(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
December 14, 2008
Proud to be a Politician
R Arun Kumar
�I am ashamed today for being a politician� screamed one young Member of Parliament from Mumbai standing before the Taj hotel and with him agreed another young spokesperson for the main opposition party in our country. The media gleefully pounced on this admission and continued their tirade against politicians and politics - a tirade that they have re-ignited during the three days when Mumbai was burning. A seasoned anchor had reported that India should thank its forces for saving the day and blame the politicians.
Playing with the sentiments of the people and their emotions, the media unleashed a ferocious attack on politicians and politics. Castigating all politicians - 'the political class' (a homogenous group!), they were painted as the enemies-in-chief of the people. This propaganda got reflected in the candle-light vigils in the metropolitan cities, some of which were sponsored by the media. A section of the participants in the candle light vigil programmes carried placards written 'there are a few more terrorists in India and they are politicians' and 'all politicians are terrorists'. These photographs were displayed prominently in both the print and electronic media.
A few days later another journalist reporting for a national English daily from Hyderabad was sad that participants in such programmes there were not so forthcoming to come in front of the cameras and 'criticise the politicians'. The report continues, 'But random conversations with a cross section of people reveals that in the wake of the Mumbai attack, the politicians have lost whatever credibility they might have had before. Comments like �line all of them and shoot them down�, and �transport them all together to some kaalapani� were heard during the course of conversations'.
Stung by this flurry of criticism, some of the politicians like the ones that were quoted at the beginning, who were unsure of their role in politics, felt ashamed. Linking the elections to the five state assemblies that were held during the same period and seeing the high voter turnout in all those states, another headline rued that it was like pouring 'cold water over the candles' and lamented that the people 'in the five states are not listening'. It was in a way pointing to the fact that while the metropolis of our country is busy bashing the politicians - which the media obviously loved, the rest of the country is busy choosing their politicians - a fact that some sections were unable to digest.
CONTEMPT FOR POLITICS - PART OF NEOLIBERAL IDEOLOGY
Contempt for politicians, politics and politician bashing is of course nothing new. Politics is often projected as a rather grubby and unpleasant feature of modern life. People who take up politics as a vocation tend to attract more derision than admiration. As Bernard Crick points out, 'the vocation of politics seems either an unjustifiable luxury, or else a refuge for not merely the second-rate...but for the utterly third-rate'. To put it more popularly, people who opt for becoming politicians are looked at as choosing a profession that is 'for the sad and desperate: for those who seek glory and personal gain, but are too ugly to be pop or film stars!' All politicians are stereocast as venal, self-seeking, lazy, hypocritical, mendacious, demagogic and more concerned with photo-ops and sound bites. Political discussion is trivialised and abhored. Any defence of politicians or politics, thus, as historian Arthur Schlesinger, states is �one of the most daring things imaginable these days -- far riskier than a defense of pornography, or a defense of prostitution, or a defense of polygamy�.
Why has this situation come about? Can't we proudly claim to be a politician? Politics afterall is such an essential and noble profession that is concerned with everybody�s life and thus should in turn make everybody concerned. Focault, when asked why he was interested in politics in his debates with Chomsky, replies �what blindness, what deafness, what density of ideology would have to weigh me down to prevent me from being interested in what is probably the most crucial subject to our existence, that is to say the society in which we live, the economic relations within which it functions, and the system of power which defines the regular forms and the regular permissions and prohibitions of our conduct. The essence of our life consists, after all, of the political functioning of the society in which we find ourselves�. Why are then people asked to detest those who are taking an active interest in their 'essence of life' and also advised not to show interest?
Politics is essentially a collective activity. Neo-liberalism and markets under it are against collective activity and consciously encourage individualism. For democracy to be effective, it requires people to feel a connection with their fellow citizens. This is expressed in various organisations and institutions among which political parties play a vital role. A vibrant political culture needs these organisations and political parties to provide ways for citizens to meet, communicate, interact and exchange ideas with their fellow citizens. Neoliberal democracy, with its notion of the market, works to finish off this system or at least it ineffective by projecting it as inefficient and useless. Democracy is projected as the right to choose among commodities. Instead of citizens, it is more interested in consumers and in producing them in hordes, not the former. It, thus, breaks communities into individuals and makes them feel socially powerless and demoralised to gain an uncontrolled sway over the public mind.
Governments in the era of neo-liberalism are run according to the philosophy as elucidated by laissez-faire economists 'we harm the poor by trying to help them and the best gift we can offer suffering masses is to free them from the delusion that they have the right to live'. In the Encyclopaedia of Social Sciences, Harold Lasswell, one of the founders of modern political science warned that the intelligent few must recognise the �ignorance and stupidity of the masses� and not succumb to �democratic dogmatisms about men being the best judges of their own interests. They are not the best judges we are. The masses must be controlled for their own good and in more democratic societies where force is unavailable, social managers must turn to a whole new technique of control largely through propaganda.�
CORPORATE MEDIA�S PROPAGANDA
In association with the ruling class politicians, media lets cynicism grow among people when what people really feel is a sense of betrayal by the politicians who have failed to honour the promises made to them for winning power. Corporate media, together with a section of the academicians, plays a central role in this entire propaganda design of protecting the interests of what Harold Pinter calls the 'business dictatorship'. This, of course, is done through a host of institutional mechanisms to ensure that this does not appear to be a formal thought-out conspiracy.
Thus, on one hand the economic policies pursued by the governments ensure that the common people at the mercy of the markets lose 'their right to live', while the rich become even richer. On the other hand, these same policies, to protect 'property interests', attack the consciousness of the common people with a 'philosophy of futility' and push them to concentrate their attention on the more superficial things that comprise much of 'fashionable consumption'. As Chomsky states, people are made to �accept and even welcome their meaningless and subordinate lives, and forget ridiculous ideas about managing their own affairs� and of course not �challenging those who benefit from the status quo�.
People are, thus, fed with all the ideas that speak about the 'end of history' and the 'irrelevance of ideologies'. But even then, 'the beast is hard to tame'. In spite of all this propaganda and amidst this, people start seeking answers to the fundamental questions of politics - 'who we are, what we should get, how we should live'. Underpinning all these notions, however, is the belief that 'what becomes of us and our societies is in our hands'. It is precisely these very questions and beliefs that the ruling classes detest.
Many empirical studies point that during periods of relative economic growth, people to an extent remain disinterested of politics. In periods of crisis and growing hardships, more and more people join their voices to question the ruling classes. To prevent the swelling of their numbers, all opportunities are used to drive home the point that 'politics and politicians are bad' (of course, this does not include the elites). Occasionally few among them step out saying that even they are 'ashamed' to be in politics, though they never ever give up their posts, forget about their policies.
This serves purpose, as the discussion confines to those who are 'ashamed' and those who are 'shameless'. This helps in demonising individuals not the policies, ensuring that the entire debate remains in their orbit of 'individualism'. Substitution of one individual with another is allowed, but not the existing set of policies with a contrasting set of radically different policies. This too is not surprising as all politicians and policies are bundled together as homogenous units to suit their 'there is no alternative' ideology. All other institutes of the state - the military, judiciary and even the bureaucracy - are 'predominantly good though, they too have some black sheep amongst them'. Only politicians are one whole set of ignominious creatures! Because they know it far too well that here in lies the crux of the state power.
If you and I get interested in politics, become politicians and start talking about the financial crisis, the reasons, who are responsible, what is the way out and all other such things, they hear in them a call for change � a real change. They know that ours is a young country comprising of those multitudes who have a fire in their bellies. Going by predictions, this might be the generation that is to live through a period which might be more painful that that of the 'great depression'. As history shows, the period of and after Great Depression, saw enormous political changes. In the countries where the working class was better organised and fought against the actors responsible for the economic mess, they emerged victorious. Many others witnessed a growth of fascist ideology and establishment of authoritarian regimes safeguarding the financial interests of the bourgeoisie. Thus as Lala Lajapat Rai had stated it is the creation of �dishonest brains� to keep people away from politics.
Detesting politics and making people apathetic to politics, is, an invitation for authoritarianism. Learning from history, we should never forget the scars left on body politic by the authoritarian and fascist rule. It is now upon us, as the youth of this country - the largest democracy in the world, to decide where we want to stand and what our future is to be. In these epoch making times, let us arm ourselves with correct policies and politics and say loud, with our head held high: 'proud to be a politician'.