Sunday, April 5, 2009

‘Good people’ vs liers and crooks


In the midst of all the religious provocations, the selfishness and the crude display of money power, there’s one positive feature in this election: A groundswell of public opinion against the vulgarity of politics.

Actually it began after the Mumbai terrorist attack when people spontaneously gathered to express their revulsion of politicians playing games with security. The politicians didn’t get the message as two incidents showed. Narendra Modi tried to score political points by attacking opponents in a speech before the Mumbai Trident Hotel and then by offering money to the police martyrs’ families who rejected it with contempt. Secondly, as if to show that politicians are the same whatever their party, Vilasrao Deshmukh visited the Taj, like a tourist enjoying the ruins, with another tourist from the film industry in tow.

In the ongoing election campaign, politicians are again taking the public for granted. Mulayam Singh distributes currency notes and says it has nothing to do with elections. Jaswant Singh also distributes 100-rupee notes and asks: “Is it wrong to give money to the poor”? The question is too contemptible to deserve an answer. But it definitely is wrong to assume that the people of this country are fools.

No wonder citizens are outraged by the calibre of candidates, the lies they tell, the double-standards of the parties and the reality that whichever party wins, it will be a victory for hypocrisy. That’s why a number of optimistic initiatives have been launched by individuals and groups.

At one level, actor Amir Khan is leading an awareness campaign with the slogan “Vote for good people”. At another level, good people like Mallika Sarabhai, Capt. G.R.Gopinath and Meera Sanyal, head of the India Operations of the ABN-Amro Bank, are standing as independents. Mona Shah, an ophthalmic surgeon, is the candidate of the Professionals Party of India in South Mumbai. In Andhra, the Lok Satta Party has fielded educated, worthy candidates for all 42 Lok Sabha and most of the 294 Assembly seats.

These men and women may not win this time around. That’s fine. That’s part of being nonviolent in the battles of democracy. History’s first people’s action victory was in the French Revolution, one of the most violent on record. Violent student power also succeeded in changing the course of history in Thailand and Indonesia in the second half of the 20th Century.

The most dramatic assertion of people power was in the Philiphines in 1986, and that turned out to be nonviolent. The massing of hundreds of thousands of protesting citizens on a Manila highway was enough to drive President Ferdinand Marcos into exile and enthrone the widow of the assassinated hero, Benigno Aquino.

We cannot afford to be violent in our campaign for change. The main reason is that any eruption of violence is likely to take on a religious character and that would be suicidal. This is not 1977 when an Emergency-wounded people yearned for change and Jayaprakash Narayan rose to the occasion.

Today’s leaders are petty people. They cannot think beyond dynastic controls on the one hand, and communal divisiveness on the other. The change we want must start with changing them. That is why the fight being put up by independents and idealistic groups is a sign of hope. The good candidates may not win, but they will take the movement for decency one step forward, and force the crooks and the goons to go one step back. That will be gain enough.