YES, you read that right. ‘Politics’ can go together with the word ‘positive’ instead of its infamous cousin ‘perverse’. Politics can after all be and must be a noble endeavor. It is not an argument based on bubble headed idealism. It is also not an argument based on a few counterfactual case studies. So, I will not remind you on why politics was central to the creation of the idea of ‘India’ itself. I will also not remind you that politics during emergencies rose from the profane or mundane to rediscover the spirit of India.
Instead, let me make a case for why it is a moral imperative that each one of us engages in politics. Politics by definition is managing society’s infinite needs with limited resources through a process of representation, dialogue, discussion and debate. Therefore, by definition it involves participation of an individual in the ordering and running of his/her life and a collective spirit of community.
Jayaprakash Narayan(JP), architect of the Sarvodaya and Sampoorna Kranthi movements, in an essay on reconstruction of Indian polity said, “The heart of the problem is to create the ‘spirit of community’, without which the whole body politic would be without life and soul. This is a task of moral regeneration to be brought about by example, service, sacrifice and love.”
He ends the essay with an evocative plea, “The task also is one of social engineering. It is a task of dedication; of creation; of self-discovery. It is a task that defines India’s destiny. It spells a challenge to India’s sons and daughters. Will they accept the challenge?”
It is a plea and question which continues to haunt me on a daily basis. As a leader at school who led the assemblies, I mindlessly repeated the words of our nation’s pledge. Little did I reflect or ask myself deeply what it meant when I promised that all Indians are my brothers and sisters. Nor did it sink in beyond the scope of my social science exams, why I should be proud of our rich and varied cultural heritage. Least of all, I did not know what it meant to pledge my devotion to my country and my people. And why my happiness must lie only in their prosperity and well-being.
It shames me immensely to think that what I am today has been by a lucky turn of a coin. I could have been the 9 out of 10 children who never graduate out of high school. Much before that, I could have been that 1 out of 2 kids who are malnourished. Even worse, I could easily have not had a living chance like almost half a million children who die for avoidable reasons. It is only by pure luck that I have come this far in our country and I am grateful for that.
But I feel sinful that 65 years after independence, a child’s destiny is still not determined by the content of his/her character but by virtue of his/her birth. If you are still not convinced, imagine being a Dalit Muslim girl for a moment. The odds against your survival and social mobility are close to insurmountable. If have you seen such suffering in person before, I am sure you must have gone back home and cried. That is indeed the right response. Inspite of my two years work in a low income community with TeachforIndia as a fellow, I still get shaken up. For those of you who get angry, it is also the right response. I am angry and impatient about the status quo every single day.
But it is just NOT enough. Our tears and anger are only self-fulfilling. Our charity and volunteerism might be a tiny value adding on the margin and sometimes inconsequential as well. I believe like JP that we need a moral regeneration. It does entail sacrifice. It might entail fruitless years of service and love. But more importantly for me, it means staying true to the pledge I took. It means being engaged in politics and believing that it can be a noble endeavor. That in my pursuit of self-discovery through dedication to public service I will contribute to India’s tryst with destiny.
I will end by quoting sociologist Max Weber from his seminal essay ‘Politics as a vocation’, “Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards. It takes both passion and perspective. Only he has the calling for politics who is sure that he shall not crumble when the world from his point of view is too stupid or too base for what he wants to offer. Only he who in the face of all this can say 'In spite of all!' has the calling for politics.”
It surely spells a challenge to India’s fortunate sons and daughters. Are we ready to accept it?