India is changing and changing very fast. We keep hearing this all the time, especially during elections. And this is absolutely true. The young, educated Indians now think of themselves as almost global citizens connected as they are to various interest groups and people all over the world on the Internet through social media. Corporate India has certainly changed pushing out the old licence permit raj and becoming leaner, meaner and more competitive. A meritocracy has crept into most institutions, even government organisations. In fact, getting the government professionalised has become an article of faith for the prime minister, who is perhaps the most powerful one we have had in over the last two decades.
But in many ways it is the lexicon of politics which has not changed, even among the younger crop. First let us have a look at how easily the word legacy is bandied about. The sons and daughters and other relatives of politicians stake their claim to high office to uphold the ‘legacy’ of someone or the other. A very serious word like legacy is dragged down to mean an inheritance of votes. Very few politicians have left any real legacy behind. A legacy would mean that the person created a paradigm shift in our national polity. But in actual fact, the best that most politicians have done, barring perhaps the first lot after Independence, is to bring in legislative changes which have bettered the lives of people. They are meant to do that and this is hardly a legacy.
The second phrase we hear all the time is about this or that politician sacrificing his life for the nation. We the grateful must revere these personages because they have shed their blood for the country. A sacrifice would imply that the dear departed actually willingly laid down their lives. With no disrespect to the dead who showed extraordinary courage when they were alive, those who died were felled by assassins or unhappy circumstance, not because they chose to go so early. And why should they? The responsibilities of high office mean that you ensure you stay fighting fit so as to discharge your duties. But if you happened to be in the wrong place, or someone is determined to kill you, it is tragic, condemnable, unacceptable, but it is not a sacrifice on your part.
When you enter politics, you do so knowingly fully well that there are risks involved, that someone somewhere may want to harm you, even kill you. For in your hands lies the destiny of millions of people. But you do so willingly, knowing that an element of danger goes with the territory. The other fallacy is that a politician devotes himself/herself to the service of the nation. Again, when you are elected, you are meant to carry out your duties. It is not a favour to the ‘people’. In many cases, we have seen that such service starts at home and the good servant of the people suddenly enjoys a sharp rise in income and resources.
Service if executed properly stands you in good stead in terms of getting elected again. So, it is not some sort of philanthropic activity that is being undertaken here. Many politicians complain of the lack of pay, that they get nothing compared to corporate India. But they forget that along with the arguably smaller pay comes a dazzling array of perks and power that would be the envy of those in any developed nation. This explains why political office is coveted and most even when voted out of power are loathe to give up their palatial homes and all the trappings that come with it.
But, increasingly, in a merit-driven world, people are questioning these concepts of legacy, service to the nation and the need for salubrious surroundings from which to execute your duties as a humble servant of the people. The political class must now reinvent itself to be in sync with the changing India which it claims credit for having brought about. In fact, it would be a good idea to have some sort of training for MPs and MLAs in matters of legislation, foreign affairs, economics, defence and so on once they are elected. Something on the lines of the administrative services academy. Why should an unqualified person lead a qualified India?
The elected person after all has to make informed decisions on policy, much of which is complicated and fraught with far-reaching implications. We have seen the difference in quality of the work of politicians who have taken the pains to study the art of politics in all its dimensions and that of the arriviste who sees politics as a perpetual gravy train.
Any person standing for elections should be able to do so on the strength of his or her own ideas and plans for their execution. It should not be to uphold anyone’s legacy. Fresh ideas will invigorate public discourse, not a repetition of past policies and sentiments. The Congress, badly hobbled today, is a victim of this sort of legacy politics. It has been so focused on preserving the legacy of leaders past that it has almost forgotten that it has to function here and now in the face of ever new challengers.
All we ask is that politicians, like the rest of us working stiffs, speak in a normal language and conduct their work as any of us would, to yield maximum result to the end user. No one is asking anyone to be selfless or lay down their lives. Just hunker down and get on with policy making and implementation. Do what you can to make life easier in as many ways as possible for those who took the trouble to vote for you. The goals can never change, whatever legacy you are trying to propagate. It has to be the pursuit of justice, equality, quality of life and all the freedoms in our Constitution. We need the practical politician today, the nuts and bolts man, the ‘looking ahead’ person. The person who takes each day as it comes, works on a clean slate and is not enervated by the baggage of distant legacies.