July 07, 2020
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So, What's New?

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So, What's New?
The Outlook-AC Nielsen survey on why the urban middle class hates politicians clearly establishes that politics is not the last but the first refuge of the scoundrel. Meanwhile, reactions to our poll have been both varied and predictable but no one, absolutely no one, has questioned the credibility of the findings thrown up. There is, in fact, an element of deja vu. Why is Outlook wasting precious time and space telling us things we already know is the overwhelming response. Instead, the firepower of the critics has been aimed at the urban middle class—a species which is seen as self-absorbed, paranoid, selfish, blinkered and prone to supporting those who make sure the trains run on time, that is, dictators. Whether the middle class is guilty of all the things its critics charge it with is a different, more complex issue. For the moment, I am obliged to report that the ranking of politicians just higher than black marketeers has shocked and surprised few, not even politicians. That alone should serve as a wake-up call for our smug rulers, who see their low standing as a conspiracy between the media and the middle class.

The other defence revolves around democracy. Don’t attack or lampoon politicians, we are told, because you will then endanger democracy itself; if the voter loses faith in those who run a free society, the entire system is imperilled. This is an ingenious but flawed argument. In the last two decades, if not more, the burden of running a democracy in our country is not carried by just the political class. Happily, it is the higher judiciary, the media, NGOs, the NHRC, the Election Commission and civil society in general which shares the load. If the fate of Indian democracy was left in the hands of Indian politicians alone, then our Republic would really be in trouble!

To be fair, not all politicians can be tarred with the same brush. However, in the nearly 15 years I have lived in Delhi, one of the saddest sights is to observe good men being slowly but surely corrupted by greed and lust for power. The subject is so poignant, so compelling, such a rich morality tale that I am surprised it has escaped the artistic attention of a Vijay Tendulkar or a Girish Karnad or an O.V. Vijayan. The sordid tale is not played out behind closed doors or in high-security bungalows, it is enacted openly on a daily basis for the citizen to watch.

Recently, one of the few good men left in public life said to me sadly, "Politics is about compromises." I agree, but even in compromises there is a laxmanrekha.

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