Thursday, February 22, 2024

Youth, politics and our democracy

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By Dominick Rymbai

Akhilesh Yadav is the 39 year old Chief Minister (CM) of Uttar Pradesh (UP). At one look, he is just another political scion of a regional dynasty. Educated mostly in India, he is the modern face of his party; the future of our country’s political leadership. In the battleground of the UP Assembly Elections, he and his party humbled a fourth generation scion of a powerful ruling dynasty. His party won a huge mandate of 224 out of 403 seats. In January 2005, he was a guest columnist for a Youth Special issue of a national magazine. He wrote: Since my student days a quote from Alexander Pope that “politics is the last refuge of scoundrels” has haunted me like a philosophical knot. It still puzzles me because the word “scoundrels” has been replaced by “criminals”. Yet I believe in what Eleanor Roosevelt had said, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” I plunged into politics to understand what Pope and Roosevelt had meant. This is also because I share the “beautiful dreams” of the majority of the youth of this country that politics should be changed and the electoral process, the very strength of the largest democracy, should be purged of criminals….. From day one, the self-effacing CM will have to deal with the challenges of providing good governance. As evident from the victory celebrations of his supporters, his first challenge is to deal with the ‘goonda’ image of his party. Being a first-time and young CM, we can give him the first 120 days as the honeymoon period. Hoping against hope, all we can do is wait and see for changes to happen in UP and our country in the coming five years.

Much has been written that a big percentage of India’s population is under age 35. On any day, interactions with most of these youth will give a grim picture of their disgust for politics and politicians alike. With such an attitude, the possibility of them joining non-mainstream movements is very high. Personally, as a youth, I cannot rule myself out as an exception. In Meghalaya, one usually reads front page political news about some MP/MLA/MDC. The news is usually negative, almost by default! And many times, it happens to be true too! Words like empty promises, corruption, nepotism, mis-governance, etc abound. There is anger and frustration at our politicians. The Shillong-based Rock band ‘Snow White’ puts it very well in their angst-ridden number, Ki ‘Lei San Snem (Five Year Deities).

Politicians and states-women & men like M.K. Gandhi, Mustapha Kemal ‘Ataturk’ Pasha, S.V. Patel, S.C. Bose, Ramon Magsaysay, I.P. Gandhi, A.B. Vajpayee, Lee Kuan Yew, Deng Xiaoping, Aung San Suu Kyi etc are my inspirations for political leadership. It is true some of the mentioned leaders are/were bold women & men with dictatorial style of governance. However, superficial it may sound, I always take my inspiration – a strong belief in our democracy – from a dialogue in the Hindi film Namaste London (2007). In the film, a white man was speaking condescendingly about Indians at a party. The man had all ‘upper-crust & polished-class’ airs about him. The Akshay Kumar character went up to the man and said: ….It is only in India….where we allow a Catholic woman of Italian origin to step aside for a Sikh to be sworn in as PM by a Muslim President, to govern a nation of over 80% Hindus.

On the same note, after the 2004 Lok Sabha Election results, there was a smooth handover of power from a supposedly rightist nationalist party-led government to a supposedly secular & centrist party-led government. Today, with the way political activities are happening in our state and country, one can expect a smooth handover to a new multi-party-led coalition at the state in 2013 and the Centre in 2014. And presently, some of the best performing states of India are ruled by parties other than the main ruling party at the Centre. As a youth, the electoral success led by Akhilesh Yadav does inspire a Spring of Hope in our politics. Let’s us look at one of the oldest and most powerful democracy, the United States of America. Forget about a Woman President, it took them more than 200 years, to have a Black President. The first Lok Sabha elections were held in 1952. That means our democracy is barely 60 years old!! In India, change and democratic processes are in motion, indeed!

So, should we believe in our representative democracy? Today, it is so clichéd to quote Gandhiji’s words of being the change we want to see in this world. Personally, I believe that in our own capacity, if we just perform our basic duties and responsibilities well, we can bring about small positive changes that will translate into phenomenal changes in our state and country. The changes include the politics of our representative democracy too.

During the National Freedom and Hill State Movements, politics was a noble and sacred vocation. So was teaching at one point of time. Both practitioners of these vocations were role models. Such is the case that even today if one is asked to cite an example of a leader, the first name would be of a politician. Today, however both, more or less, are thankless jobs with unenviable tasks. As a new & young lecturer, I ask myself many questions. Besides the ‘come, lecture, evaluate and leave’ sequence of work, do I do even one of the following?

Do I try to understand the backgrounds of each student for better understanding of techniques for explanation? Do I try to understand the intellectual variation of the class? Do I motivate students to inculcate the Will to ‘Prepare & Do Well’? Do I try to instill pride in their own culture? Do I maintain a healthy & respectable relationship with my students.. etc.

If I don’t do even one of the above, then I have no right to complain and be frustrated with my elected representatives. And it is not just me! Nowadays, it is almost the in-thing for children to complain that parents have no time for them; they shift the blame for their bad habits and failures on their parents. In this age of Google, Wikipedia and Smart Phones, have children ever tried to understand the parents’ responsibilities in moving mountains to provide them good food and education? Cutting across the private and public sector, as adults, does each one of us fulfill our duties and responsibilities well? It is good to have a strong sense of rights and entitlements. But it is better to carry out our own duties and responsibilities with a sense of purpose!

To conclude, politicians are indeed a breed apart. For most of their political lives, they have to take brickbats rather than bouquets. By nature, humans always tend to blame their own failures on others. At most times it appears that if one fails at one’s duty, the next person to blame is a politician; the first one would be the one in our Assembly/Parliament, then in our own family, place of work, etc. But let’s put ourselves in the politician’s shoes and try to understand that they come from the same system just like any of us. After all, it is easy to point fingers rather than look at the mirror. The Gospels says that Jesus Christ told those who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery, “Let one of you who has not sinned cast the first stone at this woman.”

So, should we still believe in the politics of our representative democracy?

(The writer is MBA (IB) IIFT -Delhi and presently lecturer, Department of Management Studies, Martin Luther Christian University, Shillong)

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