As the elections are around the corner and the nation is gearing itself to cast its votes with an unending optimism on its future and incessant faith in democracy, I’m enthused to put across my views on the things we must keep in mind before we head out to vote in 2019.
Being an ardent follower of socio-political and economic happenings in the country, I’m reminded of American theologian and author, James Freeman Clarke, who famously said, “A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman of the next generation.” The problem in India is we have too many politicians, with no statesmen at all. In short, we have many Reagans who enrich their tycoon cronies through their neo-liberal policies, but we don’t have even a single Roosevelt to herald a New Deal.
All the world over a new chilling truth has started dawning on the minds of the poor and the ordinary. The truth is, the advent of disruptive technologies and globalization has empowered the big businesses to accumulate gargantuan wealth, and as a result, the world is fast turning into an oligarchy. Gone are the days when the economic policies used to be people-centric. Now they are overwhelmingly tycoon-centric. This is happening because the governments are using the single and grossly skewed yardstick called ‘growth’, to measure prosperity. As a result, the governments all over the world came to a strong conclusion that it is only the tycoons who can bring about the growth, and as such providing them with “ease of doing business” is paramount.
Due to this shift towards a pro-rich bias, universities all over the world are producing so many Friedmans and Hayeks, who pioneered the neo-liberal economics, and political arena is giving rise to many Reagans who first implemented the trickle-down Reaganomics. And India, which hopped onto this neoliberal bandwagon in 1991, is no exception to this trend. Even we have many “nomics” and currently, the Modinomics is ruling the roost.
Now you may ask why I started my discourse with economic matters. For a common man bread and butter issues are paramount. As one of India’s greatest sages Swami Vivekananda had rightly said, “Man is guided by the stomach. He walks, and the stomach goes first and the head afterwards”. The commoners prioritize fulfilling their basic necessities and leading a life of ‘ease’. Therefore, we should be voting to those who can provide us with that “ease of living”. But who will give it to us?
We primarily have two alternatives: Gandhi Parivar and Sangh Parivar. We are currently witnessing the rule of the Sangh Parivar, which came to power by making egalitarian and inclusive noises such as “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas”. Unfortunately, what we see now is the ‘Vikas’ of crony capitalism in the garb of Hindutva. The man who is at the helm, after failing to deliver on his promises, is back to playing divisive politics and appears to be tacitly unleashing the so-called ‘fringe’ to promote his electoral prospects.
But can the alternative, I mean the other Parivar, be any better than the current dispensation? It is highly unlikely because Indian politics are increasingly becoming homogeneous and the so-called alternative is not actually an alternative. Highlighting the homogeneity in Indian polities, journalist Arun Shourie famously opined that the Modi dispensation is nothing more than Congress plus cow. When the people elect those who are promising an alternative, the only thing they will get is Modi minus cow. As the political environment has become highly polarized, people who like Hindutva are supporting the Sangh Parivar, and those who oppose Hindutva are rallying behind the Gandhi Parivar relegating the bread and butter issues to back-burner. The fact is when we set aside the cow, they both are same. The same corruption, crony capitalism and apathy will keep haunting the people. What the commoners need now is a political dispensation that can bring back people-centric policies.
Unfortunately, the alternative to the two Parivars, over the years, has grown weaker. The democratic left, with its successive defeats in elections, has left a huge vacuum in the Indian politics, and the AAP, which emerged with a big bang on the Indian political scene and raised a lot of expectations among the people, appears to have lost steam thereafter. And the regional political parties, which are no less corrupt and inefficient, will end up supporting either of the two Parivars.
In this situation, the people have only one option: bring down the current dispensation and install its rival in the seat. But this is not going to solve the problem. This situation only reminds me what Marx had stated about democracy. “The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.” But democracy, being the heart and soul of our nation, can’t be discarded. We the commoners must combat tooth and nail the forces that are bent on hijacking democracy to serve their narrow self-interests.
Before 1991, many people would often say if you want to distribute wealth you first have to create it. As the people who said this have managed to amass unimaginable wealth, now is the time for the commoners to assert themselves to better their lives. When the people stay united and assert themselves, the ruling classes will have no option but to obey.
People all over the world are turning against the tycoon-centric neo-liberal policies and building mass movements to assert themselves. The Occupy Wall Street protests in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis was a slap in the face of the pro-rich ruling classes. The recent Yellow Vests protests in France demonstrated to the world how a staunchly united working class can force the leaders to retreat on their anti-people actions.
Even in India, there is a hope. The recent protests by farmers, who fell victim to the widespread agrarian distress, grabbed the attention of everyone and exposed the empty rhetoric of the ruling dispensation. The Dalit protests and the anti-Sterlite protests highlighted that fact that the fight against discrimination and profiteering at the expense of people’s health will be a never-ending struggle. And we, the commoners, especially the working class, need to build more united and powerful movements to educate and mobilize the masses. The hope is, from these mass movements new leaders will emerge, who may be able to fulfill the aspirations of the poor and the ordinary, who seek livelihood opportunities, good education and quality healthcare. The new leadership must emerge from the grassroots level, that too from the mass movements built on bread and butter issues, not from the ruling clans or religious and caste movements.
But this is possible only when the people steadfastly stay united and don’t get swayed by the feelings that erect narrow domestic walls that divide them along the lines of caste, religion, region, or language. If they get swayed by them they will get nothing more than cows, shrines, statues and hegemony. And taking advantage of the situation the politicos and plutocrats will have a cakewalk in the garb of attractive slogans and colorful events.
As elections are fast approaching, the common people must be wary of misleading narratives that are getting ready to hoodwink them. As the nation will start heading to the polling booths, there will be concerted attempts by the politicos and plutocrats to mislead the people by forcing the objective reality and rational enquiry to go on a holiday and press their colossal PR machinery into service. They will do this to spruce up their images as the messiahs of the masses to either come to power or retain power. Some tycoons have already started pitching in for incumbent regime showering praise it and talking about ‘continuity’. What the poor and the ordinary need is not ‘continuity’ but an enduring ‘change’. These false narratives are what exactly the people must guard themselves against and not get swayed by patently trivial matters.
People, instead of voting the Parivars, had better support grassroots leaders who have the ability to build mass movements on people-centric issues. Finally, if the people, especially poor and the ordinary, want a better quality of life they will get it. If they pay even the slightest attention to cow, they will get only cow.