The lost causeDemocracy gives people the right to choose their leaders. But no system, not even a democratic one, is better than those leading it
It was a sight to behold. A festivity of sorts in a corner of the city. And it began early in the morning on the penultimate day for filing candidacy for the local elections. I woke up from my sleep not to the sound of the morning alarm but to the raucous atmosphere on the street as men, women and children marched past my home with placards and banners in their hands, sloganeering for their party and dancing to the tune of a propaganda song blaring from the speakers attached to the roof of a taxi in front of them.
It was a sight to behold. Not just because the rally was so similar to the jatras the Valley is known for, with its crowds, chants and music, but also for the length the people were willing to go to for the sake of their gods in flesh and blood.
A perverse practice of democracy was on display. One that places leaders above the people and engages in hero worship, instead of urging them to mend their ways. One that does not question them about the systemic corruption and nepotism they have helped entrench. With the elections declared, my neighbourhood started cleaving along party lines. Politics rather than development became a priority. Ideological divide became more and more apparent. People’s reverence to their leaders became stronger by the day. As if by some secret mutation, citizens had morphed into members of political parties overnight.
It is wrong in a democracy to challenge people’s ideological standing and political worldview. But to blindly toe a party line without holding those at the top responsible for their wrongdoing is not a right thing to do either. Especially when, right on the election eve, some of our leaders dared to wash their dirty laundry in public again. An honest chief justice, impartial and dedicated to the rule of law, was suspended for standing up to a rightful cause, while a corrupt, conniving, power-hungry bureaucrat and a former ringleader of the country’s anti-corruption body remains unpunished.
Democracy gives people the right to choose their leaders. But no system, not even a democratic one, is better than those leading it. In a country where power means the license to enrich oneself and to exert one’s influence by all means, even those that are diabolical, the only way its citizens can counter these nefarious forces is by challenging the status quo, not supporting it.
This is not something undoable. The people of Delhi voted to elect Arvind Kejriwal as their chief minister more than two years ago as opposed to the Indian National Congress leader Sheila Dikshit (though he has had a chequered career since then). Even as recently as a week ago, the French, irrespective of their political affiliations, stood behind the leader of a new party, one that was established about a year ago, and chose him to be their president.
The key then is to choose candidates based on their merits, vision and dedication to the people rather than their political affiliations and throw our support behind them. We need development more than we need political parties. We need rule of law not ideological hooliganism. We need transparency not political obfuscation. Ideology can provide us with a coherent belief and vision necessary to move forward, but it is up to us to implement it.
But as I stood on the balcony that morning and watched crowds pass by, carrying banners, chanting slogans, handing out pamphlets and brochures to passersby, I realised that all these arguments about becoming an informed, impartial citizen had fallen onto deaf ears. We no longer remained citizens of this country. From impartial, independent people, we had already transformed ourselves into the footsoldiers of different parties and affiliations whose fate and fortune swung with that of our leaders. Our vision had already become one with that of the debased, debouched political leadership that governs this country.
Morning changed to day. Motorbikes, cars and jeeps with party flags fluttering on their sides added to the political excitement. Candidates, their foreheads marked with red tikas, started appearing at doorsteps, their hands clasped in a permanent Namaste, their faces lit with a smile, promises flowing out of their mouths like a torrent of water gushing downstream. Nice words, gleaming eyes, language full of hope, throngs of people behind them. It was the same old drama being played all over again.
Drowned in all this hullabaloo was the question, Why have we fallen into such misery in the first place despite having a proper system in place? The answer, to me, was blowing in the wind. Just that nobody was ready to accept it.