Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Political Class in a Democracy

I had never served in a public capacity anywhere - college board, or anything. Last year, my new apartment complex wanted to get a preliminary Management Committee (MC). I became a member, with the idea that I would write about the "political" experience in my blog.
After serving 8 months, in which we went through horrible times, and things got very personal (with slander and wild accusations), I left last December - because of work considerations. It became too personal to write about.
But, one thing I learnt has relevance to the wider world.
The MC was elected. It had around 9 members and the apartment complex had 75 owners. It is a small community, which the MC was supposed to represent.
But somehow, this whole idea that we were "representatives" - a smaller group just for convenience - went out the window as soon as we were formed into the committee. Mind you, there are no benefits or money to be had, by being in the MC. Yet, almost as soon as we formed a small group, this group started discussing its own "powers". The MC formed an identity. At one point, when I suggested that we should consult with the broader association for some decisions, some members asked me to have a "team spirit". That is, they saw ourselves as a team, with separate interests and concerns from the broader association. The association members were seen as people to be "managed" - by giving selective information - so that they could be kept in line. It was a struggle to keep meeting records, because some of the items discussed were meant to be "within us". I argued in vain that whatever we did had to be transparent to everyone in the association.
It is a remarkable dynamic, and it tells us something valuable about politics in a democracy. It tells us that a political class is formed as soon as we choose representatives. This class sees itself as long-suffering and victimized(as our PM seems to feel). It has contempt in many cases for the people represented. It also controls information and propaganda.
In a representative democracy, it is inevitable that this political class has more in common WITHIN itself, than those "outside". Therefore, the differences between the ADMK and DMK; the Congress and the BJP etc, that the media focuses on is not the story at all. The real story is the differences between the whole political class and the governed citizens, the rest of us.
I am not sure there is a way to combat this.
In national politics, of course, there is real money and power involved.
This is why front page coverage of (for example) cabinet reshuffles; or "the Left leaders and BJP leaders joining hands" or Working committee meetings never made sense to me. The front page coverages would be a lot more interesting, if they had different ways in which the political class is using power against the governed.
One of the prime examples of this class pulling together, is the 2G case - even though there seemed to be improprieties, NO Congress leader even allowed that they were in the wrong. There were not even hypothetical statements. The reason is obvious - they know that they have to look out for each other. This is also why nobody talks about dynastic politics anymore.
The only way is for exerting pressure on this class by civil society. That is not revolutionary or seditious. It is the only appropriate way to manage this class.

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