Are India’s politicians losing their way in a vibrant democracy? | columns | Hindustan Times
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Are India’s politicians losing their way in a vibrant democracy?

The question is what role can the common man play in times when passions are on the boil? Is he condemned to be cheated election after election? This cannot be the case

columns Updated: Apr 09, 2018 13:49 IST
Protesters stop a train during Bharat bandh, Moradabad, April 4, 2018(PTI)

At the time of my birth, my parents decided not to register a surname that would indicate the child’s caste. They believed that sooner or later, a day would dawn when the walls of caste and religion would collapse in India. Having celebrated its 13th anniversary, India’s Independence was also ambling along. Little did they know that in the years to come, their beautiful dream would be systematically shattered.

Idealistic citizens such as my parents received a jolt at the beginning of last week when in the name of a Bharat bandh (nationwide strike), 10 states were pushed in to a cauldron of violence. They have reason to be upset over the fact that caste has gone from being a social issue to a political one. Look at the coincidence. The trend has its origins in the decade at the beginning of which I was born. Nine non-Congress state governments were formed in 1967. It turned out to be the last year of Congress rule in Tamil Nadu. CN Annadurai won a landslide election. For the uninitiated, the main issue in this election was not the Congress but anti-Brahminism.

Even in the Hindi belt, there was a wave that began against the dominance of the forward castes, led by Ram Manohar Lohia. He had the support of a large section of society. In the years that followed other leaders such as Chaudhary Charan Singh, Karpoori Thakur, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Yadav, Sharad Yadav, Mayawati etc were born from this ideological womb and continued to flourish. Despite leading heavy duty political movements, they were never in favour of a violent revolution. Perhaps these leaders were not in a hurry, the way today’s leaders are. That is why Mayawati issued a directive in 2007, saying no arrests should be made under the SC/ST Act without an investigation. She even made provisions for the arrest of those who violated this. Orders were issued at the administrative level as well that cases won’t be registered without an investigation by an officer of the level of a deputy superintendent of police.

Eleven years after this, when the highest court has issued a similar directive, why have people taken to the streets?

If you want to get into this question, you may have to pay attention to a few incidents in the last few years. Recently, while visiting Gujarat during the elections, we discovered that three young leaders – Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mewani and Alpesh Thakore – had assumed a central role in the state’s polity. Patel came into prominence by raising the demand for reservations for the Patel community. He became so popular that his arrest in Ahmedabad sparked off violence in many towns in which nine people lost their lives. This isn’t an isolated episode. The kind of violence that the Karni Sena unleashed in the name of the film Padmaavat, has turned the politics of Rajasthan topsy-turvy.

Another example of this is the Jat agitation. During this movement, not just were political principles torn apart, it also left an impact upon western Uttar Pradesh. The existence of the Rashtriya Lok Dal was itself put in jeopardy. Even as the Jats were on the boil in Haryana, the Gujjars in a part of Rajasthan were preparing to react against this. Similarly, a lot of blood was shed after the emergence of Chandrashekhar ‘Ravan’, in western Uttar Pradesh. It is to Ravan’s credit that even Mayawati came out in support of the Bharat bandh. Generally, she keeps the Bahujan Samaj Party away from such agitations. Clearly, these fearsome events have a direct connection with politics, politicians and elections. A few leaders emerged through these incidents and others faded into the background.

This is a frightening trend.

Needless to say, the social fabric of the Indian nation State is endangered after every such violent outbreak. Property worth billions is destroyed and people’s sentiments remain hurt for a long time. So, there was retaliatory violence in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan the day after the Bharat bandh. Intelligence agencies have sent a caution that such fires can again be fanned in the run-up to the birth anniversary of Doctor Bhimrao Ambedkar on April 14. Be sure that the assembly elections this year and the Lok Sabha elections of 2019 will test the maturity of the Indian voter.

The question is what role can the common man play in times when passions are on the boil? Is he condemned to be cheated election after election? This cannot be the case. If politicians begin to lose their way in a vibrant democracy, the voters, too, get an opportunity to rein them in during an election. Remember, it isn’t just the politicians but you and I who are being evaluated.

History is looking at us with a neutral perspective.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Apr 09, 2018 13:30 IST