Wednesday, 13 February 2008

A failed promise

So Raj Thackeray has finally been arrested, after much pussyfooting by the Congress government. It says a lot about the lows to which politics in this country has gone when a simple law and order situation is viewed purely politically. Here is a man who is fomenting hatred and inciting violence and instead of arresting him, the political ramifications of his arrest are being calculated.

There’s another larger issue here – how our younger generation of politicians, far from bringing in a breath of fresh air to our politics, are content to carry forward old ways. Raj Thackeray is only the latest example.

Why do we lament the fact that our political parties are dominated by leaders in their sixties and seventies, if not more? Why do we sneer at the BJP for selecting an 80-year-old as their prime ministerial candidate. Because we expect the younger generation to bring in a more modern vision, a new kind of politics, shunning the identity-based and outdated appeals of the older generation, and a new style of functioning, eschewing the patronage politics of yore.

We remember fondly the political greenhorn Rajiv Gandhi, who held out a hope for the country, never mind that he wasn’t able to realize it and became a prisoner of the old guard.

But today’s younger lot of politicians appears to be letting us down. On the face of it, they’re suave, sophisticated, cosmopolitan, liberal. But to what use? Dayanidhi Maran, 42, appeared to be the ideal telecom and IT minister – a young man who understood technology and the power of Indian entrepreneurship (he and his brother had built up a cable and television business). He was doing all the right things – wooing the private sector, further opening up the telecom sector, bringing in huge investments into the information technology sector etc. But scratch that veneer and he wasn’t any different from the older lot. He demanded and got the telecom and information technology ministry even though it involved a conflict of interest because of the business his brother ran. He wanted an independent regulator overseeing the telecom sector to toe the ministry’s line on a range of issues, even if this meant backtracking on telecom sector liberalization. He tried armtwisting the Tata group to add his family’s television channel as a joint venture partner in a proposed DTH venture. The list could go on.

Take Anbumani Ramadoss, just short of 40. His crusade against AIIMS director P Venugopal was all about being denied patronage rights over the country’s premier medical institute. His interventionist campaigns against smoking and fast food smacks of an outdated mentality where it is alright for the state to dictate people’s choices.

Sukhbir Badal, 45, has been educated abroad and when I once interviewed him when he was minister of state of industry at the Centre, came across as a young man with modern ideas. But he has not given shape to those ideas, even though he has been the virtual chief minister when his father Prakash Singh Badal was ruling Punjab.

So are Raj Thackeray, just a few months short of 40, and his cousin, Uddhav, 48, any different? Sadly no.

Why has the younger generation not been able to strike a different path? Some of it has to do with the way they come into politics. All the examples given above are from regional, family-run parties. That is the only political culture they are familiar with. So they see no contradiction between their otherwise cosmopolitan, modern lifestyles and the feudal style of operation.

But then how do you account for Sachin Pilot, otherwise a sensible young man. Yet he couldn’t stay away from jumping into a caste-ist fray when the Gujjar agitation broke out in Rajasthan. So you had a Wharton-educated young man making patently identity-based appeals.

The younger generation is not living up to its promise. What a pity.