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They And The People:GOVERNMENT FOR POLITICIANS, by Dharmendra Nath (IAS (Retd),18 March 2010 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 18 March 2010

They And The People



By Dharmendra Nath (IAS (Retd)


Are politicians a class apart? A Laxman cartoon shows a man sitting in luxurious surroundings. He says to his visitor ‘You are telling me about the difficulty of living. You must have seen me going through hell before I joined politics and became what I am today’. What can one add?


We see around us the emergence of a class of professional politicians, even hereditary politicians who seem to presume that running the government or meddling with it is their birth right. Politics is their business. They are not good for anything else. They lobby for themselves, their family even their extended family to retain their toehold. Odd though it sounds but Parliamentary and Assembly seats are already being described as ‘hereditary’ family seats.


So strong is the inheritance culture in our politics that we cannot imagine in the political class a father telling his son that he has nothing to give him and that he must work his way up. The father in fact leaves no stone unturned to induct his son or heir in his place. While it eases matters for them, the problem for the society is that its future is thereby indirectly mortgaged to its past. Same old set of people. Upholding of family traditions etc. How does change come in? How do others get a chance? How do we become more inclusive?


Democracy and dynasticism should be opposites. But here they are not. Our democracy seems to be merely seeking a democratic endorsement of the dynastic principle. We are harking back to monarchy while professing to practice democracy. B R Ambedkar warned us early enough ‘Democracy in India is only a top dressing in an Indian soil which is essentially undemocratic’.


Politicians actually tend to see themselves as a class apart, an exclusive ruling set. They do not even live with their constituents. They occasionally visit them like absentee landlords of the past. Their political party is their fiefdom and they delight in being feted and called party “supremos”.


Greek democracy of 6th century BC chose its representatives – their Council of Five Hundred and earlier Council of Four Hundred - by draw of lots. That gave every one an equal chance. Money could play no part. Further, they barred re-election. That gave more people a chance.  That also prevented creation and consolidation of a vested interest.


Our Election law permits a person to contest elections indefinitely, enabling him to perpetuate himself. After him his heirs step in. Popular participation which is the essence of democracy is lost.





Originally the political class used to be of representative politicians. If people got elected they entered politics and public service. They were in fact called to public service. But today’s class of power-hungry politicians looks at politics in quite a different way. Their primary aim appears not so much to represent the people as to capture the resources and the power of the government through the electoral process. Their focus is not governance, but control of government resources. Manipulating the voter rather than representing him is the core agenda. All they want are Lenin’s ‘useful idiots’.


Our Prime Minister Manmohan Singh while addressing Collectors’ Conference in Delhi way back in June, 2005 said ‘Politics in a democracy has to be a purposeful instrument of social change….unfortunately, many a time politics becomes the instrument of self-aggrandizement. And many a time, it ceases to be a purposeful instrument of social change’. That indeed is our tragedy.  


The overwhelming impression is that politics is about money. Even candidates seeking political elections stand out as a distinct class. In the last Haryana Assembly elections 2009 almost 50 per cent of the candidates of all political parties were reported to be having assets of over Rs one crore. The same was true of Arunachal Pradesh. How is this class representative of a country whose 40 per cent population lives on less than Rs 20 a day? A split of this order belies any claim to our being a representative democracy.


We see here a dichotomy instead of oneness of interests between the elected and the electorate. This dichotomy is reflected in their economic status and lifestyles too. A look at the areas inhabited by them and by the ordinary people makes out the contrast.  Also we may contrast the display of security that surrounds them with the lack of security that is all about us. Their tax arrears proclaim their status as do their beacon lights. They are VVIPs. We have traveled very far indeed from the days when rulers went incognito.


This forces us to pose the question, is our politics ceasing to represent popular sentiment? For example, people would like to place loyalty to the country above every thing else but the politician is ever on the look out for the divisive vote which may give him a numerical advantage by pandering to some narrow social or regional interest. The call to outsiders to move out of Mumbai is only one such instance. Euphemistically it is called vote bank politics. The same applies to Bangladesh immigrants, they constitute another coveted vote bank.


People would like to see their democratic institutions free and independent but the politician is devising ever more subtle and devious ways to keep them under his control. It may be through pliable persons or through rendering the institution itself toothless. Similarly, people would like their State represented in the Rajya Sabha by an insider but the politician thinks otherwise.


People would like the perpetrators of Ayodhya and Delhi Sikh massacre brought to book but political considerations dictate otherwise.


For people sugar and kerosene are commodities of consumption but for politician they are primarily political commodities. How much these commodities should sell for, when should their prices be revised, are decisions orchestrated by him with a very careful eye on how it is going to affect him.


Importance of party loyalty and of towing the party line further complicates matters. Political parties have their own agenda and tactical moves. They too have to survive. The party in fact acts as a third factor in a politician’s relationship with the people. That is not the end of the story. Special interest groups and their lobbyists too come in between.


We may like to bring in here outright perversions like ‘Cash for votes’ where the elected representative voluntarily sells his vote to the highest bidder for personal gain. He represents no one in doing so.  


With rampant self-seeking and palpable differences of position and perception between the elected and the electorate - which are further complicated by considerations of party loyalty - how can we expect them to understand and reflect real concerns of the people?


Howsoever they may try to fill the gap through rallies, the divide between the politician and the people refuses to go away. Government of the people, for the people and by the people is a good prescription but filling it is not a simple and straight matter. ---INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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