Activism and Politics – Hand in Glove?

180103 Activists 2

The dictionary defines an activist as a person who vigorously advocates a cause. Therefore, a political activist should be one who advocates a political cause. By deduction, if the advocates becomes the beneficiary, this would normally be deemed as a major conflict of interest. Most of our political activists want to become the beneficiaries of their movements.

The recent violence in Pune that expanded rapidly in Maharashtra makes one wonder when activism grows into raw political ambition. Conversely, when does lack of or failing political opportunity turn into activism to gain relevance? Is this a vicious circle that we will continue to see repeatedly in the coming years?

For every opposition party, it is easy to criticise and take potshots at the ruling party. Rahul Gandhi seems to be getting his act together before the 2019 elections. Taking a strong position on some matters shows clarity of thought on his part but one wonders what his agenda is when everything done by the current Government needs to be criticised to an extreme?

GST, Demonetisation, Ujala (to provide efficient lighting by using LED bulbs), Saubhagya (to provide electricity to over 40 million homes) and Udan (to develop regional airports to provide connectivity to the semi urban and rural areas) are generally accepted as very progressive schemes. If successful, their impact will yield results that our political class has been promising for the past seven decades. Implementation of these schemes may be questioned but the intent cannot.

So why does a section of the political fraternity and press look for faults in each of these instead of joining hands with the Government to push for implementation.

Criticizing the ruling party in an attempt to win brownie points with the electorate is one thing and is practiced by every politician. However, if the quest for getting additional votes leads to creating a divide based on caste and communities resulting in violence and death of the common person, activism is taking the political battle to a new normal.

When the leading opposition party along with a rag tag group of “political activists” supported by an ignored group of journalists decide to divide the country, the trend is worrying because the damage being caused is for the long term and will be irretrievable and irreversible, no matter which party is in power. The politics of today is slipping back to the politics of the seventies and eighties where reservations, loan waivers, language, religion and vote bank politics was the norm.

The snowballing effect of each of the following examples can be horrific and frightening.

  1. Patidars and Jats: The demand for a reservation for the Patidars in Gujarat and Jats in Haryana, knowing fully well that there is no further scope for making reservations is a short-term retrograde step being demanded by some leaders and supported by the Congress. How will the current future Governments in these states be able to meet this demand? What will be the impact on those who lose the caste based reservation to accommodate new demands.
  2. Dalits: Jignesh Mevani, in a very Kejriwalesque manner of hyperbole, has openly incited the Dalits to take war to the streets to win power. This shows his raw hunger for power. In his own words, he accepts that he is 2% politician and 98% activist. How soon will this ratio reverse? Recognising the incendiary nature of the speech made by Jignesh Mevani and the impact it could have on the law and order situation, senior leaders like Mayawati and Rahul Gandhi chose to lend their voice of support with absolutely no concern for the damage that has been caused since then.
  3. Lingayats: Separating the Lingayats in Karnataka from the Hindu community is a brazen attempt at polarizing voters for a very small cause of wining the elections in Karnataka. What will be the impact of this segmentation of the hundreds of smaller communities in the state is of no concern.
  4. Others: It is a matter of time before activists from every state going to the polls will start to find some issue to serve as their platform for launching their own political careers.

Rahul Gandhi with his triumvirate of Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani fought a valiant battle in Gujarat and he may well be able to repeat his showing in some other states by calling in more activists in other states. Though they did not win, they certainly gave a scare to the ruling party. Taking liberty of his newfound elevated status, Hardik Patel, presumptuously and blatantly made an offer on behalf of the Congress to Nitin Patel, Deputy Chief Minister to leave the BJP with 10 MLA’s in return for a good position in the Congress. The million-dollar question is when will this triumvirate of activists turn against their mentor?

Arvind Kejriwal and his band of merry men realised the needs, or the lack thereof, of the citizens of Delhi and took activism to a new level. For a few months, the opposition leaders, hurting after their losses in the Lok Sabha elections found a new messiah who they believed would lead them to victory. Kejriwal viewed this experiment in Delhi as the gold standard for his future success all over the country. He and his young party failed miserably in the elections in Punjab. All his candidates in Gujarat lost their deposits. The result of all this activism was that they have lost the huge support they had in Delhi.

The states of Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Rajasthan and Tripura will go to the polls in 2018 to be followed by the Lok Sabha Elections in 2019. The noise level of the existing and new activists will increase by several decibels in the coming months. Allegations will be hurled across the length and breadth of the country and promises will be made assuring the hapless voter with limitless wealth and comforts.

There will be talk of all parties and individuals opposed to the BJP and the RSS to come together on a common platform and this may well happen despite the hugely opposing positions of this motley group of activists and political parties. Moreover, they may just manage to dent the BJP voter base by making false promises. However, will such alliances stay the course of the five years that they have been elected for? Moreover, will this third or fourth front actually be able to deliver the Promised Land?

Of course, there is the other threat of all activists getting together and shunning their convenient partnerships with the established political parties.

When will the nation’s core issues of agrarian reforms, infrastructure development, poverty alleviation, education, protection of women and healthcare for all become the primary agenda for every activist and politician? Does the slogan Roti, Kapda Aur Makan coined by Indira Gandhi in the late sixties ring a bell? Are these basic human needs to be raked up, as indeed they have been for the past seventy years, only to be forgotten once our power hungry leaders are comfortably ensconced in their public offices?

India needs activists to raise issues and awareness, in addition to keeping to political rulers on their toes but we must shun activists who are in it only for themselves. Ultimately, the only thing that matters to such activists is to grab power for their own selfish benefits. Their hyperbole is only a means to achieve their end.

In a democracy, people get the leaders they deserve.

*******************

The author is the founder Chairman of Guardian Pharmacies and the author of 5 best-selling books, Reboot. Reinvent. Rewire: Managing Retirement in the 21st Century; The Corner Office; An Eye for an Eye; The Buck Stops Here – Learnings of a #Startup Entrepreneur and The Buck Stops Here – My Journey from a Manager to an Entrepreneur.

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