This is a part of TNM series on Middle Class Narratives – read here.
Catering to constituents' demands is the primary, if not only job of a politician. Why do we tend to look down upon this fundamental feature of democracy?
Votebank Politics [voht-bangk pol-i-tiks]. Democracy's annoying tendency to occasionally function as intended. Example: The budget reduced tax waiver on provident fund withdrawals, but increased handouts for MNREGA. It is all votebank politics.
Look at how well Indians shine when they go abroad. If it were not for this stupid votebank politics, we could have been a developed nation by now. These politicians shackle us and prevent us from achieving our potential. But how did we end up in this situation? Read on.
It was all fine for the first few decades of our independence. We successfully managed to avoid the worst danger of democracy - the prospect of illiterates from any random community gaining power. Except for brief intervals, we had pedigreed blue blood ruling over us. We set up a nice system of civil services, public sector undertakings and nationalized banks to ensure that governance remains in capable hands. You know, educated people from good families, the ones who understand what is good for the nation.
It was not like we were selfish. We had reservations for the harijans, the poor people who had remained oppressed because of British rule. Almost a quarter of all jobs were reserved for them. We employed them as sweepers and cleaners, and sometimes even as peons and drivers. They were very lucky to get these jobs. Everyone was happy.
Life was good.
It all changed in the late eighties and early nineties. VP Singh, the worst prime minister India ever had, implemented the Mandal commission report, increasing the fraction of reserved jobs and seats to half. Everyone in India was against it. There were protests all over the country. Some brave youth set themselves on fire to save the nation and its meritocratic setup. But VP Singh went ahead, just for the sake of remaining in power.
That one move unleashed forces that continued to haunt us even today. It divided our hitherto peaceful and united idyllic paradise of a nation into castes and communities. People suddenly started voting their caste instead of casting their vote. Politicians started going on rath yatras. Oops, scratch that. Wrong party. It gave rise to the likes of Laloo Prasad, Mulayam Singh, Kanshi Ram and Mayawati. Corrupt and venal politicians who introduced corruption and jungle raj into India. We have been paying the penalty since then.
Even today, all good suggestions for reforms get shot down because of votebank politics. We can't even start a debate on reservation versus meritocracy as a prerequisite to ending the evil of reservations. The land reform bill gets shot down, holding back industrial progress. Good politicians, the ones we thought were sensible and progressive, have also started playing the Dalit game. Maybe we should suspend democracy for a brief while so that we can progress under a benign dictator.
Then, there are some idiots who claim that implementation of the Mandal commission report and the rise of identity politics was part of a larger social change in progress. Worse, they claim that it was a good thing. Because it ensured that the subsequent economic reforms were not totally hijacked by the elite. I mean, middle class. Thankfully, there aren't many such idiots around. And they are mostly harmless. The worst they do is write blog posts on TNM.
Haribabu Thilakar is a Chennai-based IT professional and has contributed to The News Minute earlier - How does India’s caste system work in the 21st century?
Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.