Bowing their heads in temples ahead of Karnataka polls, party leaders resembled pilgrims more than politicians. Photo: PTI
It was a sticky afternoon in August 2011. I got a call from one of my senior associates: “Sir, in case you are free, a few of my classmates want to meet you. Some of them were with me at IIT and IIM. They need your guidance.”
In a few moments, they were before me. Two of them were entrepreneurs from Haryana and the other three working with multinational corporations at senior designations. I had anticipated that they wanted to talk about Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal. The anxiety on their faces gave away the fact that the uncertainty prevailing in the entire country had affected them, too.
They wanted advice on whether they should drop everything and join the mission for rashtra nirmaan (nation-building) the way Arvind Kejriwal had done. Their choice of words brought a smile to my face but they misunderstood it as derision. By way of apology, I urged them to examine the pros and cons before making such a big decision. Politics isn’t as simple as it appears. In a few days they’d get caught in a cycle of caste, religion and money. Despite being disheartened, they persisted with the discussion. The next week, my associate told me that his colleagues had suspended their decision for a while.
I breathed a sigh of relief. I hadn’t dissuaded them because I believed that educated people shouldn’t join politics. But they wanted to move forward without considering the past. Why be in a tearing hurry when dark objectives are packaged as brilliant sunrises in the name of Naxalism, the JP movement, Mandal or Kamandal? At that time, they were unable to anticipate what the results of Anna Hazare’s fast would be. Another question was the course of action that Kejriwal and his associates would take.
One hopes time has provided them with the appropriate answers.
I am narrating this story to you because the memories of the Karnataka assembly elections will be still fresh in your mind. To win there, every party wore the mask of development but indulged in the politics of caste, class and religion. Bowing their heads in temples, they resembled pilgrims more than politicians. Unfortunately, there are no signs of improvement. The cards are now being laid out in Bihar, a laboratory of social and political experiments. The state is abuzz with the formation of a new party called the Bahujan Azad Party (BAP) spearheaded by former students of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). Kejriwal used to talk about an alternative brand of politics, but they want to work for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and backward sections of society. An application for a new party has been sent to the Election Commission. They are targeting the Bihar assembly elections in 2020. By then they would have prepared themselves to face the ground realities.
Here it may be worth recalling that Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Kanshi Ram had chosen to pursue a different path before jumping into politics, through an organization of employed Dalit youth called the Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti, also known as DS-4. He gave them a political awakening and their efforts paved the way for the formation of the BSP. Today the BSP is the third largest party in the country by vote share. While it is true that the BSP has made great strides by talking about Dalits and backwards, it is also true that it had to enlarge its circle to taste power.
In 2007, in a major shift in the party’s policies, Mayawati joined hands with Brahmins, perceived to be the party’s opponents. The results were astonishing. This incredible recipe for a majority took the BSP to the summit of power.
If graduates from the nation’s top institutions begin to act on caste or religious lines, wouldn’t it weaken the spirit of India? Anyway there is a widely held belief that Indians like to introduce themselves by suffixing their region, religion or caste. In a country with a population of 1.25 billion, those who introduce themselves as Indians are rare. Before independence, had freedom fighters educated abroad — such as Ram Mohan Roy, Mahatma Gandhi and Subhash Chandra Bose — acted on the basis of caste and religion, would we have won independence? The British strongly believed in the policy of divide and rule. Today, when attempts are being made to divide the entire world on the basis of religion and caste, every educated individual is expected to stand up against this sinister plot. The Karnataka elections have again proved that it is still not possible.
Are we progressing or regressing as a society?
Shashi Shekhar is editor in chief, Hindustan.
His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin.