An Open Letter to Politicians Like Jignesh, Kanhaiya, Shehla, Richa...
'You are not just electoral bonds for an electoral brand'
Have you wasted an opportunity? I write this question because I am extremely disappointed and sad. What have you done in the ongoing election to tackle the enormous challenge our country is said to be facing?
The Mainstream of Politics
A senior colleague sends me a comparative analysis of the manifestoes of two “national” parties. One party underlines the threats to internal security while the other, in terms of a challenge to national security, lays emphasis on keeping a strict vigil on the democracy of the middle class.
Way back in 2002, I met two Dalit youth in Mumbai. Both were from Rajasthan. I asked them to define the difference between the two major “national” parties, and they replied that one pats your back in sympathy while hitting you. The other gags your mouth and doesn’t even let you cry while hitting you.
After 1991, the country has been dragged towards two types of competitive parliamentary politics. One is the Hinduisation (Hindutwa) of polity and the other is US-led global capitalism. A call is given from the Hindutwa platform that it’s against the national interest if the new economic policy is not implemented vigorously. The global capitalist camp replies that blocking the ascent of Hindutwa is actually a stand against national integration.
Amazingly, this dance between the capitalists and the Hinduists creates the impression of competitiveness in the parliamentary democracy of the Indian republic. A scrutiny of election manifestos reveals the easy swapping of tones and tenors between the two camps. When one sits in opposition, it borrows the language of opposition from the other.
It’s another matter that we try to see our interests into it. And this is democracy for us.
A few months back in Puducherry, I witnessed a scene that made my eyes moist. One little hungy girl was standing near a bin on a beach. She would run with a hope whenever a packet of leftovers was deposited there.
Control of Media and Concentration of Capital
I was going through a report submitted way back in 1962 by former Planning Commission Deputy Chairman P.C.Mahalanobis. The report tell us how total national income was being concentrated into the hands of a selected few families. Just after a dozen years of independence, the grabbing of national wealth was in high momentum.
I also read that Oxfam report of 2018 which reveals that more than 73 percent of the total national wealth has gone to the kitty of just 50 families. The world situation is not much different.
Clearly, both Hinduisation and capitalisation have been on the upsurge. The striking feature of this process is that the caste and gender based hegemony and hierarchy is still intact. One seems to be reproducing the other.
So far as parliamentary liberty is concerned, only a few millionaire families can afford to contest elections now. By arranging a bare minimum amount of 70 lakhs for election expenditure, one can qualify only for the Opposition benches.
Meanwhile, through all these years the electoral journey which started with anti-Congressism has now become anti-BJPism. In the new terminology, both of them are engaged with each other for their respective liberation.
It’s a complex riddle. Whatever we want to do and see it happening, the 56-inch chest rebounds on our face with its results.
How Few Votes Can You Win an Election With?
The party which came to power in 2014 managed to get just 31 percent of the votes cast. The impression was spread that the ruling party secured the support of one-third of the country’s population. But this was the first lie attached with the ruling party.
In 2014 the electorate numbered 83.4 crores, of whom only 66.4 percent exercised their franchise. Of these, 31 percent or 17,17,73,976 voters cast their votes in favour of the ruling party. These voters constitute barely 12 percent of the country’s population.
And by now it’s all before us, just what is being done to sustain this minority government. For me, it’s more of a trap.
Meanwhile, democracy for votes and a military system for running this democracy is gaining strength. Decisions are clearly visible in election manifestos that intend to strengthen the structure of militarisation. For a liberal democracy, the three compulsory conditions of capitalisation, militarisation and majoritarianism (Hinduisation) have been imposed on us.
I can say with conviction that multi-party parliamentary democracy has come to an end. Today, we find ourselves in the midst of a democracy where different parties profess similar politics. And we are witnessing a hide-and-seek game of so called competitive politics.
Partnership between Power of Money and Technology
Technology has played a crucial role in making many of you “national leaders”. I have no hesitation in saying that the new playground of technology has been consciously built to leave an impression of competitiveness. The ground or ring or stadium is so enormous that a total of 30 thousand crore rupees are estimated to have been spent in the 2014 election, making it most expensive in the history of independent India. In five years it can be expected to double.
The arithmetic is quite straight: a new culture is to be developed which can influence, attract, intimidate and restrain 12 percent of the total population, and also make a dent in the remaining 88 percent of votes, or potential votes.
Around 200 activists of the country have issued a letter which helps us understand the mathematics of grabbing power through election. These activists write that there are more than 30 crore smartphone users in the country. Through the algorithms of Google and Facebook alone, it is decided for them what kind of content they will see in their Facebook feeds or Google searches – or YouTube feeds or WhatsApp messages or Twitter handles!
As long as they appear transparent, such digital platforms are able to influence people’s behaviour in a big way. They can also influence elections. The letter also informs us that researchers who analysed the impact of these platforms, concluded that election results can be significantly influenced by giving just a slight tilt to the content served on them.
In the scheme of grabbing power with a bare minimum of votes, this process is so vital that any party can register a landslide victory in the existing electoral system. A party with money power can easily lure voters in its favour with the help of these digital platforms – not to mention the traditional press.
Parties and candidates can be sold through advertisements just as other products are sold to customers. During campaigning, voters are told that from the given choices they can buy democracy as much they desire.
Instead of being a citizen in this democracy, we have become its customer.
Are You Looking in the Mirror?
For “national leaders” like you, digital technology is your strength and you are trying to pose as competitors not only in elections but in the field of technology as well. Actually, you are just like a callow wrestler trying his hand with the champion of the ring. My friends are right when they call you the nephews and nieces of Uncle Feku.
You must be aware that compared to 2014, a total of 8.4 crore new voters have been added to the voters’ list. 1.5 crore new voters are in the age group of 18–19 years. How did you address them? And in which parliamentary constituency you have done this?
An immense scope for entertainment has been created these days in the field of politics. And a deafening sound of clapping, emanating from such entertainment, is being heard. The culture of entertainment in politics is very dangerous. The lust for applause is a dangerous addiction.
A political analyst with The Indian Express told me that a survey was conducted among BJP voters in 2004. Only 6 percent of respondents said that they would not vote for the party if Atal Bihari Vajpayee was not made a candidate. When a similar survey was conducted in 2014, 25 percent of the respondents said they voted for the party because of Narendra Modi’s personality.
One can easily understand from this how the “charismatic” culture of Indira Gandhi of the 1970s has resurfaced in Narendra Modi's era.
In politics a culture full of distortions affects the politics of the ruling class, but it infects the politics of opposition as well. The opposition has a challenge to create a new and alternative culture.
The meaning of “azadi” (liberation, freedom, autonomy, independence, self-determination) should be taken in totality. A slogan of “liberation from charismatic personalities” should also be raised in politics.
Bhimrao Ambedkar said that political revolution is incomplete without social revolution. This has come true. Power doesn’t lie with the government alone. It has a definite structure from top to bottom.
I went to Jamia Milia Islamia to learn from the students of journalism and to teach them. There was hardly any student who did not criticise the shoddy role of the mainstream or wealthy media. But in a strange irony all of them wanted to join the cut-throat competition of getting jobs in those very media organisations. All of them wanted to do journalism for those very companies!
The situation has reached such a point, that from the piles of various incidents political parties choose to react only to those incidents which suit them. We believe they are not capable of stopping an incident. They don’t see a role for themselves in removing the causes which give birth to unexpected incidents.
They only wait for an opportunity to show their face as an alternative, in case of increasing anger against one power. And voters are left with no choice but to buy the product advertised. The lack of an alternative is a crucial part of the existence of these personnel of capital.
Make Yourself the Mirror
In the last five years I have seen you growing in stature. I have been witness to your courage. I have seen the rising and dipping curve in your social concerns on a daily basis. You need to understand that you are not an electoral bond for an electoral brand.
The future is looking towards you. The formats of like, comment and share in the social media are not meant to make you sit on a certain “side”. They are the signs of expectation that you will actually expand participation.
My friends, incidents have drafted you into drawing a bigger line. You all should campaign for democracy and raise the basic issues of polity. Not just in an election but through all five years in the constituency that is India.
Anil Chamadia is editor of The Citizen’s Hindi edition.