Only shameless can successfully participate

Prime Minister Narendra Modi rightly emphasizes on people’s participation in a democracy. In his March 26 address of ‘Mann ki Baat,’ he said, “New India manifests the strength and skills of 125 crore Indians, who will create a Bhavya [grand] and Divya [divine] Bharat. The desires of 125 crore Indians to transform the country form the foundation of New India.” Notice his emphasis on people making New India, “I urge you all to join this movement.”

In a similar vein, in his opening remarks at ‘Smart India Hackathon 2017’ on April 1, the Prime Minister said, “The success of democracy lies in people’s participation. Democracy is not casting vote once in a five years and giving a contract to somebody, saying, ‘Solve my problems.’ And if they are unable to do that, then find another contractor. This is not democracy; democracy is about people’s participation. The government knows everything, it can solve all problems, it has all the solutions: all this is illusive… We can solve our problems only if we are all together…”

On Thursday, he echoed the same sentiments at the 50th anniversary of the Ladies wing of Indian Merchant Chamber. The government, he said, is not an “elected contractor.” Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, BJP MP Poonam Mahajan, and filmstar Katrina Kaif were present at the event. “I talk about what we all can do. Can’t we celebrate the 75th year of Independence in 2022 with our contribution? Democracy is the journey of bhagidari (participation),” Modi said.

That’s correct; and it is indeed comforting to know that the most powerful man in the country is all for people’s participation. The question, however, is: how to participate?

Almost every civil society organization has been penetrated by political parties. Students’ associations, trade unions, sports bodies—politicians have made their obnoxious presence in several important organizations. The consequences are usually unpleasant: neta-infested bodies end up furthering political aims rather than protecting the people they claim to represent.

For instance, trade unions often made demands that have little to do with the employees they represent. Unionists are against the privatization of public sector undertakings (PSUs) and foreign direct investment (FDI). How does this reflect the interests of workers? Unions can legitimately demand higher wages, better working conditions, etc., but they have no business to promote the politics of the parties they are affiliated with. In fact, the anti-FDI is against the larger interests of employees, for more investment means greater economic activity, faster job generation, and thus more options for them. Similarly, students’ unions should focus on the matters pertaining to universities; they can and should discuss everything under the sun but promoting jihadists like Afzal is scarcely the best way to enlighten fellow students.

Then there are civil society entities and issues—e.g., air pollution, urban planning and transportation—that have been practically monopolized by professional activists. Such activists have huge resources and expertise at their command; well-meaning but ordinary individuals cannot match the skills of professionals. The fortunes activists, in consonance with the political principals, change but the man in the street can hardly afford to surmount them. When Sonia Gandhi ruled the country, the circus called National Advisory Council called the shots; now the RSS fogies are setting the agenda.

In short, the common man, the aam aadmi, does not have the muscle to take on the power of politicians and the influence of activists. It is not surprising that the only aam aadmi to successfully fight conventional politicians is Arvind Kejriwal. But then not many ordinary, normal citizens can boast of Kejriwal’s shamelessness, chicanery, and mendacity.

The sum and substance of my argument is that the political ecosystem of India is such that it doesn’t allow any meaningful, honest participation of good citizens. Only a Kejriwal can participate in it.