class infrastructure; want to become a major exporting nation and global manufacturing hub. All want to support science and technology and strengthen the country's research base. All parties promise to provide a system of good governance, promising to reduce wasteful expenditure of public money. They are all for bridging the urban-rural divide, and preserving and propagating the country’s rich culture and heritage. All promise to provide social justice to deprived classes, minority community, and women. All promise to create new jobs and better working conditions. These ‘promises’ leave no scope for any conflict or controversy. The problem begins when we notice the changes in the conduct of political leaders. I fully agree that in a country as large, varied and diverse as India there will always be a large number of political formations. I also understand the complexity of accommodating regional, linguistic, caste aspirations. But despite all these complexities, it is difficult for me to accept the presence of so many political parties. Barring a few, majority of them follow identical policies under different names. I do not know if political ideologies matter at all in our country. Sudha, let us assume for a moment that we have decided to go for a person rather than the party.

Mr Gupta, we all like our politicians to perform better, but if they are not performing, should we keep quiet and let them do what they want to do. What is the ‘ideal’ system for a ‘real’ world?

Sudha, I think that the first thing politicians should be doing is to restore the faith of the people of this country in the nobility of politics and public service. If a political leader cannot solve our problems, I will expect him/her not to create problems for us. Am I unreasonable if I expect from our political leaders some sincerity and commitments in their conduct? I believe that the internal functioning of most parties needs major improvement. There is a need for more transparency. Politicians need to be better ‘educated’. A better educated politician only can understand the needs of an open system. An open system cares to fulfil the needs of the surrounding environment. Political vendetta must be curtailed to a large extent. Politics in some states is more ‘hate’ than ‘competition’. ‘Religious one-upmanship’, ‘competitive religiosity’, ‘over optimism’ needs restrain. If the political class is to retrieve its lost moral authority and popular acceptability, it would have to recognize and address the issue of ‘too much politics’.

Mr Gupta, don’t you think we too are not fulfilling our responsibilities of rightfully electing our representatives. As it is, the best have kept themselves away from the ‘public’ domain. Don’t you think many more upright individuals should come to the forefront of public affairs? Who is responsible if we elect a wrong person? Certainly, not the politicians. Shouldn’t we get what we deserve?

You are right Sudha. The situation must change. We have made politics as if it is not only for the bad people.

Mr Gupta, what quality would you look for in an elected representative?

Sudha, I think it is the capability to handle social and intellectual responsibilities. We expect the politicians to handle the complexities of large social groups. Only then one can become a mass leader. Sudha, such persons are available. Only we have to find ways to bring them into the political mainstream.

(In the interim, Sudha arranges meetings with a few prominent political leaders. She informs Mr Gupta accordingly. She made elaborate notes. She thought Mr Gupta’s inputs would be useful.)

Sudha, thank you for taking me along with you. It was a good learning experience for me. I may not have agreed to their political ideology, it was good that I could meet them.

Mr Gupta, what do you think about these people and the parties they belong to?

Sudha, thanks for arranging my meetings with three gentlemen. I enjoyed meeting them. It was a new experience for me. The first gentleman I met did not appear to be a politician. I think we need many such individuals in public life. As you know, he is from a very old and established party. His party acquired a tremendous amount of good will and political capital during the time of nationalist movement. The party had tremendous organizational strength and their presence was felt all over the country. The leaders of this party were known for their values and integrity. The party had a strong culture and tradition. This party used to have clear policies on secularism. The party understood the difference between the terms ‘religious’, ‘non-religious’, and ‘religiously neutral’. There was a time when this party had so many good leaders. The party now is almost unrecognizable. It has forgotten to conquer the hearts of the people. The only agenda of the party now is how to survive. It is a sad situation. Who is responsible for its present state? Is it caste politics or lack of developmental plans or absence of proper leadership? It has loosened grips even on its secular credentials. Its position on secularism is like the ‘intelligent design’ movement. The believers of this movement try to give the impression that there is someone who is doing all the ‘designing’ to create life but are afraid to identify Him. The party wants to bring change, as is reflected by its economic reforms process. Its policies on social upliftment, however, are vague; even its own party men oppose it.

Mr Gupta, what is your suggestion for the party.

Sudha, do you think my opinion matters. To make the matters simpler, let me give a few suggestions. The party must regain the vibrancy and vitality of a distant past. I am hoping that the new generation will rescue the party from the rut it is into.

Fair enough, Mr Gupta. What about the second person?

This person impressed me for his impeccable integrity. His party goes up and comes down, like a ‘sine’ curve. I expect a lot from his party. I thought it was different from other parties. The party had a definite viewpoint on several issues when it began. Its focus on the country's rich culture and heritage is noteworthy. Now in the midst of coalition politics, the party has forgotten many things. The party’s strong base is religion. There is no denying that religion is relevant for politics. But religion is relevant only if it can bring social change.The meaning of religion should be understood differently. The party has to understand that “I’m motivated by my faith, but I’ve got to persuade the public on the basis not of religion but of the common good.” The party should understand that religion can exist, even without their support. Religion is often an ally in the pursuit of power. But once power has been secured, religion can become an unwelcome constraint in the process of administration. That is exactly what is happening with this party.

Mr Gupta, your most precious final words about this man and his party..

Sudha, I am enjoying the attention you are giving me. My untrained political mind says that the party has to do a lot of homework to change its image, if it wants to retain its position as a national party. The party has to dispel certain non-secular beliefs. The party shall have to inculcate among its party men an attitude of finding solutions, rather than merely focusing on problems.

Mr Gupta, what about the third leader whose party is identified with the poor. As you know, this party believes that they only understand the poor. They only have solutions for the poor.

Sudha, this party has created an image that it is for those who have lost everything, including hope. When one loses hope, nothing remains. If someone gives something to someone, but that someone unfortunately cannot properly utilize it for want of something, then what someone has given is of no use.

Mr Gupta, please appreciate that I am a newcomer. Please acknowledge my inexperience. How can I understand such a long and verbose statement?

Sudha, please do appreciate that I am also giving an interview for the first time. I am trying to impress you by acting smart. I am trying to say that this party is very good at teaching lessons of populism, but is a very poor implementer of the policies. It has taken steps to improve certain reforms processes, but has not done enough to trickle the benefits to the concerned people. The party has done enough to make people aware of their rights but has done nothing to make them understand the responsibilities of the rights. The world has moved forward but the party has not. It still believes that the age-old weapons of strike and agitation can solve work-related problems. The party loves to use the powers one normally associates with the ‘supreme’, but does not have any respect for the Supreme, at least at the public places.

Now, as usual, your last words about this party, Mr Gupta.

Sudha, I see some attitudinal changes in the party. The party is beginning to understand that talking about the rich is as relevant as talking about the poor. There is an effort to make its cadre understand that money and commerce are not always bad words. The party is coming to term with the fact that subsidies often cost more than investments. The party has to look through a lens which will tell them that it is possible to see the wide world even without losing focus on the narrow world. Personal austerity is the party's strength. The party should try to retain that image.

Sudha, I will share with you an email I received from a friend a few days ago. According to him, the first party is like an egg. It has a soft core covered by a hard but fragile cover. You put it in hot water and the soft core becomes hard. It doesn’t leave much flavour in the water. The second party is like carrots. They are hard, but as soon as you put them in hot water they become soft quite easily. They have not remained in hot water long enough and so they still have some hard core. They also do not lend any flavour to the water. The third party is more like ‘neem’. As you know, it leaves bitter flavour, unboiled or boiled. This party has mastered the technique of overpowering others with their age old bitterness. My friend’s final words: “I am still waiting for coffee beans to come along, which would enrich our country with their flavour and aroma”.

Mr Gupta, indeed a nice representation. What about the coalition? The coalition government is now becoming the norm.

Sudha coalition is a result of bad mathematics of politics. In order to balance the political equation, several permutations and combinations are tried. The persons who supposedly are brought for maintaining the balance are the ones who are ultimately the major cause of imbalance. Misuse of the mathematics of politics is not taking us anywhere. I wish, coalition was a creative unity. The term reflects creativity rather than collusion. For the long term survival of coalition, reconciliation of differences and cooperation among the partners is essential. It is difficult to imagine that the political parties having different ideologies (and no ideologies) can forget their differences and cooperate.

But Mr Gupta, since no party is capable of forming government on its own steam, coalition is the only way.

Sudha, I am sorry that I can’t be more definite.

Never mind Mr Gupta. It seems people as well as political parties are beginning to realize that ‘Bijlee, Sadak, Pani’ are more important issues than "Mandir, Masjid, and Mandal". With this happy note let me thank you Mr Gupta for your most wonderful cooperation. Wish me that my first dispatch gets adequate space and attention.

Pleasure was all mine Sudha. I wish your first major journalistic endeavour all the very best.

Good day Mr Gupta.

PS:

I met Sudha after almost 15 years. It was a chance meeting. Sudha is now a senior journalist. I am no longer a government servant. I retired 5 years ago. Incidentally, it is again election time. Though elections are being held in 5 states, only one state is largely discussed in most platforms. Meeting me, Sudha sees another opportunity of interviewing me. She is no longer a meek newcomer. I too am much less inhibited. Time adds many things. It makes one bolder. Once the initial salutations are over, she opens her laptop, quickly goes through some stuff, then takes a print out of our last interview that appeared in the newspaper. She asks me what I feel about the current election situation. I recalled my meeting the 3 gentlemen. I understood their point of view. They differed but they did not abuse each other. I have seen them at the India International Centre a couple of times. I felt, one can differ yet can be together. The 3 gentlemen I talked to are no longer alive. The next generation of the first leader could not hold their act together. Their party is almost non-existent. Dynastic traditions are not enough to keep them standing. Lack of leadership is a serious issue. Those who have observed the party for a long time are amazed to see the degradation in the party. The party’s spokespersons don’t know what to say. They speak for the sake of saying. Such weak opposition is never good for the country. It looks as if its leaders are running away from the problems the country is facing. Their statements are taken as entertainment. The governance of the country is now in the charge of the second gentleman’s party. They have played their cards well, as far as elections are concerned. They are now running the country for the second term. They have a strong hold at the Centre. Similar hold they want at the State level. The third gentleman’s party is also almost non-existent. Some old hands are trying to keep the party afloat. They are unwelcome in any coalition. They have lost interest in the poor. Poor are no longer their selling point. They are trying to improve their visibility in academia. They are trying to sell the idea that they only have the right to think right. Their approach is more international than national. They look outside, instead of inside, for their salvation.

Let me now come to West Bengal elections. It is not a contest but a hate campaign. No one talks about development. Everyone talks about appeasement and polarization. It is a shame, it is happening after 75 years of India’s independence. The State is governed by a party that is an offshoot of the first gentleman’s party. They are one of main contestants in the State election. The other contestant is the second gentleman’s party. We are celebrating Azadi’s 75 years with Didi’s and Dada’s ‘Khela’. Both the main contestants want to win 200 seats; much more than the majority. Both are expecting ‘buying and selling’ khela after the elections. Both don’t want hung assembly. Coalition government seems improbable. Both the parties are hoping that in politics everything is possible, and every method is acceptable. All kinds of mind games are being played. Both the parties are giving the impression to the general public that they have already won. Both are afraid of losing. Everything is lost when one loses faith in the government machinery. The public is clueless and confused. Year after year they are being bluffed, yet they are keeping quiet. They are perplexed. The State is getting a bad name. Thanks to the first citizens of the country. The largely unbiased political thinkers are matters of a bygone era. Debates are cacophony. The common man has still not lost faith in democracy and the process called election.

Sudha, I am disappointed. I am disappointed for my children and grandchildren. In a state of Bhadraloks, I hope, decency will return. There will be a Renaissance of sorts. Some new mirrors will turn into windows.