Gone are the days when politicians were symbols of selflessness, humility, vision and public service. That was a different era when the nation fought for independence. Leaders of the movement were men and women of education, integrity and character. Public weal was their mission. Through their ethical living and selfless services, they won public veneration.
During Jawaharlal Nehru’s time, politics in free India came to depend on large donations from big industrial houses. Maybe he could have done something seriously to stop the way in which the Congress finance managers used to conduct themselves to meet party expenses but he did not. Even the Nehru era saw a ‘jeep scam’ though it passed away like a bad dream.
Politics in India is complex. All political parties run after celebrities and think that because they are crowd pullers, they must be vote-catchers too. Voters pamper glamorous celebrities. Navjot Singh Sidhu, former Rajya Sabha BJP MP and well known yesteryears cricketer is the latest example. Right now he is busy exploring all possibilities after a rift with his earlier party.
It does not require a rocket scientist to guess that something has been brewing but has not happened. If people join politics for selfless public service, there is hardly any need for such intense and extensive negotiations or for taking the next step. It’s only for self-interest and fulfillment of personal desires that such hard negotiations are done, deadlocks occur and score-settling steps are taken.
It is not just about Sidhu. It is a trend that makes celebrities-turned-politicians common phenomena without anyone realising the possible damage to the culture of politics and to the nation at large.
The reality of today’s politics is that most political parties are trying to find answers in celebrities when it comes to winning elections, there by opening up possibilities for political novices to bargain hard or aspire to positions of authority. How far this phenomenon is affecting the political culture of the nation and more importantly standards of governance and quality of service to the people has become a big question.
Mahatma Gandhi, a patriotic lawyer once became a father figure in Indian politics when politics was not at all complex. But in today’s far more complex political world one can jump from any profession and become the head of the state or hold a position of power and authority as a minister or a chief minister. This is difficult to comprehend.
Has the quality of democracy and culture of politics deteriorated? Have the people, the real masters in a democracy turned passive? Has politics become ideology-less or is it convenient opportunism, money and votes that have come to define the new Indian politics? Many questions of this kind come to mind. But then before trying to answer them we must put a few questions to both our political parties and to our celebrities. Parties must answer these questions. What is the vision of a great footballer? What economic ideas does a singer have? Beyond the screen, how does a film star engage with people? What is the average score of a cricket champion off the field? To what extent does a celebrity understand caste and religious conflict? What causes riots and what stops them? What are the citizen’s dreams? Does the celebrity know why farmer suicides continue? Or what the aspirations of new age women and young entrepreneurs are?
Can celebrities understand the complex dynamics of statecraft and run peoples’ affairs? Must there not be a training period for them to learn, and to become qualified to handle power responsibly? If not then why are they being inducted into parties and politics straightaway? If their only role is to garner votes, why are they being given power and authority?
Celebrities too must be asked essential questions. Have you ever gone to any village other than yours? Have you ever sat with a girl whose father committed suicide because he failed to marry her off on time? Have you ever looked into the listless eyes of a malnourished child or set foot on a muddy road? When a flood devastates, do you see it on television or are you there helping people? You don’t even know how a drought keeps farmers hungry! If so, you do disservice to the nation and its people.
Instead of celebrities, we need grassroots politicians today; those who have spent long years grappling with peoples’ problems before aspiring for power or authority. They are the people who have evolved in politics by meeting people, mixing with them, sitting with them, sleeping with them, eating with them and living with their problems.
Two arguments are offered to justify celebrities joining politics. One, that in a democracy everyone has the right to choose their profession. So why can’t celebrities choose politics? The second is that celebrities make the transition with ease.
Celebrity participation in politics has been a global trend. In India, it is a long list including M.G. Ramachandran, J Jayalalitha, N.T. Rama Rao. Sunil Dutt, Shatrughan Sinha, Rajesh Khanna, Vinod Khanna, Rekha, Hema Malini, Jaya Bachchan, Chiranjivi, Sachin Tendulkar and the likes of Rakhi Sawant and Bhagvant Mann. Though some in the list made politics their career and tried to contribute in their own way, many were just there purely to extend their shelf life as celebrities.
Truly speaking, our public’s irrational love for these celebrities has done great harm to the proper growth of a sound political culture in this country. Politics is a deep commitment. It is public-oriented, and diametrically opposite to a celebrity-oriented proclivity. The country is in a dire need of a new political culture. People should be made conscious of their political responsibilities. Even our political parties should not be drawn towards someone because he or she is a crowd puller.
Politics is not a kind of entertainment. It leaves no room for ulterior motives, not is it a transaction. It involves the future of the nation, and is a path of sacrifice. It is not a business. If it is not based on truth and morality then it is certainly going to destroy democracy.