SPEAKING FREELY The election as an Indian awakening
By Ankur Gupta
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
The 2014 Indian general election are at last over. Although equally grand in scale, this election seemed different to more conventional rounds in 2009 and before. This vote more resembled a nationwide sports contest, probably because of the more frequent twists and deeper involvement of the public.
During the elections, every day saw new dramas and controversies. On numerous occasions, a minister would say
something that infuriated a group of people, who then rallied to the Election Commission to ban that minister or took to social media websites to vent their shock and rage.
Some of those moments were interesting, while others were just frustrating. Some of the "players" in the elections performed well, while others simply made a fool of themselves. In retrospect, these elections had everything, all the way from inspiring presidential-debate-like speeches to (legal) betting in the Indian stock markets.
Such an important event will have an impact in India and beyond for long time. The brutal and carnivorous hunt by media channels all around the world that Bharatiya Janata Party leader Narendra Modi was subjected to will be seared into several people's memories.
The entertainment that Rahul Gandhi provided when he mentioned "Women Empowerment" or talked about "Changing the System", while having a smoldering and solemn look in his eyes, will also provide entertainment to people for a long time - the Congress Party's prime minister candidate was mocked on Twitter for repeating the phrases.
But apart from these factors and other more trivial trends, the greatest impact that the elections had was on the consciousness of the nation. The Indian elections of 2014 marked the rise of a new national consciousness. It seemed that the citizens of the country realized that India indeed has a government, and that the citizens have to get involved into the political environment for the government to be effective and for the country to progress.
Up until these elections, the national consciousness was in a slumber. There existed a prosaic saying that "China grows because of its government and India grows despite its government," that could occasionally be found in online discussions or heard in casual conversation, usually between an Indian and a non-Indian.
This phrase provides insight into the perceptions people have of the Indian government. There was a sense that the policies and actions of the government were simply impeding growth and progress, primarily because of the larger-than-life bureaucracy.
This author distinctly recalls that while growing up, other youths loved to indulge in talking about everything from philosophy to American politics. Some even watched live speeches by George W Bush while he was president and Barack Obama while he was trying to be president. The youth even got involved with other candidates and events in American politics.
The Indian youth are not totally averse to politics. They are were aware of the role of the government and its responsibilities - and have an idea of the power it possessed. But that awareness was only limited to knowledge of the American political system.
It was as if the Indian political system was almost non-existent, and any discussion regarding any of the candidates was considered to be taboo. Knowing the names of any political persona (except for the prime minister, president etc.) was simply considered to be impractical.
There are numerous reasons that can explain the lack of interest in debating issues in Indian politics. But in retrospect, it is likely the main reason for the apathy was the image and reputation of "our" politics compared to its counterparts in other countries.
Indian politics was corruption and coarse, animal-like quarrels. No prominent politician gave televised speeches or debated other politicians, but several of them did throw slippers and openly swear at each other.
For the Indian youth, it was far easier to ignore the events here and focus on other topics of discussion.
But apathy regarding the system extended both ways. Not only were the citizens ignorant about politics - the politicians were ignorant about the citizens. It was common for politicians to hole up in their houses and only make their presence felt only during election time.
Most of the time, that presence was required to attract votes from the minorities, since the majority didn't vote. And once the elections were over, the politicians would abandon their lackadaisical attempts of garnering votes and return to their secret holes, away on another planet.
To say the least, the expanse between the political class and the non-political class was gigantic. The politicians seemed to be living on one planet, and the citizens seemed to be living on another. Each class of people was ignorant of the other's existence. This disconnect became conspicuous when debating global issues with non-Indians.
Discussions turned into monologues which consisted the other person telling this author about gap between the political system in his country and the political system in India. Those were dangerous situations to be in because the temptation was to accept and parrot biased opinions about a political system he had probably read about from some biased newspaper.
Callowness made this author susceptible to malicious information from untrustworthy sources. Sun Tzu, the potent Chinese strategist, wrote in his omnipresent The Art of War:
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb to failure in every battle.
In a battle of words with someone from another country, Indians were bound to lose - and maybe even adopt the other person's point-of-view - simply because they didn't know the political system and policies of their country.
But the rise of a new consciousness and growing political awareness among the different strata in society has changed things. Unlike before, it doesn't seem taboo to talk about the policies that are implemented by the government or even to discuss the daily occurrences in the Lok Sabha (lower house).
Political discourse can frequently be heard on the streets, in shops, between family members, and even between friends. It's become common to discuss politics with the auto-wallah (rickshaw driver) or listen to their opinions. Voting has become "cool". Famed cricketer Sachin Tendulkar flew to Mumbai from Dubai to give his vote and then flew back to Dubai. Even attempting to analyze political candidates or make fun of them has become fashionable.
Political discourse has entered everyday life. Some people would argue that the dissemination of political awareness across one billion people belonging to a multitude of religions and speaking a multitude of languages is a dangerous thing. In the future, finding a policy that has the potential to satisfy such a diverse amount of political observers will become a tiresome task. Almost every policy will have some detractors who will foresee it harming their personal interests. Because of these detractors, policy making will perhaps become even slower.
It seems that unlike the Chinese government, the Indian government shot itself in the foot by involving such a vast number of people in the elections, because it won't be able to make decisions any quicker than it does now.
But that's just one side of the coin. The other more positive side hints that the entrance of political discourse in everyday life is a great thing. Primarily this is because citizens won't feel that they are part of some different planet, and that the policies that the government makes won't affect them at all.
With an increased awareness about the political system and an enhanced voice in the political decision making process, the people who vote now feel that they have a stake in the welfare of the country and thus, they share at least some responsibility for its performance. That increased stake will definitely make decision taking by the government slow, but it will enhance national loyalty.
Finally, the entrance of political discourse in everyday life will also open up more career options for aspiring politicians. No more will politics be reserved for the chosen individuals and families. Ordinary people, without any connections, will now have an option of entering politics.
These people will have to prove their worth, and will have to have some sort of skill. This requirement will make sure that the political class is more responsible and better qualified than it has been hitherto.
Other impacts too will be felt in time. Meanwhile, the rise of a national consciousness will continue to change thoughts, notions, and people. And the changes have just begun. At one point of time, it was common for someone to wonder, "Whether India will change". The answer to that question is obvious. Now, it is common for someone to wonder, "When will the changes come". The change has begun.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.