Elections 2014 – Who is setting the agenda?

I deliberated a lot. Finally, I decided against putting this on my personal blog and thought I should engage on this issue on a bigger platform. Also, I believe general elections impact every citizen in India including the management graduates fraternity.

In Mumbai, it never ceases to amaze me how any discussion on politics is almost always avoided. It makes people uncomfortable. In college, we never really engaged in a political debate. In office, we never spoke about our political preferences. In fact even at IIM, very rarely will a professor ever take up politics for discussion. People like Prof. Matthew are rare (For years, he was famous at MICA and now IIM Kozhikode is fortunate to have him). Why this reticence? Citizens of Mumbai (or Bombay for many) are paying the price for their political apathy. As the city disintegrates and enters a state of perpetual decay, not only the rich but even the middle class seems to have accepted it as a way of  life. Nothing seems to bother us. Business leaders will never say a word on the political class. Everyone cowers under the excuse of ‘making ends meet’ and being too caught up with day to day life. (There is an excellent piece by Sandipan Deb on ‘Exit of the Middle Class’ which you must read here.) A lot of people are also afraid of being judged. It is a big reason why people want to appear apolitical. I fail to understand how this disconnect from the environment that directly affects us in such a big way is good for anyone.

The truth is that we are intellectually lazy and we shirk responsibility. Ranting on social media is no answer to our ills. Nor is shutting ourselves from the outside world. Either we are waiting for someone with a magic wand to change everything or we are too cynical to believe anything will ever change. Unfortunately, that is not how a society works. That is not how a community works. That is not how even a team works. If there was ever a time that we engage with policy making in our country more, it is now. The best and the brightest of the country need to make their voice heard even more. You may not fight an election but we need to talk about it. Debate and discuss. Steer conversations and set the agenda. Dig into data. Learn about our constitution. Know our rights and learn our duties as citizens. Educate others about it too. Paying taxes on time is not enough. By engaging politically in your own country we are not becoming  social workers or activists. We are just being citizens. These are things we are supposed to do. It is in our self-interest too.  Who we vote for affects our career and our families. We need to be selfish about this!

For the Elections of 2014, I wish the voters can set the agenda.  The primary reason why that needs to happen is the perceived disconnect between potential voters and the politicians. Age and generation gap is often cited as a reason. Average age of the nation is in the mid 20s while most politicians setting the tone are well over 60.  I don’t have problem with anyone’s age as long as the leader’s thoughts are keeping up with the times. I am in no way saying that only politicians who use twitter or Google hangout are keeping up with the times (By the way, wouldn’t it be cool if Twitter and Google Hangout or their Indian equivalents are used extensively in rural India? But let’s start with electricity first). Any Member of Parliament who routinely engages with people from his constituency is far more likely to be ‘current’. Unfortunately, you will find out that most MPs rarely visit the constituency they get elected from including some very high profile names.

We should not let religion and caste be the agenda for 2014. I have traveled across many parts of India (rural and urban) over the last 3 years and I refuse to believe that religion and caste will dictate elections in India. I make it a point to engage with locals on political matters and they are quite forthcoming with their views. Most people talk about very basic things like their income, inflation and roads. I have only anecdotal evidence but it gives enough confidence. Religion and caste will dictate the discourse if we allow it to be dictated. If you keep reading newspapers and watching channels who keep on talking about that day in and day out, it is bound to cloud your thinking. There are media houses and politicians who want to make this election about religion and caste but we must not let them do it. Every discussion ending into a debate on secularism and minority appeasement is the last think we need. While the rest of the world benefits from the great wisdom in India’s spirituality, we remain stagnant with the curse of religion. Instead of this hammering on religion, let us keep hammering on issues like economy, infrastructure, corruption, education, health. Let’s make the election about governance and development and about women’s security. About everything that we deserve to get from our elected representatives. Let’s talk about potholes and the quality of food. About power-cuts and inflation. About unemployment. And there are websites and journalists who are willing to provide us data. Data-driven journalism by some very bright people exists but never spoken of. Let’s make that voice heard. Let’s celebrate an alternate view. It has always been fairly clear that we do not live in the age of unbiased media reporting. And that makes it even more important that we get as many angles to the story backed with credible numbers. The decentralization and democratization of media is another vital issue. The internet does it but the scope is limited as only 10% of our population is connected. I believe that regional channels and on-the-ground reporters need to be empowered and given more weight. Why should few wise men and women (all similar sounding /shouting) sitting in Delhi who claim to have monopoly on India’s media be allowed to dictate the national discourse?

The most damaging attitude to have in this scenario is one where we believe that our vote doesn’t count. That a small number of voters cannot wield any positive influence. You just have to read about the Arab spring and the protests in Brazil and Indonesia to know that a single event can spark a revolution.

There is anger and the anger needs to result in us actively participating in our democracy. Not collapse back into a sea of cynicism.

Let’s set the agenda this election.

– Ankit Doshi

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The writer is the founder of this website, an IIM grad and most recently a banker. He now runs KiRa9 Edumedia Pvt Ltd. which owns InsideIIM.com. He is consumed by the thought of democratizing access to quality management education.

Other articles by Ankit Doshi

Ankit Doshi

Creator of InsideIIM.com

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