It has been a week since I arrived back home to Mumbai. Travelling from London to Mumbai via Dubai is always an intriguing journey. After I arrive in Mumbai, sit in my car and drive away from the airport, there are differences between these two cities that stick out like a sore thumb. No, it’s not the honking vehicles in a traffic jam, chaos of the commuters or even the humidity that manages to penetrate through the shut windows that stands out the most. Its aggression; the aggressive advertising of political parties that can be seen in the form of life-size posters stuck on every edifice, wall, lamppost and even barks of trees. An in-your-face approach, a rawness that is prevalent when it comes to politics in my country. A jaggedness that contrasts sharply with the sophistication of politics in the West.
Nooks and crannies of the city plastered with images of smiling leaders in benevolent gestures along with the details of the political party they belong to. But here’s the irony: despite the political front of this country being such a dynamic one, the youth of today are contemptuous of this profession. In fact, not just the profession but also of the government, it’s policies and the political leaders of today. The government today, in almost every democracy, has become a necessary evil, one we must put up with while resenting its necessity, its prime reason of existence.
I feel it has almost become fashionable amongst the youth of today to sit and pass critical comments from the periphery. Take the easy way out of a sticky situation instead of actually rolling up your sleeves and getting dirty in an effort to solve the mess our country is in – be it economical, political or judicial. Some may argue that a degree of suspicion amongst the people towards the motives and the behaviour of politicians is mandatory and I would agree, however there is a fine line of difference between healthy scepticism and corrosive cynicism. Citizens around the world have become distrustful of politicians, scornful about the government and are questioning the effectiveness of democracy. But perhaps, if more and more people are disappointed with what the government delivers then maybe the fault lies with those who demand far too much and fail to acknowledge the complexities of governing in the twenty-first century rather than in democratic politics itself.
But then again what are the alternatives to democracy? Dictatorship? Anarchy? Arbitrary rule? Politics of fear – which deals with extortion, violence, manipulation, poverty and every other form of corruption resulting in a parasitic government that feeds off the blood and sweat of people? Yes, it’s a given that democracy is not perfect, and it might not be the solution to every problem but let us also not forget that it is because of democracy that we have the liberty to chide and criticise politicians and the government openly, we have the freedom of speech and expression and a fair opportunity for our voice to be heard, where every eligible citizen has an equal say when it comes to making decisions that affects his or her life. And I would be more inclined to question the motives of those who bemoan politics and then in the next breath go on to demand more and more from democratic institutions. Surely it has to be equilibrium between give and take, between rights and responsibilities.
There is a saying in Hindi which when translated is “You can’t clap with one hand” and so the blame does not just lie with citizens but also with the politicians who urgently need to rediscover the moral nerve and capacity to speak with authority and weight of their predecessors. Politicians need to recall, “The first business of government is to govern”; as Winston Churchill put it “which may at times call for the deliberate endurance of unpopularity”. Yet this is another paradox in itself – the need for politicians to sustain popular support as opposed to the more basic need for them to sometimes deny the public, to not indulge in their demands and to make unpopular decisions as their leader.
This article is the result of a rather aggravating conversation I had with one of my peers who explicitly expressed his “hatred” for India and its style of governance. And it is to him and people like him who criticise from the sidelines that I say this to: if you don’t like something, change it; if you can’t change it then change your attitude.
The future belongs to those individuals, communities and nations who are willing to respond and adapt to the world as it changes, to those who perceive the loss of once fixed reference points as an opportunity rather than a threat. The twenty-first century will deliver most to those who can rebuff pessimism in every facet of life right from personal to political and can instead cultivate and bring about optimism and make an honest effort to bring about positive change rather than grumble in despair about all that has gone wrong.
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatama Gandhi