India’s Realpolitik

Mallika Leuzinger ( India/Switzerland, AC 07-09)

I spend a good amount of time skimming through the online editions of Indian newspapers, in an attempt to keep up with the political life of my country. The recent mayoral elections in London may have been interesting, but they are no match for the turbulence and unpredictability, the frustration and colour generated by Indian politics. On an almost daily basis, I can read about this strike and that protest whilst admiring the photograph of the latest actor-turned-minister. Or I can be informed of various parties’ efforts to win votes in god knows what election; the Congress, relying on its dynastic tradition, has sent the youngest member of the Nehru-Gandhi family on a nation-wide tour of villages, and the rest attempt everything from crude public slander to the implausible promise of free television sets for all. And then of course, comes the corruption, the communalism and the ensuing chaos.

Democracy in India works in a very unusual and, compared to the well-oiled western systems we are familiar with, very absurd manner. One billion people of every social background, possible, come together once in five years to elect the national government that they hope will represent and protect them. Yet only a fraction is properly literate, affluent and informed enough to vote intelligently.  Most are more concerned with gaining access to basic amenities and surviving in their immediate environment, and it is their vote that one vies for. It is well established that in India, “you don’t cast your vote, but vote your caste” and all politicians, are acutely aware of this. SO while the USA is split between the Republicans and Democrats, the Indian electorate can choose from, arguably, the widest and most comprehensive array of “political” parties. There are several national parties and thousands of regional ones; for the Dalits, the Scheduled Tribes, the Communists, the Tamil-speakers, the farmers… and inevitably, the fundamentalist fanatics and chauvinists. 

In Indian politics, anything goes. Anyone, even criminals and film stars with notorious reputations can contest and win elections, as long as they have the right connections and plaster the roads with the garish mandatory posters. Obtaining and maintaining political muscle has become such a self-interested and demanding effort that it is no wonder chief ministers forget to bring about economic and social progress. Or, that when they do endorse a project for the establishment of a new school, or the removal of potholes, it is only because they are sure to gain publicity. Otherwise, they are busy facilitating or turning a very blind eye to local brands of hooliganism in the hope that these will eventually provide “vote banks”- in my state, Karnataka, the government has called at least twenty bundhs (days when business, education and public transport is suspended) over the last year to make way for agitated, stone-throwing mobs with obscure political agendas. 

Indeed, the India I currently describe is a far cry from the peaceful, humane and productive vision Gandhi had for it. An American professor once argued that “India has its fair share of scoundrels and a tremendous amount of poor unthinking and disgustingly subservient individuals who are not attractive.” But that, I think is missing the point.  For as a British biologist who lived in and loved India with the same ferocity and fascination I am now experiencing, explained, “Perhaps one is freer to be a scoundrel in India than elsewhere.”

– United World College Student Magazine –



One thought on “India’s Realpolitik

  1. Hello, Mallika

    Nice article! By the way, you should cite Ramachandra Guha on those last quotations.


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