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Wednesday, Jun 26, 2002

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Out with hangups

INDIA'S political class suffers from a number of hang-ups that act as a drag on their effectiveness in and out of power. Some are rooted in the country's ancient culture, and will require determined efforts to shake off. Take the awe and respect with which old age is held, in the belief that it automatically reflects wisdom and experience. Gerontocracy has come to characterise both politics and public life, stifles the younger elements in various political parties and denies them adequate outlet for their energy and creativity.

Sycophancy is another cultural trait that cripples freedom of expression and action. This has left no part of the country and no party uninfected. Elderly Indians expect the younger members of the flock to pay obeisance to them and propitiate them by falling at their feet. This rubs off on politicians as well, and is carried to extremes in the case of some parties such as the AIADMK.

There are other hang-ups whose origins can be traced not so much to Indian culture, but to the immaturity of political parties and leaders. India's Constitution and democratic institutions are essentially an import from the West, and continue to be tender saplings even today. The political class has yet to develop, leave alone demonstrate, the self-confidence and sophistication necessary to run the system with a sense of fair-play and mutual accommodation — in short, in the spirit of a true and genuine democracy.

Only two examples will suffice. The first is the scare caused by the very mention of a contest to whatever post. The hunt is always for the elusive consensus, and anyone not toeing the line is regarded as a self-aggrandising spoil-sport and a blasphemous blackleg. There has been a good deal of breast-beating in NDA circles over the temerity of the Left parties in sabotaging its efforts at consensus and putting up their own Presidential candidate.

Morarji Desai had to face a lot of calumny and condemnation simply because he opted for a trial of strength with Indira Gandhi for Prime Ministership. Contrast this with the early days of Independence when C. Subramaniam stood against his own mentor Kamaraj for the Chief Ministership of erstwhile Madras State. CS, of course, lost to Kamaraj who, far from nurturing a grudge, took CS in his Cabinet giving him the important portfolios of Finance and Education. The second hang-up peculiar to India is for a ruling party to view as execrable even public welfare-oriented policies and programmes of a predecessor Government, for the sole reason that it was of another party. They are scratched or left in limbo resulting in the wastage of a lot of money and time. Also, Opposition parties keep on organising agitations and disrupting the process of governance, in contrast to other democratic countries, where, once the elections are over, parties confine their opposition to legislative chambers, giving the ruling party a chance to prove itself.

B. S. Raghavan

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