Crisis of credibility

Crisis of credibility

The rhetoric of political parties these days exposes their powerlessness when it comes to instilling hope among the public. They seem to have gone bankrupt when it comes to offering solutions to problems rampant in society, be it economic, social or cultural. They also seem incapable of building a stronger society to deal with the challenges that social rifts and religious fanaticism pose, or even make policies that bring about social transformations that can help societal reconstruction.

Most often, we hear a very low level of public discourse, centred on individuals and their personal issues that have no bearing on the purpose of politics. Such exchanges in public domain demean politics, break trust among parties and destroy public institutions. Added to these are the lies that politicians employ to profess to make the impossible sound possible. They seem to hardly think that such utterances are more damaging to public life and our collective progress.

Recent issues about the film Padmavati or the Tipu Sultan celebrations may not really have any relevance to the daily life of the common man. Yet, our political discourses spend a lot of time on wasteful criticism, taking up cultural and emotional issues while diluting the real issues of unemployment, the state of the economy, quality of education or the growing inequality among various classes and the rising cost of living. Unfortunately, even our parliaments and legislatures have become victims of these distractions.

Having spent Rs 35 crore to hold its winter session, the outcome of the Karnataka Assembly session is summed up in the newspapers thus: "the winter session commenced on an embarrassing note, with the Assembly having to be adjourned for lack of quorum on the first day, mirroring the lack of commitment by ministers and legislators'.

The session - which promised to devote time to issues related to people from the backward northern Karnataka region to quell their sense of alienation - witnessed just five hours of debate on the issue with only four members participating in the debate. In 10 days, there was less than two days' worth of activity. Most part of the session was rendered futile due to poor turnout of legislators and opposition protests demanding resignations of ministers under a cloud.

Truthfulness never seems to make it as a virtue in politics, and lies seem to have always been regarded as justifiable tools in political dealings. Since most people (and news organisations) do not bother to verify politicians' claims, those who do reflect on such matters can only be surprised by the paltry attention paid to the significance lies hold in politics today. In our tradition of philosophical and political thought, too, the significance of lies seems unfortunately negligible.

This active and aggressive capability of the political class is clearly exploiting our passive susceptibility, creating illusions, distortions of memory, and weakening our sensual and mental apparatus. Claims of good governance, transparency and accountability are blank phrases used to create myths of better administration while the same red tape, bottlenecks and bureaucratic holds on administration keep squeezing public interest out of governance.

Stakeholders' rights and partnerships in governance are another set of myths floated to keep the cream of civil society active in public life. Take the recent example of the Karnataka State Universities Bill, 2017: while the intentions of the bill seem to disturb the autonomy of the universities in the state, it is presented as though it would enhance the quality of higher education. The 'Gujarat Model', too, enjoyed a similar run, until questioned. However, except for a few intellectuals, most leaders in society remained unexpectedly silent on both these issues. The more unfortunate thing about these are that they originate from the best of minds! From experienced academics and politicians who use their influential positions to create myths to fool people all the time. Despite it being the most fundamental part of any attempt to reconstruct society, the fate of education and issues of development remain untold horrors today. It is because of such derogatory behaviours of the academic and political class that Hannah Arendt wrote in an essay titled "Lying in Politics" on the betrayal that people feel at every revelation that our political leaders have deceived and disappointed us.

Arendt reminds us that the human tendency towards deception isn't so easily filed into a moral binary. She argues that our moral flaws and our imaginative flair spring from the same source. In other words, the deliberate denial of truth - the ability to lie - and the capacity to change the facts - the ability to act falsely - are interconnected; they owe their existence to the same source: our imagination. The vulnerable population are the victims of the riots created by such utterences.

Without the mental freedom to deny or affirm existence, to say "yes" or "no" not just to statements or propositions but to things as they are given -- such as retelling history as a party desires or the call to accept dynasts as leaders as if they are saviours of generations -- disdainful of society's interest, politics alienates. No wonder then it is full of such low-level discourses bringing disgrace to this honourable task of public policymaking -– legislating.

Deliberate falsehood deals with contingent facts; that is to say, it deals with matters that carry no inherent truth within themselves and no necessity to be as they are. Facts need testimony to be remembered and trustworthy witnesses to be established in order to find a secure dwelling place in the domain of human affairs. From this, it follows that no factual statement can ever be beyond doubt. Under normal circumstances, the liar is defeated by reality, for which there is no substitute. Is politics nowadays a normal circumstance, though?

 

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