“Only Politics, Not Social Service”: What Indian Netas Think of Serving Their Constituents

Politics

“Only Politics, Not Social Service”: What Indian Netas Think of Serving Their Constituents

Illustration: Arati Gujar

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s India lurches towards its high-stakes 2019 general election, mudslinging political rhetoric is reaching a new fever pitch with each passing day. Librandus and IT cell bhakts are battling it out on Twitter, while cabinet ministers are apparently in a competition to see who can make the most scientists cry. Meanwhile, the aam aadmi is spending most of his time stuck in a traffic jam, wondering how much lower the rupee will fall.

With barely six months to go before people hit the voting booths, there is still little clarity on which direction the election might swing, and it’s easy to see why: Like an episode of Rakhi Sawant’s Swayamvar, is any choice a particularly good choice? PM Modi’s approval rating has taken a blow thanks to a string of economic disasters and poorly implemented schemes that have shaken confidence in his vikas agenda. On the other hand is Congress, helmed by the Gandhi family punchline, Rahul. A vote for the grand old party of India, is still widely seen as a vote for corruption, elitism, and apathy.

The harder question than the one of which party, though, is what exactly do Indian politics stand for?

Well, our mantris have the answer. A couple of weeks ago, Karnataka Union Minister Anant Kumar Hegde claimed that his job was to do politics, not social service. He insisted, confusingly, that the purview of politicians was “only politics”, without getting into the pesky details of why we have politicians in the first place.

Although Hegde’s statement caused mild ripples of outrage, it was far from the worst statement that week by an elected official, and the BJP unsurprisingly refused to comment. Besides, who could really argue with Hegde’s point? His remarks are merely a reflection of how India sees its political class – a group that has their own agenda called politics, that has nothing to do with serving constituents.

In short, we act like politicians simply doing their jobs is a feat of brilliance and humanity, akin to scaling Everest without a sherpa and not taking a selfie at the summit.

In other countries, expressing a desire to get into politics is perfectly reasonable, and not considered roughly equivalent to saying you plan to join the mafia. But, as every Indian knows, our politicians have long forgotten that they are put in place to serve the people, rather than the other way around. And if the run-up to 2019 is anything to go by, it looks like the electorate has forgotten as well.

Rarely is it worth anyone’s time to discuss matters of policy, or to have informed debates to address problems whose existence we all agree upon. Instead, conversations around candidates show how our standards have hit rock-bottom. Today, we find it hard to believe when a minister actually funds his promised irrigation scheme instead of siphoning off the money for a fourth vacation home in Europe. If a candidate has criminal charges against him, we thank our lucky stars that they are only for tax fraud and not rape or lynching. When we see members of Lok Sabha having a productive discussion instead of hurling insults and slapping each other, we feel the warm glow of hope.

In short, we act like politicians simply doing their jobs is a feat of brilliance and humanity, akin to scaling Everest without a sherpa and not taking a selfie at the summit. Is it any wonder that fewer than two per cent of Indians pay income tax when politicians – supposedly our employees – do so little to represent our interests?

Take UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, and his recent decree to change the name of Allahabad to the pre-Mughal Prayagraj. While the move has done absolutely nothing to improve the city itself, as Allahabad by any other name would smell as strongly of pollution, it serves as a statement of Adityanath’s values, and ultimately, his politics.

This is the best we can expect from our elected representatives – not concrete efforts to impact our lives for the better, but symbolic nods that serve to reassure us: at least they believe what we believe. And most of us anyway believe that our political class ultimately serves only itself.

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