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The politics of Indian politics

india Updated: May 15, 2009 21:54 IST
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We Indians are incredibly political. We talk politics even at cocktail parties. Even at mahua parties. And while we chatter on about Praveen Togadia’s fundamentalism and Lalu Yadav’s socialism, there’s always this turgidly silent guy who sits in our midst wearing a passive aggressive smile. If you have the temerity to canvass his opinion, he will spit that he has no time for “all these bloody -isms”. In the interest of progress, he wants to see all -isms banished and all -ists hanged. Leftists, rightists and centrists.

Barring a few cases of genuine mistrust of the system, this is simply the fear of the unknown. The political troglodyte disparages ‘isms’ because he has no idea what they mean, and it should be easy to dismiss him in turn. But there’s a technical problem here: it turns out that the troglodyte is future-proof and the rest of us are still in the cave.

The general election results will be out in a few hours but even now, anything is possible. Even the Congress, which has its back to the wall, could actually show gains because in uncertain times, the GOP begins to look like a safe bet. So on counting day, only one thing is certain about this rather weird election: that it signals the death of ideology. Next week, as parties finalise alliances, politics will become not only the art of the possible, but also the impossible and the unthinkable. The leitmotif of the 2009 election is a cheerfully whorish statement which has been parroted by almost every leader of substance: “All options are open.” There are really no untouchables in politics anymore.

However, one ideological divide still stands, between the communal and the secular. Or the ‘pseudo-secular’, that delightful communalist coinage for everyone who thinks they’re funny. Like the Joker is funny, you know. Nitish Kumar, for instance, is going to pay in the next Assembly elections for joining hands with Narendra Modi. And despite his good work in Bihar, his openness to all options yesterday inspired mistrust.

There’s another divide too, between town and country. In the last election, the BJP was wiped out by its India Shining slogan, which resonated nicely in the cities but insulted the citizens of India Unlit, beyond the glow of sodium vapour lamps. The issues are different in that country — underemployment, land alienation, credit failures, migration and a severe deficit of human security. Formerly goody-goody development priorities, they are now core political issues because a decade after T.N. Seshan’s Anschluss on election malpractice, the rural electorate finally votes freely.

Politically, India is now divided only by these two axes running between the secular and the communal, and between town and country. Stay clear of them and you can sit in the marketplace with all your options shamelessly open. This has practical benefits. No matter how unpredictably you and I vote, our representatives will slap together a coalition and save the day. But I wonder if it is healthy to take democratic choice out of the hands of the people and to gloss over ideological differences in the interest of stability. Because we’re blurring the distinction between right and wrong, and good and evil. If we lose this distinction, we will be less than human.

Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine.