What does one tell an educated 20-something as to why he or she should go and vote in the coming parliamentary elections? The disconnect between India’s “mainstream” politicians and the young and middle-class voters is very strong. The emergence of political parties based on the values of urban educated voters, something that would have been laughable until the other day, can be explained in light of this gap.
The viability of such parties is, of course, suspect. Run usually by educated professionals, these parties (the Professionals Party of India and the Lok Satta, to cite two examples) are no match for a political machine that is dominated by big money, caste- and religion-based vote banks. In terms of the sheer number of captive voters that mainstream parties have, these parties have little chance of success.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
So, the question is: Are their efforts a quixotic middle-class quest for a place in the sun? No and yes. The answer, in favour of their effort, is that Indian politics has sunk to such depths that even a one-sided contest by these parties seems a step in the right direction. There is a groundswell of public opinion that wants to do away with “professional” politicians and get honest amateurs in. This, at least, is the case in urban areas.
The prospects of positive change of the kind these parties have in mind would be greatly enhanced if they manage to send four or five members to Parliament. That is a number with which the process of catalysing change can be considered realistically. The process of change will, inevitably, be long- drawn and difficult. Middle-class India usually dreams of clean politics, but rarely goes to vote—something that is essential if that change is to occur.
It is here that reality catches up. The other India, one that is steeped in caste, region and religion, goes out in droves and votes. The leaders it throws up are, to put it mildly, contemptuous of middle-class values and ethics. In organizational terms, this other India is much better organized, with political activity being a continuous process for it. The political attention span of professional, middle-class India is of a much shorter duration. Personal and career commitments have priority. These are definitional roadblocks: It is almost impossible for persons of such a class to imagine politics as a vocation.
Does that mean there will be a permanent disconnect between desires for a better politics and the ability to achieve this goal? Not necessarily, but the path is certainly very difficult.
Can middle-class Indians make good politicians? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org