The ongoing turmoil in Karnataka politics has raised questions about how the political class conceptualises political power and governance, especially when government’s work is supposed to be god’s work, as inscribed on the Vidhana Soudha.
Changing party loyalties because of political opportunism has been a disconcerting trend in Indian politics. All political parties, irrespective of ideological orientation, have at some point of time or the other contributed their mite to this mess. Gone are the days when some politicians defected because of differences on substantive issues. Perhaps, former British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald can be considered as one such.
In Indian politics, ideology is more often than not a smokescreen, and the dividing line between ideology and self-interest is porous. Political parties seem to be resorting to the art of the impossible when it comes to horse-trading and defection politics. They are jostling to remain relevant at any cost.
Fundamental concerns need to be raised in this context. Elections, which are a sacred duty, provide the electorate the privilege to elect their representatives. It is a matter of concern and shame that the political class tends to have a different perspective. The basic question relates to the rationale and purpose of political power.
Bertrand Russell used to say that “power is to politics as energy is to physics.” However, political power is also to be perceived as a source of order, stability and comfort in society. It depends on the power-wielder, the context and purpose for which power is used or misused.
Unfortunately, the ongoing episode in Karnataka seems to suggest that political power is meant only for consolidating narrow political interests of political leaders and parties, come what may. The present scenario is not unique to Karnataka politics either. The time has come for the political class in the country to create spaciousness in their thinking.
Socrates had once observed that an “unexamined life is not worth living.” Political leaders cutting across all hues and shades need to look within, rather than judge and outsmart one another.
The end seems to justify the means. But political power and governance are not just for pursuing personal agendas, interests and stakes of politicians and other stakeholders. Elections and political representation are two sides of the same coin and both are sacred. Taking the electorate for granted or making a mockery of them is indeed a fraud on the Constitution, irrespective of the party or parties involved.
Political leaders have to look at the future of governing systems, practices, conventions and precedents. Elections and governance are huge privileges. Let us not convert them into liabilities. Rather, we must work to promote the larger common good.
Countries like Singapore and South Africa would not be where they are today if Lee Kuan Yew and Nelson Mandela had decided to prioritise narrow party interests over national interests. The purpose of political power and authority is to make a difference, to change things from what they are, to what they ought to be. To quote John Locke: “political power must be for the public good to be legitimate.”
The political leadership has an obligation to keep the larger picture in mind, especially since politics is also a mind game. Serious thought needs to be given to strengthening the checks-and-balances to minimise the scope for defections. Election mandates have to be respected, and this applies to all political parties.
One of the major obligations of the political representative is to prioritise the interests of the citizens. Political parties have to move beyond partisan agendas and dictates and create the right political ambience and consciousness for governance. There is a difference between the art of scheming for political power and the art of wielding political power. Democracy requires that political parties use public resources in favour of the citizens.
It is time for the political class in Karnataka to realise that governance is as much a sacred duty as elections are. Let us not dehumanise and make a mockery of the entire process. The legacy to be left behind by the political class ought to be one that the next generation dare not squander. There is just too much at stake to ignore. It is still not too late for the political class in Karnataka to realise that attempting to take political power at any cost is to take the popular mandate for granted. Political leaders have to walk their big talk. Political power is won on the premise of a better life for the citizens.
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges we face is to see how power can be governed. The electorate should not come to a situation where they feel that their votes are inconsequential. Political parties seem to be creatively, systematically and professionally destroying the democratic fabric of the country by putting their private interests ahead of the public interest. Their attitude towards public office remains narrow and even predatory in their search for greener pastures at any cost. There clearly is a mismatch between the yearnings of the electorate and the ambitions of the representatives. It is time to bridge this gap by putting an end to the game of political opportunism and the spectre of defections that tends to convulse Karnataka politics.
This is also a larger scenario afflicting all parties across the country. The political class as a whole has to prepare itself for a long, visionary overhaul. Any simplistic understanding or explanation of the crisis will do more harm than good. It is time to move away from the sanguinary path of political opportunism and destruction.
(The writer is Professor and Dean (Arts), Dept. of Political Science, Bangalore University)