Dialogue  April-June, 2006, Volume 7  No. 4

Editorial Perspective

Political Culture: the Crisis of Perception

Larry Summers, the former president of Harvard University, said in Delhi recently that history will remember our age by the rise of China and India. According to him, the importance of this event to world history is equal to the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution. While sharing his optimism and wishing bright future for our country, many of us frankly admit that we are highly apprehensive. The road to progress for India is certainly not smooth; it is full of speed-breakers, bumps and roadblocks. Unfortunately, the greatest obstacle to our speedy progress, the greatest retarder is the prevailing political culture of the country. India’s growth rate – India’s gross domestic product growth have been encouraging with economy growing by 9.3 per cent during January-March 2006, as against China’s 10.3 - was to be still higher, had there been a healthy political culture.

The performance of the present Central Government, on economic and other fronts, was to be better in the absence of the pressures from within and without. The electorate gave fractured mandate, and the present government at the Centre has to deal with the pressures from various coalition partners and the left supporting from the outside. This affects the performance for which Manmohan Singh and his govt cannot be held responsible. Again, the Prime Minister cannot be criticized for the harmonious relationship with his party and its president, as many do. The difficulty of the PM increases due to many defiant colleagues. The left, on the other hand, always insists on certain policies leading to deficit financing and inflation and yet it wants the prices to be controlled. Manmohan Singh Government only followed the principles of price-hike of the petroleum products adopted by the BJP govt and yet the latter criticizes the former for that. Needless to say that the dichotomous behaviour of our political parties and leaders is proving to be costly for the nation. It is high time to say good-by to the modus operandi based on ‘opposition for the opposition sake’. Enormity of our problems demand positive content in polity based on convergence of opinion and consensus on vital issues before the nation.

 The Indian civil society, apart from giving fragmented verdict for governing the country, is also to be blamed for its inability to control the political behaviour of our parties and the leaders giving them pro-people orientation and act as watchdog. Of course, the political parties have been successful in dividing the civil society on communal and caste lines by pursuing the competitive politics of vote-bank, and raising emotive issues, such as that of the reservations. It needs mention that benefits of the measures like reservations for SCs, STs, and OBCs, tribal autonomy measures under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, or the formation of mini-States in the North-East has failed to percolate. A very powerful creamy layer has managed to pocket the benefits. It has developed vested interest in widening the social and communal divide and in deepening faultlines. 

The Indian politics is getting fragmented at a very rapid pace. It is unfortunate that the national parties –the Congress and the BJP–are getting weakened day by day; the number of regional political parties is increasing. The national political parties are becoming incapable of re-capturing the space vacated by them. The reversal of the trend is in the interest of the nation and is highly desirable.

 There are many factors due to which the political parties become weak and fragmented. Their fluctuating stand on various issues due to the compulsions of short term political gain; rhetoric, opportunism, incoherence, damning contradictions, obfuscations, ambivalence, vacillation and many other errors committed by them harm not only the parties, but also the nation.. Indiscipline within the political parties, especially at the higher level, politics of comfort – managing to be in the Rajya-Sabha after losing the elections; preventing juniors to grow in stature; lack of simplicity among leaders and the cadre, lack of healthy contact with junior party workers and the masses, fear of the leader at the top, etc has weakened the political parties from within. Senior leaders in many political parties prevent growth of healthy politics. Many leaders/political parties do not hesitate to sacrifice national interest for the fulfillment of their personal agenda. The door of all kinds of un-principled alliances between the political parties, irrespective of the ideologies they followed, was opened up in mid-1960s when the parties folloed anti-Congressism. This catalysed inner fragility and promoted the culture of large scale defection and political instability.

Vohra Committee brought “politician-bureaucrat-criminal nexus’ to focus some years ago. The collusion between our political parties and the secessionist insurgent outfits is also a well-known phenomenon. This has helped steady progression of insurgency in our country. The terrorists and the anti-nationals in this country are taking full advantage of the ambiguities of the prevailing political discourse. They are able to create chasm by harnessing the old colonial and the west-inspired cultural, social and sociological myths and hypotheses, which our political elite has neither the time nor the will to counter.

The least we expect from our political leaders is the consistency in their political behaviour, in their thinking, their stand on various issues and their modus operandi. Unfortunately, cohesive signals do not emerge even from our senior most leaders. In this connection, certain statements of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpeyi quoted by Kuldip Nayar may be cited. Vajpeyi said: “I would have been in the Communist Party if there had been no Partition” He further said: “I was a member of the Students’ Federation which had leftist leanings. The communists’ support to the demand for partition disillusioned me and I parted company with them.” The point is whether the partition of the country was the only factor coming in the way between Vajpeyi and the Communists. What about the role of the CPI during 1942; the “Randive doctrine’ and its aftermath, communism promoting secessionism, and all that his party and he himself was talking about them throughout his life? After all, it creates confusion in the society and the crisis of perception if a leader of Vajpeyi’s stature does not hesitate to take stand at the two ends of the pendulum swing. It creates doubt about his personal motives and agenda. As per the statement of Vajpeyi quoted by Nayar, the Congress and BJP were to be one party if Gandhi was not assassinated. Vajpeyi comfortably forgets that Shyama Prasad Mukherji, the founder of the Jansangh, was a member of the Nehru’s cabinet after the death of Gandhi and BJP owes its origin to the anti-Congressism and its aftermath.

Rehabilitation issue and others

The issue of social justice in economic development of the country continues to be at the heart of debate on economic growth. This is despite the govt’s stand of “liberalisation with human face” and much publicized National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and similar projects. There is a feeling that the compulsions of globalisation and the blind pursuit of GDP growth rate of over 8% are not going to factor in the concern for the poor and the marginalized beyond a point. The motto is 8% and above growth for the next ten years and it will take care of all the internal and external problems of the country. However, the 226 million below the poverty line are not going to disappear, despite claimed decline in their number since the late nineties. Unless social justice is integral component of growth policy the gap between the poor and the rich will keep on widening causing serious social tensions in a democratic polity.

The insensitivity towards the poor and the marginalized and intolerance towards dissidence and the political parities playing vote bank politics in the name of social justice are going to keep the cauldron of discontent simmering and in some sectors may even boil over. The penchant of political parties to play unprincipled vote bank politics has already started affecting the body politic of the country. Some of the overt manifestations have been the stand taken on the issue of illegal migration by the ruling Congress party, and even the Left in Assam; the manifest insensitivity over the issue of settlement of Project Displaced Families (PDF) are reflective of the policy options which are causing alienation and discontent among the deprived. Add to it the poor and unsympathetic governance at grassroot levels and in tribal belts, and reasons for growing support to Maoist appeal in the country become clear.

In fact, the issue of rehabilitation of “project displaced families (PDF)” is another example of insensitivity towards the under privileged. Be it Kalinganagar (Orissa), Polavaram (Andhra Pradesh) and Narmada Valley (Madhya Pradesh), same bureaucratic approach is visible. The rehabilitation packages, though adequate on paper, are neither implemented with sensitivity, nor are devoid of usual corruption at the delivery level.. Displacement is an emotional trauma and requires deft handling and a large heart. Association of reputed NGOs with rehabilitation projects from the very beginning will to a large extent take care of subsequent complaints, but this does not seen to suit the govt.

Even the intervention of courts has not helped. The Supreme Court, in its judgement (May 8, 2006) on the issue of raising the height of Sardar Sarovar Dam did not intervene to uphold its own earlier judgment on the issue that the rehabilitation of PDF must precede further raising of the Dam height. It needs mention that a Group of ministers of Central government had reported that the claim of the Madhya Pradesh government of having completed the rehabilitation existed only on paper. The present approach leaves much to be desired and government is open to the allegations that only the poor, rural folk and the tribals are paying the price for development.

The stand of the Central and some state governments on the inconsequential issue of exhibition of the film “Da Vinci Code” is an apt illustration where non-issues are played up to bolster the secular credentials of the political parties and concern for vote-bank. It does not matter even if they make themselves the laughing stock in public, both locally and internationally. It is surprising that those who opposed the screening of the film on the ground that it will hurt the sentiments of the Christian community, did not realise that over 45 million people had already read the popular fiction and mostly in Christian countries of the West, and have not made any serious issue of it. The film was going to be seen by a small group and also by those who are going to consciously buy tickets at theaters to view the film. We were subjected to gimmickry at the central level with the Union Minister for I & B himself viewing the film and making recommendation to his own subordinate body i.e. Central Censor Broad, which cleared the film with certain conditions.

As if that was not enough,.some of the state governments bent over backwards and using the ploy of disturbance of public peace under the Cinematographic Act banned the screening of the film. These worthies did not take notice of the fact that this film has not been banned in any Western country, which are Christian countries. It also did not cross their mind that there is a rule of law in this country and that if anyone has any grievance or objection can go to the court and seek a legal remedy for a ban on screening etc. The recourse to the law court was taken in countries like South Korea and Philippines. Courts rejected the request for a ban on the screening of the film. In the event, the Andhra Pradesh High Court in a judgment (June 21, 2006) quashed the order of the Andhra Pradesh government imposing a ban on the film and described the action of the state government as ‘irresponsible’ and directed the government to pay monetary compensation to distributors and the litigants as the ban impinged on their fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression.

This issue and the social ban on the exhibition of the film ‘Fanaa’ in the state of Gujarat in which Aamir Khan, had acted simply on the ground that Aamir Khan had supported Medha Patkar’s Narmada Bachao Andolan, on the issue of rehabilitation of displaced persons is also a similar case of intolerance and has even a communal angle. It may be mentioned that Aamir Khan’s stand was similar to which the Supreme Court has taken on the issue of rehabilitation in its recent judgment. Besides, nursing political ambition is legitimate pursuit in a democracy and a fundamental right of a citizen. The way we have dealt with the “Da Vinci Code” and “Fanaa” issues displays a mindset of a “slave” and a low level of appreciation of the fundamental rights of the citizens. When the state governmentss and political parties do not respect the guaranteed rights of citizens on partisan consideration, they cause serious damage to the political and constitutional fabric of the country.

–B.B. Kumar


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

Astha Bharati