A chief minister allows a film director to be part of the entourage examining the damage done to a hotel by terrorists, a home minister callously says terrorism is inevitable in large cities, another chief minister insults the bereaved father of a military hero, a politician equates protesters in Mumbai and terrorists in Kashmir: The political class has plumbed new depths with such displays of arrogance and ignorance.
Anguish over the killing in Mumbai has been replaced by anger. Some of it is directed at terrorists and their masters across the border, and some against politicians as a group. The protesters are largely from the middle and upper classes. Having stayed away from the political process for so long, some of them are now voicing dangerous opinions: People should stop paying taxes till their security is guaranteed, the country should not be ruled by politicians, the army or the president should rule Mumbai.
Illustration by Jayachandran / Mint
These are pernicious ideas. The idea of independent India and the Constitution that is based on it are democratic and based on the rule of the law. There is nothing wrong with the framework. The problem lies with the people who have been entrusted to operate it—by us.
The Indian elite has already opted out of large parts of our public space, living in gated communities, using private schools and hospitals, even commuting in the isolation of their cars. There are reasons to do so; we do not wish to pass moral judgements.
Economist Albert Hirschman says there are two responses to the decline of an organization, whether a school, company or country: exit and voice. Exit means that people opt out: pulling a child out of school, quitting a job or emigrating from a country. Voice involves engaging with the system and trying to change it.
Too many in urban India have been going towards the exit, irrespective of whether they continue to stay in India or not. What India needs now is a jolt of “voice” from its best and brightest. The debate whether this can be done by reforming existing political parties or whether India needs a new political party cannot be settled anytime soon.
But all those fed up with the deterioration of public life would do well to exercise their voting rights during elections, even if it is only to use their rights under rule 49-O of the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, to say that they do not wish to vote for any of the candidates on the ballot.
Should we opt out or be heard? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org