Under every stone lurks a politician.
Aristophanes, The Thesmophoriazusae, 410 B.C.
Let each man exercise the art he knows.
Aristophanes, The Wasps, 420 B.C.
I recall the news item wherein Arvind Kejriwal (winner of the 2006 Ramon Magsaysay Award for empowering New Delhi's poorest citizens to fight corruption) mentioning that India lacks participatory democracy.
I wondered why I should not react to the above statement when I am playing the role of a voter for good governance. This is in the background that we are the ones who elect our rulers and benefit from their governance or suffer in the process. After all we are the reason for perpetuation or change in systems.
For that matter unanimous national opinions are rare. Granted there are two sides to a coin, there are always division/s in the society. In a democracy the majority tend to work for the status quo reflected by the conservative national opinion. On the other side the minority will be working against the same. Canvassing for the ‘right choice’ with regard to leaders is a way of life, also called the art of politics. This is what I call politicking. As long as politicking continues anywhere, it would be inappropriate to say that certain polity is not participating.
Any common populace tend to think alike, be they from Norway, New Zealand, India, Japan, USA, Congo or Siberia. They have their own distinct thinking styles and popular instincts, tastes, et al. - some prefer beefy stuff, some like slim partners, some like dark things and some pale, some like fries and some raw foods and so on. So everybody wants to politick for their leaders in their own style. Each voter tries to have his or her say, hold the sway, rule the roost, perpetuate one’s own kind at the helm of the affairs, have the pie and a stake in the ‘cause and effect’ of future public activity. In life’s struggle there is an instinctive impulse to win or lose at any cost, and extend one’s peripheries beyond the household into the clubs, schools, colleges, cooperatives societies, dinner clubs, poetry reading groups, fan clubs, felicitation groups, religious and cultural groups, body shows, leg shows, NGOs, local bodies, political party groups, national conclaves, assemblies, parliaments, world bodies and what not. Once the members of society associate themselves with some groups, the act of politicking begins.
The politicking started by the people will then be attributed to some prominent personalities in the lime light, i.e. whosoever are in the thick of things, who appear in the media, be they embroiled in controversies. The said figures can also be princes in the making, upcoming matinee idols, cultural gurus, religious zealots, terrorists, rebels, etc. It should not be surprising, if not uncommon, a recluse or a nincompoop can even be chosen and made an instant hero, a ala rags to riches story. So the crowd is always for the icons, leaning on them at first, testing them in the propaganda spats and then they finally cast their fullest support to keep their chosen juggernauts rolling in the fray.
As per the dictionary, Politicking is political campaigning or just speechmaking. In democracies it is practiced beyond art form. If the quote “politics is the art of the possible” has to be believed, achieving the impossible is the goal of a politicking person. Politicking is the basic instinct of a member in a group of more than two members; be they adults or kindergarten kids. It is easier to dismiss this whole essay on politicking as puerile and an exercise in vain, but it is important that one should understand the rationale behind politicking before coming to such hasty conclusion. In fact, this topic delves into the root cause of our human behavior, which is fundamental for our social existence. It is pertinent to note that politicking is the most popular activity in human communities cutting across borders over the ages; when borders are redrawn owing to the active politicking of the subjects on either side of the borders.
Categories of People Politicking
From time immemorial, man has been trying to analyze in the right earnest and mindset, the psychographics of people who practice politicking. We can see the evidence in the popularity of plethora of philosophers from Plato to Machiavelli to Gandhi.
Sets of People Practicing Politicking
The Mind Story
Some do it on strategic lines in a professional ways. They write speeches, schedule meetings. Some are journalists, photographers, opinion leaders. They can be the moles in the opposite camps.
Some are mercenaries, who do their bit for some kicks as well as for spare bucks;
Some live as perpetual wannabes, until their candidature is officially declared as leader in the party or ministry.
Some souls pursue politicking as an art form passionately, since it is in their blood, be it blue or any other hue such as saffron or other rebellious colors or be whole riot of myriad colors mixed up depending on contingent transfusion injected locally.
Some cannot afford to be neutral and remain as bystanders due to their own susceptibilities/gullibility. They take one side or the other as their fancy takes.
Some do the politicking on a war footing, as if it were their fundamental right to protect their honor or honor of the soil. They are prepared to die for the cause, the mission, to the last drop of their sweat and blood.
And the rest do their politicking for passing their time unthinkingly, unaware of the consequences of power politics and not caring to think of the ramifications of their misunderstood machinations. It is immaterial whether they agree with Oscar winner, Whoopi Goldberg, “You've got to vote for someone. It's a shame, but it's got to be done.” They don’t even care to check out the outcome of elections in the newspapers or news alerts.
I for one believe that there is a method even in madness. For instance, take a look at inmates of an asylum for the mentally challenged. They are unfortunately barred to exercise their franchise. One should not be surprised seeing them frequently indulge in the exercise of choosing their leader through in-house politicking. Their handlers in the asylum know it pretty well. The scenes are very typical and sometimes more exaggerated than those obtained in the real world.
It is one’s democratic right to struggle while choosing the leader. This is even when the crankiest of the choices were made. All said and done, we humans, the social animals, can never escape the politicking that makes us tick.
The Instinct Part
When asked to name a superior peer, it is natural for one to vouch for somebody as the master, guru, leader or icon. This is more evident when we are through rough patches. We tend to drop the names of people in authority as a knee-jerk reaction, maybe in self-defense or just to show off. Perhaps we hope one day those icons descend and come to our rescue or bail us out. Why we eulogize them with superlatives just to highlight their attributes, calling them as the bulwarks to the downtrodden, the entertainer of the year, benefactor to the benefactors, charity king, etc. and other epithets in regional dialect. The sum total of such eulogizing may even end in getting them national or international awards.
The said icon worship thanks to the politicking enables them to multiply like mushrooms in different spheres and making those icons go places (probably to Switzerland among others) get richer and buy more Rolls-Royces and yachts. Someone said once, Leader is one who follows. This is apt with respect to the genuine leaders for social causes irrespective of party affiliations like ‘bachao andolans’ (save so and so thing campaigns and so-and-so saviors form superstitious dogmas). Unfortunately these modern saviors are marginalized unlike in the pre-independence days.
We can cite some icons here, who were upstarts in the society, modern Robin Hoods jump-starting for a cause, some of them even fight guerilla wars. Eventually they will be proclaiming and installing themselves as leaders democratically into the party system albeit in a roundabout manner. Some outcasts return from exile, who had once been running seedy side of life like drug trade, mafia extortions. Some are made martyrs by the systematic persecution by the governments that are at the taxpayers’ expense. Some are rebels in the ruling classes who have turned into dynamic leaders in their own right with their innate rhetoric and/or arm-twisting and blackmailing fortes. Owing to their greatness or inviolateness, or outright notoriety, they simply spread their suzerainty and wield power. Despite all this, there is no guarantee they will not bite the dust one day, and the Damocles’ Sword looms large everyday over their heads even when they go to bed. This is because people are very notorious in turning tables and change the course of history. We have seen it happen in the communist world of Russia and China and why, even in India at every election. We have a term for it, the ‘anti –incumbency’. Voters or subjects find it easy to invent new ways to topple leaders in chic, cheeky and even cheekier ways, as innovative as human ingenuity can get.
“Man was born free and is everywhere in chains,” said Rousseau. Anarchy is never given a free hand in the history of human race. Someone has to bell the cat and so a leader should be chosen. Some say a leader is born. But I would say a leader so born has to be accepted in the end, since most of us do not accept anyone as leader, especially the one who is from outside the country, and for that matter outside our own region and town. There are few exceptions in the US and India, of course. So the job is taken up by the enthusiastic set of politicking specialists to weed out ‘foreign’ elements. They go overboard in this direction. Incidentally these are wannabes and those failed in last contest or those hoping to rerun or just surreally dreaming or playacting their fallen heroes.
The Political Theory
The paradigm theories of the survival of the fittest and natural selection paved the way for stricter rulers to regulate and impress the subjects on more scientific lines. (Earlier there used to be God given rulers and subject following was taken for granted.) So the politicking crowd will always search for new theories of divine intervention/choice for a chosen man or woman to rise or for a novel thought to emerge or for an icon/insignia/idol to be invented to symbolically represent their politicking in support of the chosen leader by well oiled Goebbels type of propaganda for eventual installation of dynasties or coteries. Here the ‘groupthink’ word coined in psychology helps in the politicking for a leader. Like in the story of the King’s New Clothes, the masses, how high ever educated informed/liberated, individually assume a supposedly popular line of thought then going rounds and jump on the bandwagon to feel snug in the cozy majority of such hypocrites.
Some of the political theories that are idealistic and assuring greatest good to the maximum numbers in the long run, they have become passé. The new civilizations are not satisfied with just the biological needs. Peculiarly they don’t want that ideal happiness either to themselves. To them it is retrograde and fiercely overthrown and conditions are made in the societies to prevent those concepts to reappear by changing the international norms and practices in human interaction in all aspects of social change and exchange, whether in trade commerce, economy and even culture. All societies are brought under the umbrella of retail consumerism protected by the multinational corporatism whose promoters wanted to play as heads of global village aided and abetted by the leaders of developed countries. The sadomasochistic elements are playing their greatest roles in the societies though religious heads have all along been shouting from the rooftops proclaiming in all faiths for the welfare of people everywhere on equal footing as the watchword.
Most of us might have heard some of the stories in our childhood about the animals in forests convening a conference in order to elect leaders. In one such story, a fox had taken the lion to the well and asked him to see his rival in the water. The lion assumed his own shadow to be his rival and plunged in to meet his own death. And so the fox through its wits became the leader of the forest. Politicking takes such similar efforts and machinations. Politicking people have vested interests in various powerhouses. We have moles in the highest sensitive establishments of administration. We have them in the courts, in the corridors and lobbies of parliaments, in the barracks and strategy rooms of the defense, etc. The fewer the parties the easier it is to do the politicking.
Opinions are bought; conscientious thinkers are slighted as opinionated and pilloried in the important and visible forums. Like in the oft-repeated quotation, “'Justice should not only be done but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done', damage to the rival politician is done, carefully to be seen as truly done, like in a public hanging until death. Mudslinging is an open-air affair like in Holi (festival of colors). Blackmailing and climbing the bandwagon are the norms. The old time idealist political thinkers could not make the people stick to the fundamental ethics and conscience for longer times. The days belong to the politicking crowd who are now a superbly evolved class. They have now new gadgets like PCs, Internet, mobile phones, the blogs and chatting messengers and emails are the channels for active politicking. TV News channels are egging up the politicking people to use their medium to practice the art of politicking. Kings are made overnight in the breaking news and overthrown after the break time in the same episode. Politicking creed in the share market might one day be crowned as the best among all and they may become the rulers of the world by themselves one day in the near future.