Time for an Indian Monsoon to wash our politics clean

This has been an Indian summer filled with heat and dirt.

Every new scam, brings with it ever increasing disillusionment with the existing political establishment, cutting across party lines.

Evidence of rampant corruption to an extent never witnessed before, combined with the brazen disregard for public opinion and probity in public life and, have led India to a tipping point. As political parties trade charges, in an effort to gain political mileage from scandals in the other camp, both Government and Parliament have been paralysed. But for our Judiciary, things would be looking very bleak.

However there are two emerging trends that offer a ray of hope in this dis-heartening environment.

1. The Emergence of Citizen’s parties and candidates : Across the country, like minded citizen’s are coming together to create a new Political Order. There is a growing feeling that we must create a political alternative led by citizen politicians. The hope is that people with integrity, experience, competence, vision and humility will be willing to enter politics, not to serve themselves but to serve their country. Unburdened by the baggage of dynasty and criminals, politics in our country could be washed clean.

Over the past months, I have had discussions with many such groups and individuals. Hearteningly, what unites us is the understanding that bringing this change will take time, and the commitment to stay the course, until it does. As a wise elderly gentleman said “Change will come and we will win, but this is a race in which only the those with the stamina and courage for the long haul will survive. Hamein lambe race ke ghodon ki zaroorat hai !”

I am hopeful that many of these citizens groups will find it possible to rally around a common set of Principles, and agree on the priorities and policies that need to be focused on. If we do so, we can use this precious window of opportunity to create a viable Third alternative that this country so desperately needs.

2. The power of citizen’s participation, enabled by media and technology : It is clear that both media and social media have become game changers. Technology now makes it possible for citizens to actively participate in Governance – to share their views on-line, in real-time and for their voice to be heard. Increasingly our elected representatives are being held accountable, for doing the job they were elected to do, and for upholding moral and ethical values, that many have so far ignored.

Ours has always been a vibrant democracy with an electorate that does not hesitate to boot out incompetent and corrupt administrations. Regrettably these lessons are often forgotten by both incumbents and opposition, in the five-year long lead-up to the next elections.

Nevertheless, these two trends are encouraging signs for a truly representative and participative democracy. Thanks to them, we will hopefully have an Indian Monsoon, (rather than an Arab Spring), to wash away the dirt in Indian politics.


14 thoughts on “Time for an Indian Monsoon to wash our politics clean

  1. Meeraji further to my earlier comments I would like to add that- The power of citizen’s participation, enabled by media and technology is indeed a wonderful development . The question is does it really IMPACT the common man??? To get some sort of a answer one has only to look at the cricketing spot fixing scandal. On the one hand the media and its eminent panelists ( that being the educated class) having being going totally hysterical over what has happened- BUT is the common man affected in the least bit ? One only has to look at the overflowing stadiums to get an answer!!!!
    In my view crass as it may sound but ‘Winnability’ in the Indian context as Swapan DasGupta has so rightfully pointed out means people who know how to manipulate existing caste, community and interest groups.The thrust has to be on identifying and highlighting issues that ordinary voters can connect with!! The common man’s life is so centered on the basic roti Kapda Aur Makaan and to a little extent education that he has little time for anything else .To the common man sincerity to try to cater to his basic needs is all that he expects in the current dispensation. Good governance can provide that with right minded people at the helm.. So the question really boils down to conversion into votes of the common man to a new progressive party. It has been seen over and over again that India has always voted for National parties and those regional parties who were at some point of time associated with these parties .Campaigning all over India by a fledging group of people with vision and honesty of purpose is not the answer as it is simply not practical for any nascent party to do so .Concentration in small educated states- maybe 1 or 2 at the most might be the answer . If the party can win even 10 Vidhan Sabha and say 2 Lok Sabha seats one can say that a good beginning has been made,and the necessary momentum which is required can be achieved. Initially the party has to align its thought process to that of the uneducated electorate and later make their thought process to align with theirs. And to lead the party one needs to have a charismatic leader with a mass base Who the aam aadmi can identify with . Unfortunately harsh as it sounds Meera Sanyal or Suheil Seth leading the party is not an option. They are people who will guide the movement with their wide and practical perspective based on their corporate experience. I shall be truly delighted to hear from u in this connection at your convenience Thanking you

  2. This is an article which is partly valid in India.it makes for very compelling reading Meeraji so do read on

    Here’s a little fairytale from Pakistan. Fourteen years ago a wise man ruled the country. He enjoyed the support of his people. But some of his treacherous generals thought he wasn’t that smart. One night he was held at gunpoint, handcuffed, put in a dark dungeon, sentenced to life imprisonment. But then a little miracle happened; he, along with his family and servants, was put on a royal plane and exiled to Saudi Arabia, that fancy retirement home for the world’s unwanted Muslim leaders.

    Two days ago that same man stood on a balcony in Lahore, thanked Allah and said: Nawaz Sharif forgives them all.

    But wait, if it was a real fairytale, Imran Khan would have won the election instead, right? Can’t Pakistani voters tell between a world-famous, world cup-winning, charismatic leader and a mere politician who refers to himself in the third person?

    Why didn’t Imran Khan win?

    Imran Khan in hospital after a fall at a campaign rally. Photograph: HO/AFP
    Well he has, sort of. But not in the way he would have liked. Visiting foreign journalists have profiled Imran Khan more than they have profiled any living thing in this part of the world. If all the world’s magazine editors were allowed to vote for Imran Khan he would be the prime minister of half the English-speaking world. If Imran Khan had contested in west London he would have won hands-down. But since this is Pakistan, he has won in Peshawar and two other cities. His party is set to form a government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, that north-western frontier province of Pakistan which Khan’s profile writers never fail to remind us is the province that borders Afghanistan and the tribal areas that the world is so scared of. Or as some others never fail to remind the world: the land of the fierce pathans.

    It’s true that Khan ran a fierce, bloody-minded campaign, drawing huge crowds. When his campaign culminated in a televised tumble from a stage, during a public rally, the whole nation held its breath. Khan galvanised not only Pakistan’s parasitical upper classes but also found support among the country’s young men and women of all ages; basically the kind of people who use the words politics and politician as common insults. He inspired drawing-room revolutionaries to go out and stand in the blistering heat for hours on end to vote for him. For a few months he made politics hip in Pakistan. Partly, he was relying on votes from Pakistan’s posh locales. He probably forgot that there was a slight problem there: not enough posh locales in Pakistan. There were kids who flew in from Chicago, from Birmingham to vote for him. Again, there are not enough Pakistani kids living and studying in Chicago and Birmingham. He appealed to the educated middle classes but Pakistan’s main problem is that there aren’t enough educated urban middle-class citizens in the country.

    And the masses, it appears, were not really clamouring for a revolution but for electricity.

    From the gossip columns of British tabloids to massive political rallies across Pakistan, Khan has been on a meaningful journey. In his campaign speeches, his blatantly Blairite message of New Pakistan did appeal to people but he really tested his supporters’ attention span when he started to lecture them about how the Scandinavian welfare state model is borrowed from the early days of the Islamic empire in Arabia. Amateur historians have never fared well in Pakistani politics. Or anywhere else. Khan promised to turn Pakistan into Sweden, Norway or any one of those countries where everyone is blond and pays tax. His opponents promised Dubai – where everyone is either a bonded labourer or a property speculator and no one pays taxes – and won.

    It’s a bit of a fairytale that Khan, whose message was directed at educated urban voters, has found supporters in the north-western frontier province that profile writers must remind us is largely tribal and the front line of the world’s war on terror. Khan has led a popular campaign against drone attacks. He has promised that he will shoot down drones, look Americans in the eye, sit down with the Taliban over a cup of qahwa and sort this mess out.

    So we finally have someone who feels at home in Mayfair as well as Peshawar. He finally has the chance to rule Peshawar. Slight problem: as he speaks no Pashto, the language of the Pathans. But his first fight will be against American drones hovering in the sky. And drones speak no Pashto either. If Khan can win this match, he can challenge Nawaz Sharif in the next elections.

    Is this Nawaz Sharif man for real?

    Nawaz Sharif at a campaign rally in Liaquat Bagh, Pakistan. Photograph: T. MUGHAL/EPA
    Hasn’t he been tried before? Twice? It seems voters in the largest province of Pakistani Punjab just can’t have enough of this guy. At every campaign stop, Sharif reminded his supporters of two of his biggest achievements: I built the motorway, I built the bomb. He did build Pakistan’s first motorway. And despite several phone calls from the then American president Bill Clinton and other world leaders and offers of million of dollars in aid, Sharif did go ahead and order six nuclear explosions in response to India’s five. And then he thought that now that both countries have the bomb he could go ahead and be friends with India. While he was making history hosting the Indian prime minister in the historic city of Lahore, his generals were busy elsewhere repeating history on the mountains of Kargil. In a misadventure typical of Pakistani generals, they occupied the abandoned posts and then pretended that these were mujahideen fighting India and not regular Pakistan army soldiers.

    When India reacted with overwhelming force and a diplomatic offensive, Sharif pleaded ignorance and rushed off to Washington to bail out the army and his own government. President Clinton praised his diplomatic skills and the crisis was resolved briefly. When, months later he tried to fire his handpicked army chief General Pervez Musharraf, the architect of the Kargil fiasco, a bunch of army officers put their guns to Sharif’s head. Handcuffed, jailed, sentenced to life imprisonment, in the end Sharif was saved by his powerful friends in Saudi Arabia. A royal jet flew him, his family and his servants to a palace in Saudi Arabia. An exile in Saudi Arabia for Muslim rulers is generally considered a permanent retirement home where you get closer to Allah and atone for past sins. Sharif must be the only politician in exile in Saudi Arabia who not only managed to survive this holy exile but in the process got a hair transplant and managed to hold on to his political base in Pakistan.

    Many of his political opponents say that if Sharif wasn’t from the dominant province Punjab, where most of the army elite comes from, if he didn’t represent the trading and business classes of Punjab, he would still be begging forgiveness for his sins in Saudi. But he returned just before the last elections and has been behaving like a statesman. A very rich statesman.

    It has yet to be proven whether eight years of exile in Saudi Arabia can make anyone wiser but it has never made anybody poorer. Sharif was rich before he got into politics, then he became fabulously rich. Even in exile the Saudis gave him a palace and, on his return, a fleet of bulletproof limousines. His campaign proved that poor people don’t really vote for somebody who understands poverty, or wants to do anything about it. People have voted him in because he talks money, talks about spending money, talks about opening a bank on every village street and who doesn’t like that? He has promised motorway connections and airports to towns so small that they still don’t have a proper bus station. Poor people, who couldn’t afford a bicycle at the time of the elections, like to be promised an airport. You never know when you might need it.

    In his five years’ rule in Punjab, Sharif’s party has had one policy about the Pakistani Taliban who have been wreaking havoc in parts of Pakistan: please go and do your business elsewhere. And they have generally obliged. But now that he is set to rule all of Pakistan, what’s he going to tell them?

    Have we defeated the Taliban or sent them a friend request?

    A voter displays her inked thumb after marking her ballot paper at a polling station in Karachi. Photograph: Athar Hussain/REUTERS
    When Pakistan decided to throw itself an election party, the first ones to arrive were the Taliban. They weren’t really interested in the party because they keep reminding us that elections are un-Islamic and a major sin on a par with educating girls. But they were interested in watching what party games were played and who got to play them. They decided that the three political parties that had ruled Pakistan for the past five years and taken a clear stand against the Taliban would be targeted. And the Taliban started their own campaign, targeting candidates and their supporters with bomb attacks and drive-by shootings. In one case, a candidate in Karachi was shot as he came out of a mosque. Along with his six-year-old son. The election campaign across Pakistan looked like this: some parties held huge rallies, in a carnival-type atmosphere with live tigers and massive music systems. Other candidates sneaked from one little corner meeting to another trying to remind people of their heroic stand against the Taliban. Many of the candidates were never seen in public. Many journalists refused to visit them because they were sitting targets. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the public face of the ruling People’s party, could only deliver a couple of video messages from Dubai.

    The other parties, the ones who were allowed to campaign freely, were grateful in their silence. When we look at the election results we must not forget that while the Pakistani Taliban didn’t contest the elections as a political party, they did see themselves as kingmakers. In Pakistan’s liberal media the Taliban are often described as brutes with an endless bloodlust. But by making allies and choosing partners they have demonstrated that they are at least as canny as the average campaigning politician.

    But in the end the Taliban failed to deliver the kind of devastation they had promised. They managed to kill about 130 people in eight weeks. In the past they have achieved that kind of number in a single day. Also, 60% of Pakistanis who came out to vote seem to be politely disagreeing with the Taliban by saying that there is nothing un-Islamic about standing in a queue and stamping a ballot paper.

    The Taliban’s real success is that they bet on the winners. They promised not to attack Khan and Sharif’s parties. And these parties will be in power. But the Taliban have never contested an election before. And they are soon to find out that politicians never keep the promises they make during the heat of the campaign.

    Why does this election mean nothing for Farzana Majeed?

    Pakistani voters line up at a polling station in Karachi. Photograph: Athar Hussain/Reuters
    Three weeks before the elections, a 27-year-old biochemistry graduate stood outside Karachi Press club. Farzana Majeed and a couple of dozen young people carried pictures of Zakir Majeed, a literature student who was abducted by Pakistan’s military intelligence four years ago and since then has become one of the hundreds of missing Baloch people, mostly young, political activists. Their mutilated, tortured bodies turn up on the roadside with sickening regularity. The Pakistani media, otherwise quite noisy about every subject under the sun, stay quiet. None of the political parties campaigning in recent elections uttered a word about Zakir Majeed or hundreds of other people languishing in military-run dungeons. Why? Because it’s a security issue. A militant separatist movement in parts of Balochistan means that the rest of Pakistan sees it as an enemy. The protesters distributed pamphlets encouraging the fellow Balochs not to participate in the elections. The voter turn out in Baloch areas in Balochistan has been less than 10%. No political party in the country had the heart to go and ask Farzana Majeed or thousands of other families to vote. Farzana is a polite, articulate person but mention the word elections and she is likely to wave her missing brother’s picture in front of you. And just like Pakistan’s last political government, the new one also doesn’t want to see this picture.

    So what happens to the federation?

    Watching the election results come in, in a teashop in Lahore. Photograph: Damir Sagolj/REUTERS
    Who needs a federation when you can have so much more fun doing things your own way. So in the post-election Pakistan, Khan will rule the north and shoot down American drones while discussing Scandinavian social welfare models with the Taliban. Sharif will rule in Punjab and the centre, try to do business with India and build more motorways all the while looking over his shoulder for generals looking at him. In the south, Bhutto’s decimated People’s party will keep ruling and keep saying that folks up north are stealing its water, destroying its social welfare programmes and secular legacy. And, in Balochistan, Farzana Majeed will keep waving her missing brother’s picture.

    Do these bits add up to a country? They do, if you are sitting in Islamabad and showing off your nuclear weapons to the world or planning a motorway to central Asia. But if you are an old woman waiting for her 2,000-rupee welfare cheque or a student activist in a military dungeon waiting for your next interrogation session, you are not likely to dream of motorways and new airports.

    Pakistan as a federation has gone through its first rite of passage: handover of power from one elected civilian setup to another. It took Pakistan 67 years to get here. Let us not forget that the reasons that caused this delay haven’t disappeared.

    Mohammed Hanif is BBC Urdu’s special correspondent based in Karachi. He is the author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes and Our Lady of Alice Bhatti

  3. Hopefully we will have a Indian Monsoon, hopefully citizens groups will find it possible to rally around a common set of Principles, and agree on the priorities and policies that need to be focused on, and technology will make it possible to help in forming a competent government free from corruption, and based on principles, and hopefully we will see a charismatic leader leadin the Indian monsoon, cause really there is no other alternative left. as India has exhausted all its options!!!!!

  4. @Meera:

    Both trends you mention are clearly positive but, please allow me to say, there is one BIG hurdle that we need to UNDERSTAND and then cross.

    It’s our ‘First-past-the-post’ (FPTP) electoral system.

    ‘Winner-takes-all’ systems like FPTP guarantee the kind of unaccountable and money driven politics we have. As per Duverger’s law, FPTP, because of its VERY HIGH ENTRY BARRIERS, creates a duopoly of parties that essentially rule the nation. I am sure you understand, better than I, how a duopoly and lack of competition is harmful for the consumers in any market. The same is the case for politics: the market for governance services.

    See my post on how Proportional representation (vs. FPTP) allows much more competition http://democracy4india.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/proportional-representation-the-answer-to-indias-problems/

    Now, leave aside PR for the time being since we don’t have it and our politicians will not let go of FPTP easily.

    How to bring change under FPTP?

    We need to have credible people / groups start of as political pressure groups rather than, please pardon me, contest elections. This post explains one of the approaches:


    I hope you will take the time to think over this important issue in formulating your strategy. None of these concepts are possibly new to you but, in case, you think these are important enough to discuss, pls let me know.

    Good luck and thanks for trying to make a difference.

    sarafshailesh@gmail.com, +852 60791436

    • Thanks for sharing Shailesh. Interestingly JP of Loksatta shares your view on proportional representation. Have seen it in operation in Sweden and it certainly is an Interesting model

  5. Meera, a platform based on world best principles and frameworks of governance and policies has been created in April 2013, with an office in Delhi, and about 100 members including some large grassroots organisations. I find AAP a bunch of socialists who will take India back to the 1970s and bring further ruin. Please go through the details of the agenda (principles, etc.) at http://sonekichidiya.in/ – and also read the brochure.

  6. Its really frustrating to see the current political order and their negative willingness about everything they are supposed to as our representatives. We elected them to represent us but they started ruling us and from slave we become voters after India’s freedom. Who has to struggle for his every right with politicians-criminals nexus and businessmen-bureaucrats alliances to survive. It heals when I see people are getting aware that there is no other option if we keep maintaining distance from politics but still there is a long transition phase to go where awareness turns votes and majority empowers clean debut politicians to repair & update the system to face such moral Deterioration in future. Thanks to Meera Jee for adding value by joining this struggle.

  7. I couldn’t agree more. We are all utterly disillusioned with established political parties and urgently need a viable alternative. I would any day support genuine citizen candidates — we may not have made it the last time (when you so bravely stood, Meera) but every worthwhile movement needs time and — as you rightly pointed out — sustained commitment to grow. The effort and support has to come from every right-thinking individual. We just can’t sit back and treat politics as a spectator sport any more. We all have to get involved, one way or another.

  8. Touchwood ! I also pinned my hopes on Citizen Candidates, once when you had contested and recently on the AAP. The outcome in your case was a sad reflection on how we vote (or are indifferent to our basic and most important ‘Right to vote’) . AAP has so far proven to be a hit and run group, which has refrained from opining on what are their stances on governance, economy, foreignn policy etc. They have just been harping on corruption. My hope still lies on a gamechanging politician from within the mainframe parties in such a case and I pray we meet one. Amen !!

    • Shashank you are absolutely right – the change that will make a real difference, is when the established political parties start nominating honest, upright and competent candidates. It is the notion of “winnability” that must change – and that lies in the hands of the voters…

      Sent from my iPad

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