Wednesday, February 4, 2015
Rajan Venkatesh: The Indian Citizen's Burden
I write this as a supporter of Aam Aadmi Party. I write this in support of a people's movement which has the potential to correct the errors of modern politics and economics.
The issue is not Mr Kejriwal. I feel it is important that we should not overlook a fundamental fact - that for once we actually have an alternative which is really an alternative, not just the same mindless copying of 'development' which all political parties are doing.
The fear that this 'alternative' has triggered in the conventional political parties is apparent. Both the BJP and the Congress are desperate to show that the Aam Aadmi Party 'is like the rest of us'. They are shouting and screaming that AAP too has internal dissent, that it has people leaving them, that it plays caste politics, that it is irregular in taking donations, etc., etc. In a way, both BJP and Congress are conceding that political parties are after all corrupt and dishonest. So why should AAP be different?
Why this fear of the Alternative?
The message to a new political entrant is that it has to conform to the customs and behaviour of the conventional parties. There is no problem if the newcomer talks against corruption or dishonesty. Talking is okay, they all do it, but god forbid if the new party actually goes ahead and starts to behave transparently and honestly! Then the comfort zone is disturbed, and every publicity ammunition is used to portray the newcomer as a pretender, that it has something to hide, and that in actuality, the new party is also reasonably corrupt and dishonest; in other words, it is very much like us. As if that will solve the nation's problems!
This position is not unique to poltics. In small and sundry ways, this is true of everyday situations and involves us all. We are comfortable only among People Like Us, and are quickly nervous outside of our narrow comfort zones. In the confines of this comfort zone, we have behaviourial and systemic anomalies which we don't want to look at - corruption, pollution, addictions, exploitation, inequality. But if a person joins our group who reminds the rest of us of these anomalies, we are diffident, nervous and quick to pounce on him or her. Come on, even you drive a car and contribute to pollution; even your kurta comes through exploitation of the weaver; surely, even you have bribed a policeman; etc. And if this person should dress like us tomorrow (no muffler, thank goodness!), have a beer in the club, speak an urban accent and not refer to our anomalies, then we are back in the confines of our comfort zone.
I wonder if the extreme positions taken by the BJP and Congress against the Aam Aadmi Party is probably an extension of this same tendency to be antagonistic to anyone who is not operating in the same confines as them. But with a difference. Most conventional politicians have now gone so far down the road of corruption and lying and cheating that they have a fear of their money-making system being changed. They also fear for their image which will stand exposed - and as we know, even the worst politician, while doing all things wrong, would like to be seen as a do-gooder; that is his perpetual contradiction.
But what about us, the urban, well-to-do, elite people of Delhi - why should we be afraid of the Alternative?
In a way, I feel we have our own inner contradiction. We would like a just society, an equitable society, a peaceful society, without exploitation, without poverty, without stifling inequality. At the same time, we know that the society we are developing through modern political and economic methods is achieving quite the opposite. Even though media is trying to hide the brutal facts, we know at the back of our minds that our progress, whose fruits we at the upper levels of society are accumulating, have come at great cost to our brothers and sisters in tribal and rural settlements, and at great cost to the environment.
So we are uncomfortable when told that the electricity used by one Gurgaon mall could provide basic lighting to 1000 village homes, and further more that the power supplied to our cities came after drowning 100 villages whose residents were forcibly evacuated and inadequately compensated, and most ironically, that those resettlement colonies where the displaced villagers live is itself in darkness - there is no light for those who gave up their homes and villages to supply us our electricity.
We are also uncomfortable when we come to know that more than 250,000 of our farmer brothers have committed suicide in the last 10 years of 'high GDP growth and development'. We are uncomfortable when we look at the slums that line the insides of our cities, and we are very shaken when we see that the people who sleep on the streets in tents are the ones who build the homes we live in.
This is our inner contradiction, the source of our fear, and I submit that this discomfort is a good thing. But for it, what would separate us from the rogues who relish and want to further this type of lopsided development? Unlike the conventional politician's contradiction which is selfish, our contradiction is ethical, it shows our inner, humane make up which is in favour of wholesome development.
Therefore, there is nothing to fear about the Alternative. The new political movement in Delhi is a real alternative for the nation because it seeks to modify the shape of 'development' into something wholesome and equitable; it could actually help us get rid of our inner fear. We can then step out of the narrow confines of People Like Us and enjoy the fulfilment of being part of a large and vibrant and humane society.
I said at the beginning that the Aam Aadmi Party movement is not about Arvind Kejriwal. Yet he is today a symbol of this change, and it saddens me that despite his lead in all opinion polls, he is abused and derided by his political opponents as well as by a section of media.
Let me share with you that India is not alone in this awakening. The United Kingdom is also facing elections, and is swept by a new movement seeking corrections to lopsided modern development. Greece has already voted and elected a new movement party to stop their politicians from selling their nation.
There is opportunity coming on 7th February. Let us vote for change. Being educated and belonging to the elite of society, we can support, strengthen and contribute meaningfully to this alternate movement.
Let us step out and vote for Aam Aadmi Party, and let us encourage our friends to do so.