The weak and the dirty
Politics is a common loathing of the middle class. Politicians run the country alright but no self-respecting and educated middle class family would encourage their kids to explore and opt for politics as a viable career option. The supposed higher goals of the serving the society is cynically shrugged off as a school civics book stuff to be mugged for good marks in the board exams.
“It is too dirty,”, they will tell you despondently. Besides being dirty, it is also like any business which is inherited. You have to have a family background in politics, they will tell you. The same people, however, rejoice when their kids crack the civil service exam to essentially “sir” the dirtbags for a lifetime. The irony of it is either lost or glossed over.
Sitting in our drawing rooms we also wonder how uneducated, uncouth, overtly aggressive and worse still criminals win elections time and again. In 2004, 24 per cent of our MPs faced criminal charges of which 12 per cent were of what in terms of the Indian Penal Code are regarded as serious charges. You could not have missed the noise every political party makes about cleaning the system and getting rid of the criminal elements; of streamlining the system of donations to political parties and of state funding of elelctions etc. All this to clean the politics of criminal elements.
Now here is a shocker. A decade later, in 2014, 34 per cent (an increase of 10 per cent) of MPs elected face criminal charges and of these 21 per cent (an increase of 9 per cent) stand accused of serious ones. So does it mean that notwithstanding the lofty pronouncements of political parties promising to discourage criminals and despite all such good things on paper, in the last decade our legislative bodies have become more criminal?
The immediate effect of this is that such figures which portray almost 1/3 rd of our legislatures as criminals keep the genteel educated classes away from the dust and grime of electoral politics. But the political parties do however need a minimum number of leaders who are educated and presentable. In today’s world, driven by persistent politcal noise on TV and social media, you would need some who are articulate enough to put it across on day in day out basis. Besides, if you are in power, government has to be run so you will need at least some minimum “X” number of educated faces who can man the positions, read the files, understand the issues and report back to the real power that be: be it the family, or the PMO, or some netaji, amma or bhai. It cannot all be left to the cunning of the bureaucrats. The stakes are just too high.

So the parties at national level have today a fair share of parachuted leaders who owe their existence either to the loyalty to the ruling politcal dynasty, or to over obeisance to the mass leader or, in many cases, also to close proximity to an industrial house which then propels you to the positions of highest power through the subtle levers of money fuelled influence. Over years, both politics and government have a fair share of politicians who have no connect with electoral politics and many of them rose to man the highest posts in the country. Some top 10 leaders, including the PM in the previous UPA regime, were ones who would have found it difficult to win a local municipal election on their own. The present government also has a fair share of such rootless wonders both in the Centre and states.
This suits the real powers that be — the family, the mass base leader, the caste satrap — who draw their power due to their electoral strength know that such leaders are an obedient and pliable lot. Additionally, it helps that they are an educated lot and so could man the government or party positions and do the bidding of the leader. They are generally more likely to be personally less corrupt than the other lower rung mass based lesser educated bahubalis who draw their power through their direct connect with people and understanding of electoral dynamics on ground.
Translated in real terms of political economy, it means that such leaders leave more econimic surplus for the monarch to collect. It also means that if things go wrong and monarch senses disaffection amongst people or a group which may dilute his or her authority, these guys will silently act as the fall guys. It also means that there is never a fear of any revolt from weak parachuted leaders which for the more people connected leaders is always a lurking possibilities. So the political leadership at the top over compensates for having the prone to crime kind of leaders in its ranks by rewarding the non mass based leadership with plum administrative postions. It is akin to creation of bureaucracy with in the political set up. Faceless PMs, pretend intellectuals as ministers, urbane spokespersons, glib billionaire lawyers turned pretend politicians with no connect with people are ubiquitous in our politics.

Having a non-mass based leader at the top somehow also suits the strong mass connected leaders at the bottom as the top leadership is in no position to control them. They rely too much on them for money and votes. So the local satraps are generally left to nurse and profit from their strongholds through controlling government contracts, auctions and trade, be it of building material, illegal mining or holy cows. The great Indian balance of leaders with roots at the bottom and parachutes at the top is what defines the politics today. A party can disturb it only to its own peril as many have realised in past.

(Next fortnight, we examine why the strong arm and criminals are indispensable to the political system the way it exists and where the figures of criminals in the legislatures lie?)
Sachin Shridhar