The Political Class in India - by Dr. Gautam Sen PDF Print E-mail

The iron laws of politics do prevail in most places, most of time. A vast academic and intellectual literature has thrashed the dynamics of the phenomenon to death over many decades. The standard Leftist hypothesis ended up espousing the Leninist State that Stalin inherited, perfected and used to commit mass murder. The theorists of the Left basically concluded that the working class was too stupid to be allowed autonomy, if one ignores disingenuous arguments about false consciousness, etc., used to justify the resulting murderous criminality. The workers therefore allegedly needed a vanguard party to represent their interests. This brutal axiom remains in place to this day though the vanguard party has adapted to democracy in India by thwarting it with myriad subterfuges. The Chinese communists haven’t bothered with the democratic appurtenances of deceit, brazenly espousing all the classic features of fascist rule.

The other theory, rational choice, mainly of American origin, argues that political parties sell themselves and policies to those who are capable of ensuring electoral victory for them. These buyers of political parties and policy deliver votes and/or financial support to political parties. Issues of national interest are subjugated to this unholy nexus except in times of crisis though even that may fail to happen in some countries. Such countries are failed states. They become victims of the international machinations of third countries and in the worst case scenario, lose their independence and/or territorial integrity. There are grounds for asserting that India has now slid into this dire category of the failed state, heading towards political liquidation and territorial truncation.

The question of the role of nationalist ideology in motivating a nation is a moot question. It would seem that ideological motivation is only a transient phenomenon because its proponents and those towards whom its is directed come together briefly to defend the larger interests on which they actually depend. Political parties and citizens may collectively agree that defending national territorial integrity is a prerequisite for the pursuit of their other mundane goals. Industrialists may need an intact sovereign nation to survive foreign competition or the intelligentsia may create an atmosphere in which most citizens regard a nation’s identity as important. On the whole, such a nationalist political alliance proves ephemeral or endures temporarily during periods of crisis. In the case of some societies, such a feeling of national unity becomes elusive because the population is fragmented and the intelligentsia has been undermined by excessive dependence on government largesse to survive or subverted by strategic foreign manipulation. This is a significant reality in the case of India.

More generally, India is displaying many of the symptoms of a failed state because its political parties are showing signs of narrow entrepreneurial motivation. The personal interests of politicians and their families have subverted nationalist ideology. Indeed domestic ideological slogans have become a camouflage for making crass partisan appeals to sectarian interests. Secularism, Hindutva and communism do not compete with each other at all because they are coded messages only directed at a specific constituency. This constituency is unaffected by rival ideological slogans originating with other political parties since they are already committed to their particular insular version of reality. Secularism itself has been shorn of virtually any intellectual content and it now only articulates the parochial religious interests of Muslims, Christians and an unashamedly criminal class that uses secularism to divert attention from their crimes. Hindutva has also turned out to be a cynical ploy that delivered almost nothing to the Indian nation, leave alone Hindus. Tired old men surrounded by thoroughly corrupt retainers wield it to promote their own private interests. And communism is the adjunct of an anti-democratic, goon culture in alliance with Islamic and Chinese-instigated terror, to sustain its cancerous presence inside India’s body politic. For everyone politics is a business.

Competitive politics in India is about how deeply one can sink one’s snout in the trough. Like wild creatures engaged in a feeding frenzy there is a constant struggle to gain personally by seizing control of the Indian State apparatus. This is why the Indian State itself remains a bloated carcass on which India’s political class feeds. The imperative need to reduce its size in the interests of achieving equity and economic efficiency is the last thing on the minds of politicians. The differences between political parties on this vital issue are much smaller than one imagines, none willing to curtail the reach of government and politicians’ consequent ability to rob the people of India. Thus, it is the Indian government that remains the principal barrier to economic advance and the relief of poverty within it. There is a parallel with the prediction of some that since the Indian police are the largest single source of crime in the country their disappearance would reduce it like no other measure.

Politicians also look after each other assiduously. Individual politicians may occasionally be sacrificed as Natwar Singh’s brutal departure showed, but they are not about to fight each other to death for the sake of high principle on behalf of voters. Of course some public display of self-righteous disputation is unavoidable in order to make a good impression on a gullible electorate, but it mainly represents manufactured low theatre. In reality, Government and the Opposition are in cynically cahoots, the former preventing prosecutions for criminality committed by the latter while it was in government. Such favours pay off handsomely because the compliment is unfailingly reciprocated when the rival captures political power. The most effective practical supporters of the incumbent UPA Government are the opposition NDA, which, while in power, smoothed over citizenship difficulties and diverted criminal prosecutions that could seriously embarrass, indeed make imprisonment likely. The UPA has, in turn, looks after the many recalcitrant beneficiaries of the NDA’s unholy tenure. Not being in government is clearly less profitable, but it is not an unmitigated disaster. Apart from the fact that businessmen make an investment in all major politicians, even when they are out of power, the government is also a source of boundless munificence.

The huge benefits of simply being in politics are rarely understood because the focus is on the crimes and corruption of those in power at a given point in time. In fact, politicians in India (and elsewhere) usually benefit handsomely whether they actually participate in government or not. Indeed the political system ensures such an outcome in order to make politics and politicians manageable. Everything from social status, magnificent accommodation and subsidised power to free telephone use, travel and shockingly large handouts, for alleged use in their constituencies, make it far too profitable for an individual politician to revolt against the system, even when they are not themselves exercising political power. It is all terribly cosy and hugely profitable. A random assessment of the wealth of politicians before and after they join politics, at the state or federal level, would demonstrate that politics is extremely enriching for the majority. This is why criminals are becoming legislators and voters no longer really matter. It is less hard work than breaking and entering, fraud and murder to become rich.

Finally, media celebrities, supposed journalists, and their immediate associates need to be compromised as well to make them collude in the dirty business that is politics. This not a purely Indian phenomenon because journalists are a potential inconvenience everywhere if they do not conform. As one senior Indian journalist put it, if you start writing the truth your sources would quickly dry up and your livelihood would be jeopardised! This is the underlying reason why senior Indian journalists are now frequently earning annual salaries exceeding one Crore Rupees. These journalists too therefore acquire a stake in the system and in any case newspaper proprietors would have no compunction in getting rid of employees offending important politicians. The latter can usually hurt newspapers and their proprietors in manifold ways, from denying advertising revenues to crude harassment of the owner. There are exceptional circumstances in which the media and powerful politicians come into conflict, as in the case of Indira Gandhi and the Indian Express during the Indian Emergency or Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal. But the US had its own reasons for playing an additional undercover role in undermining Indira Gandhi and Richard Nixon had lost the support of the American political class as an individual. But the media rarely challenges the deep-rooted failures of politics to advocate the overthrow of the class of people responsible for it.

Dr. Gautam Sen