Sunday, February 22, 2004


Times of India, Feb 21, 2004

An approaching election has this disadvantage — it is difficult to concentrate on anything else while waiting for it to take place. And so we are and shall be in a state of confused distraction over the next two months, disinclined to apply our self to anything serious affecting the realm.

Going by the reports so far, there seems to be a significant change in the rhetoric and behaviour of the political class. Amidst the usual scramble for seats and alliances, there is healthy silence on religion and caste this time.

The strident rhetoric of Hindu nationalism seems to have died, and even the talk about Sonia's origins lacks conviction.

The turning point seems to have been the four state elections in November and December, whose lessons are painfully fresh in the political memory.

Every politician who has been interviewed in the past six weeks has stated without fail that the outcome of these state elections was decided on economic issues.

Thus, "bijlee, sadak, pani" has entered our political lexicon, and has replaced, for the present, "mandir, masjid, and mandal". If this endures, then we may be looking at the most dramatic change in the Indian political mindset in fifty years.

Even the recent conclave of industrialists with Mulayam Singh and Amar Singh in feudal UP was more about development and less about donations.

Reliance's commitment to invest Rs 10,000 crore in a 3,500 mega power plant in UP should be taken seriously — not only because Reliance usually means what it says, but because regulatory circumstances have changed, thanks to the new Electricity Act 2003 passed by Parliament last year, and UP government's quick follow-up to it with a new state power policy.

If this is truly a turning point in our national political life, then we should expect politicians to soon begin to campaign for better schools and primary health centres, safe drinking water, clean streets with lights, and uninterrupted power.

From here, it is only a small step before politicians and voters realise that to have these things will need money, and money will only come from the sale of state enterprises and the reduction, if not the removal, of today's crippling subsidies.

Apart from reallocating the government's spending from subsidies to infrastructure, the voters will force politicians to focus on better governance — for policemen to be responsive at the SHO, for honest and quick judgements in the lower courts, for teachers to show up in village schools, etc.

Once this happens, the path will be paved for the second stage of reforms to be implemented by whoever comes to power.

And that in turn will empower the winning party to look for reformers to man the key ministries of power, agriculture, labour and education, with persons like Arun Shourie, Manmohan Singh, P Chidambaram, Suresh Prabhu, etc, and to get rid of non-performers and non-reformers, who only have one populist mantra, that of raising subsidies.

This hope for a new, virtuous politics depends in the end on us, the middle class, the readers of this newspaper. Citizenship cannot be passive, and we must awaken to our civic responsibility.

In ancient Greece , those who did not participate in civic life were called idiots (which is indeed the origin of the word idiot). In the next few months, we must engage our candidates at neighbourhood meetings, insist that they spell out how they will improve our daily life.

The ball is in our court, and if we stay away, as we have always done, then we have lost our right to complain about our politicians.


About Medicine Blog said...

This hope for a new, virtuous politics depends in the end on us, the middle class, the readers of this newspaper.

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