The next Lok Sabha will begin to take shape two days from today.
Some friends of mine are contesting. They have been fielded by different parties. That is to say, they are persons I know, admire and respect. But their politics differs from one another’s and they are, put plainly, adversaries. From whichever side they are on, they will do credit to parliamentary debates, why, to the very structure and stature of the House. I want all of them to be in Parliament. May they win, handsomely!
But I recognise many more, no friends of mine, fielded by the same parties, who are in the contest. It does not matter to me that they are adversaries. That does not make any one of them less dislikable. In a sense, these characters are secret buddies, training together, in the art of political deception and the science of political cunning. They will be disastrous for Parliament, for our democracy, for our country. Their presence in the House will weaken its character, lower its stature. I would like to see them defeated, routed!
The chances, however, are that the good guys will lose, the baddies will triumph. Does that mean we, the voters, are idiots to be voting for them? No, we are not. We who defeated Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi for their hubris in clamping an Emergency on us, and then defeating, for their counter hubris, the very people who trounced those two, are no idiots. But we are fallible, gullible, manipulable.
Also, by some genetic instinct, being poor people, we do not like to waste things, in this case, the vote. We use it like a coupon, something that has been placed in our hands, and we use it to the best of our intuitive or intellectual scopes, on voting day.
The Great Election Thing in the world’s largest democracy is to be admired, celebrated. Nowhere else on the surface of this planet do millions of people, rich and poor, literate and unlettered, queue up as in India to elect their representatives, in a transparently free and fair election. But standing with us, invisibly, phantom-like, in those queues are three great manipulators: Fear, blandishment and prejudice. Someone has worked, through brutal intimidation, through money, and worst of all, through sectarian indoctrination, to guide our finger to a particular button. It is the voter who says ‘get lost’ to these three ghouls and votes with her and his mind sharp and ticking, who Ambedkar would have embraced.
Curiously, in the early elections, when the practice and theory of electoral democracy was still new, those three subversions of democracy were less active than they are now, more than six decades and a dozen elections later.
The first three elections returned to the Lok Sabha almost no one who disgraced the House. Looking at the people who comprised the first three Lok Sabhas, I can identify those who made little or no contribution to debates, to Question Hour. There were MPs in those three Houses who did precious little for their constituencies either. They fluked in, they faded out. But there is not one among the MPs of the first three Lok Sabhas who was a disgrace to the House, not one. I would be interested to know from readers if they can think of any such ‘besharam’ from those early ranks of MPs.
Later Houses tell a different story.
What will the next House give us, not in terms of ‘Kaun Banega’ and in party-strengths, but in terms of the human material that will comprise it?
Let me hazard what I fear we will see.
The House will have more MPs wearing charms, in terms of rings and strings, on finger and wrist, than any previous Lok Sabha. It will have more money to show in terms of declared assets, and less education in terms of qualifications, than any previous Lok Sabha. It will have fewer lawyers than those who have had to consult lawyers than any previous Lok Sabhas.
It will have more men who have dodged taxes and fudged returns than those who have taken pride in tax compliance, law-abidance, over any previous Lok Sabha. It will have more men who have remained silent on violence against women, than those who have spoken up, in rage, against it. It will have more MPs who have talked of a ‘strong India’, meaning, thereby, a macho India, than of ‘a just India’, meaning, thereby, an India sensitive to its weak and vulnerable.
It will have MPs jump up faster when their party supremo enters the House than when the Honourable Speaker enters it. It will shout more, think less, cost more, work less, than any previous Lok Sabha.
Let me now dare wish what I would like to see.
The next House will be more of a House and less of the nation’s costliest entertainment than any previous Lok Sabha. It will have more women MPs than any previous Lok Sabha. It will have no male MP who is guilty of known or unknown violence against women.
It will have no MP who is guilty of known or unknown financial fraud, especially, fraud against the natural resources of India. It will have MPs who are humble enough to know they have been sent to the Lok Sabha by a people who are far greater than they are, far wiser, far braver, but utterly, wretchedly, susceptible to the swipes of daily living in a hard country.
It will have MPs who realise that while they may be there to ask questions, they themselves need to answer the peoples’ questions. It will have MPs who regard themselves as Jan Aawaaz. The next Lok Sabha will read the clear and inspiring message of the initiative by that very name, catalysed by Aruna Roy and others, in which lies hope, faith and redemption for our democracy.
It will have MPs Nehru would greet with ‘kya-b-baat hai’, and Ambedkar with ‘Welcome, and now get down to work’.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor
The views expressed by the author are personal