Sunday, April 5, 2009

The great Indian tamasha

Every fifth year India goes through a huge convulsion called general elections. This is when we select 500 odd members to our parliament and allow them to rule us for the next five years. If you want to become a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer you have to have a minimum qualification, but to contest elections to Indian Parliament you don’t have to have any qualification. There is no upper age restriction either. Though the voters are largely below the 40 age group the contentstants are generally in the age group of 60 and above! Of the two prime ministerial prospects, one is 82 and the other is 78!

But some qualifications are absolute necessities. One is you must have money. If you don’t have money there is a slim chance of getting elected. There is another necessity. You must belong to a party. This helps as the party gives you the muscle power [volunteers who come at a price] to help you out with the voters. If you have the additional qualification of belonging to a known political family it helps. The political families have already established names with which the people are familiar. Many years ago there lived a sage who went by the name of M.K.Gandhi who earned the name of Mahatma from his countrymen and who gave us our freedom. Gandhi is a common sir name in the north and there was a politician called Feroz Gandhi who married Indira Priyadarshini who was Jawaharlal Nehru’s daughter. So she came to be called Indira Gandhi! Though no relation to Mahatma, many Indians of that generation thought so and I know some who voted for her thinking she is Mahatma’s relation! That she came to rule this country and what happened to us during her rule is common knowledge. Having family and political connections, in addition to money helps.

Next in importance to family connections is the caste to which you belong. If you happen to belong to a caste which has poor representation in the constituency, you have no hopes of success. We, in India, still have this caste consciousness and this plays a huge role in the decision making. Why have you voted for so and so? I did because he belongs to my caste will be the answer. There is a caste called Yadavs. They form a sizeable percentage of population in the Hindi belt [where this is the language of communication]. So you have got be a Yadav to win in some constituencies. Some of these Yadavs who have contested have criminal backgrounds is unimportant. What is important is winnability and being a yadav contributes to your winnability.
Another quality that helps is glamour. A film star who has no pretentions to social service or experience in politics will get elected because a large number of people have seen him on the tinsel screen. There is a state in south India now called Tamil Nadu .This is also the state which has supplied the largest number of computer professionals to the US! This state’s electorate simply loves film stars. If not film stars, persons who have something to do with cinema. They elected a cinema hero called MGR and after him a lady who played heroine roles with him called Jayalalitha as the chief ministers of the state. Even in the present elections there are any number of them in the fray in all parts of the country and I am sure many of them will get elected and decorate their respective chairs in the parliament.

Are there no candidates who have overcome these caste, community, family, money connections? Yes there have been an occasional few. One of them I thought till recently was George Fernandez, Initially a trade unionist, socialist, then a minister in the central government, well known for his simple living and austere ways. He would get elected from a place called Muzaffernagar and he being from south of India, and a Christian to add! He would get elected from there consistently and once even when he was in jail! Such was his charisma! But I was sadly disappointed to know that this simple austere man has declared a wealth of 8 crores when he went to file his nomination papers! Another disappointment is Mr. Jaswanth Sigh, a highly respected parliamentarian and our ex foreign minister, who was found distributing currency notes during an election rally!

So, if one were to look for the so called honest candidate who is above all these considerations one has a real struggle cut out. If you know one please let me know.

These are the people who come June, will sit in our parliament and rule us for the next five years. Are you wondering like I do, how we have survived as a democracy with this kind of representation? We are a perfect example that democracy, despite such severe limitations, is still a better bet than any other form of governance!

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