A former Chief Election Commissioner observed sometime back that “politicians are the cancer of society”. It is indeed possible to build further on politics as a metaphor for the disease - a familiar literary device from Homer’s Iliad to Camus’La Peste –that is responsible for the many of the dysfunctions of our society.
Politics owes its current morbidity to the original sin of cohabitation with crime in order to gratify its desire for electoral success and subsequent generations have acquired this illicit lust, which is both indiscriminate and indiscreet. The criminal element in politics has metastasized over the years and has now become firmly implanted in the bone marrow of politics. Cancer evokes a feeling of helplessness, of resignation and an existentialist terror in those who are condemned to watch it take its toll of their loved ones. Despite our ritual expression of horror, people accused of murder, rape etc are being courted by all the political parties for the forthcoming parliamentary elections. The civil society finds itself less and less able to count on its antibodies – the institutions, whether formal or informal- because the sentinels themselves have deserted or stand compromised.
On the eve of elections to the various legislative bodies the political arena almost presents the scene of an asylum for victims of senile dementia. Old friends pass each other by as strangers, while implacably hostile enemies hug each other; promises of eternal friendships sours in three days flat, and alliances are made and unmade several times during the course of one electoral season. The consequences of this promiscuity could be perceived as comical were it not for the fact that it concerns such a vital aspect of our lives. In the manner of seasonal transfer of players of the professional soccer league, newly inducted political players are inaugurated on the prime time. In its naiveté or diabolic crookedness –politics believes that the itinerant travelers of the whole political landscape – many of them have traveled from extreme right to leftist extremism and vice versa -are like so much malleable putty, capable of being moulded into any shape, or so many tabula rasa on which you could inscribe any ideology. Like so many robots they are programmable for any performance. The baptismal waters of their new faith debugs them instantly and their memory is erased for being formatted anew.
When confronted with basic issues politics tends to look side ways in an uncomprehending manner or ramble in an incoherent muddled sort of way. How does politics justify the expenditure of such astronomical sums of money on these gladiatorial contests called elections, seasonally and sometimes unseasonably as well, while 300 million of our people live below poverty line? Where do the funds come from? The financial status and criminal antecedents of the contestants, the performance report in respect of earlier promises are issues that are recognized but evaded with cunning and disingenuousness that sometimes characterizes the patients of schizophrenia. Or it resorts to some singularly idiotic arguments. Charged with financial misconduct or corrupt practice its stock response is that worse immorality has been seen. Popular verdict is accorded a sacerdotal value and electoral success is touted as exoneration from guilt as well as investiture with civic virtues.
Political discourse, consequently has itself acquired a hothouse atmosphere. Critical debate has given way to bellicose gestures. Incantatory formula does regular duty for a detailed and rational exposition. Insinuations, innuendoes and invectives are the weapons freely used to occupy the moral high ground. Each one of them has a “secret plan” which the other is somehow aware of - whether to destabilize the government, fracture the unity of the country, or subvert the cause of social justice; (Foreign hand is a flavour that is out of favour this season! ). It is impossible to list out all the insecurities of a paranoid mind. Unsure about the most vital points of their self-definition they define themselves in terms of opposition to the other. So a secular alliance is the one, which does not have anti-secular elements in it. Some other alliance may declare itself to be the sole custodian of both ideology and memory precluding the possibility of any debate. Very often no party is in a position to frame clear issues of public policy, which can be debated without reference to the a priori culpabilities of the Other, or categories of exclusion. It is much easier to catch people’s attention by appealing to their prejudices ignorance or insecurity rather than their reason. So these weaknesses are not only pandered to but also systemically inculcated in its particular constituency. The illusory, irrational quality of political debate becomes deathly real only when elected representatives sometimes get physical in the august precinct of the house.
Myopia again is the easiest affliction to manage. One can get a suitable pair of glasses. But the debilitated contemporary politics, finds itself unable to walk to the nearest optician. Instead it chooses to reduce the world to its myopia. The perspective on future is condensed to the next election and on many an issue of grave importance, its thinking shows the same tawdry, Lilliputian character. No wonder that politics fails to read the writing on the wall, clear to even someone with a vision of 6/60, that prohibition against cohabitation with crime is no longer a moral injunction but a medical necessity.
The Age of Reason recognized the relation between social environment and physical well being which revolutionized our thinking on hygiene and cleanliness in our personal lives as well as our physical environment. It is to be hoped that the widespread disaffection with criminal politics will be similarly translated into some activism in the realm of moral and intellectual hygiene in the public sphere. The hundreds of millions of the voters of the country could certainly impose an effective quarantine against crime, fumigate the contaminated public spaces and start all over again. The new millennium justifies this millinery hope.