In the past few years television debates between politicians of various dispensations reinforced one thing loudly and clearly. Amidst all the hand wringing, finger pointing and name calling, the message that came through was this. In the opinion of politicians, the common citizen of this country is a simpleton with a single digit IQ. Someone with a very short memory, someone they can continue to fool and heap indignities upon day after day, while in turn the hapless people will continue to repose blind faith in them.
They wanted us to believe that businessmen offer interest free loans to them without any quid pro quo. That their astute investments and extremely productive agricultural assets have been the reasons behind the almost universal rise in net worth amongst politicians of all shapes and hues. That being born in illustrious political families bestows divine rights and innate leadership skills even in college dropouts of abysmally low IQ. In addition, it gives them, and even those married into such families, unlimited access to state resources, security and ability to dole out patronage.
Unfortunately for this established political class, their endless good times seem to be hanging on an edge.
A hyperactive and hyper competitive media, a politically aware and vocal electorate expressing their opinions and debating on social networks, not hesitant in questioning the ruling class, were some of the changes that came about in the recent years. Popular protests and movements, like the spontaneous demonstrations in reaction to the Delhi gang-rape case and the anti-corruption / Janlokpal agitation, saw large scale and spontaneous participation by ordinary people.
Continued complacency of the political class in failing to adequately react to these changes resulted in the rise of a completely new breed of popular leadership. Thrown up by the popular movements, they are not really politicians in the conventional sense, since the term is not associated with a lot of respectability. They are people like us and unlike the politicians, they come across as being sincere and well meaning. The reason why this phenomenon is considered both, amazing, as well as one replete with hope, is because they have managed to turn conventional wisdom on its head.
For years common people were trapped under a realization that they were powerless to do much to change the system despite their overwhelming dissatisfaction with the governance. The best that they could hope to do was to cast their vote in favour of one party over other. The choice offered in that was also limited between various shades of grey. Besides, elections were fought and won largely through vote bank politics based on caste and similar considerations rather than performance or policy issues. So the common man’s vote was not considered to have much impact. And the common man from the street actually managing to fight elections (and win) was only in the realms of fantasy.
But all that has changed. Ordinary people- professionals, businessmen and people off the street with no political connections – came together to form a political party. They managed to muster adequate resources to fight an election, and adequate public support to win it. And they could do all that without invoking castes or the use of muscle power. Their incredible success was possibly even beyond their own highest expectations, and events have suddenly propelled them from being the underdogs to the forefront.
Having come so far, and now having formed the government, the burden on their inexperienced shoulders is heavy indeed. There is the justifiable burden of people’s expectations. But, in addition, they have the burden of the heartfelt desire of all other political parties to see them failing to meet those expectations. Because, if they manage to survive, and manage to deliver even a fraction of what they have promised, it would signal an end to the way politics has been practiced in our country. The old order of privileges, patronage and nepotism, of corruption and lack of accountability, would necessarily have to come to an end.
And the list of stakeholders for the established order is formidable indeed. It includes the established political parties, and those that benefit from their way of doing things – the corrupt amongst the bureaucracy, judiciary and industry, including the power brokers amongst the Media. It is no wonder that every baby step of the new government is sought to be criticized and downplayed, even laughed at.
The same people who have ruled the country for 65 years without living up to people’s expectations are expecting miracles within days from the newbies. They are waiting along the sidelines for them to slip up, so that they can go back to the electorate and say “we told you so”. The degree of urgency for them is rather high in view of the impending Parliamentary elections.
But the people who have elected this promising dispensation to power would do well to be patient and give their representatives time to prove themselves – for their failure would mean a return to the old order, and this defeat would not be of the party or the leaders, but of the people themselves. They will then have to go back to being reconciled with the way things have been done earlier.