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New media ensuring the emergence of new politics in India

By Ram Madhav
March 11, 2015 08:11 IST
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The days of political elite have ended with the advent of new politics and new media. Today every citizen is a politician, social worker and an intellectual, says Ram Madhav, BJP national general secretary.

When India was becoming independent someone asked Nehru as to why he wanted the newly freed country to opt for a democratic form of government. Nehru said, ‘because it is the second best form of government’. ‘What was the best form of government?’ the questioner persisted.

‘Yet to be invented’, quipped Nehru.

Time has come for us to invent a new form of politics and governance. The world is changing; especially the democratic world is changing fast. India of the 21st century is remarkably different from India of the 20th century. It is enjoying rich demographic dividend. It is the world’s most youthful nation today.

Very soon this young population will take the size of India’s workforce to some 500 million. While China has almost peaked its workforce size at around 380 million, India will surpass it in less than a decade’s time. This demographic dividend needs to be converted into an asset. For that we need a new kind of politics. The days of conventional politics are gone. The predominantly young population of India is highly aspirational. In order to meet the aspirations of the people the political system has to also undergo transformation.

India is fast urbanising. According to one estimate, three-fourths of India’s population lives in around 80,000 semi-urban and urban centres, where as one-fourths of its population will be living in the remaining 5 lakh villages. Once an agrarian economy India is transforming into a non-agrarian economy with agricultural component of the gross domestic product reducing to about 25 per cent of the total GDP.

Industry, services etc. drive the economy today. But the population dependent on agriculture continues to be above 50 per cent.

Swami Vivekananda was once asked by a disciple in Europe as to why the country which used to be described by Swamiji as the ‘land immortal’ has so many poor, diseased and destitute. Swamiji’s reply was: ‘My country and culture are great. But my people have become lethargic and self-centred’.

Systemic lethargy and corruption are the biggest malady of Indian polity. It is not allowing the enormous potential of India to blossom.

In order for it to change India needs new politics. That is what the new government in India under Prime Minister Modi is attempting to bring in. A cycle of mediocrity, loyalty and intimidation has plagued Indian politics for several decades now. Mediocrity was the norm; loyalty the test and intimidation the order. It is time we bring in excellence. We need the best and intelligent people in politics. Before independence politics was a mission for the people. After independence it became a family vocation. Of late we see the emergence of a creature called ‘professional politician’. There are institutions in India today that ‘train’ politicians. Politics has become a profession. But the new politics is about passion; a strong desire to serve the community and country.

New politics is the most liberal and inclusive politics. For long we have been having ideology driven politics. Ideology is important. It provides vision and direction to politics. But what is lacking in politics is idealism. New politics is all about idealism. Ideologies should no longer become barriers. They should instead help find common ground. They should guide our political behaviour, not the social behaviour. Ideology sans idealism only produces demagogues.

Plato talked about philosopher-kings. The new politics is akin to that. Professionalism with passion and idealism inspired by ideology is how the new politics can be described.

It is data-driven, not dogma-driven. Transparency and accountability are vital to it. The new age politician is honest, humane and knowledgeable. New politics is also politics of courage. We increasingly find leaders who are willing to question the established wisdom and ready to experiment. The quintessential democratic principle of equality based on ‘one man one vote’ is central to new politics. Here the people are supreme. They have all the power. Armed with Right to Information they can challenge any system or leader.

Not just a bureaucrat, but even a politician is a ‘public servant’. He cannot expect any special privileges any more. He is under public scrutiny round-the-clock.

Olof Palme, prime minister of Sweden was murdered in 1986. He was walking back from a cinema theatre after watching a movie with his wife in company. The prime minister of a super-rich European nation goes out to watch a movie with his wife like a commoner.

This NoVIP tradition is emerging as another hallmark of new politics in India.

Chanakya in the Artha Shastra insists that the king should live the life of the last man of his kingdom. If the last man can’t afford a neat bed the king too is expected to sleep on the floor.

Chandragupta was already a married man when he was asked by Chanakya to marry the daughter of Seleucas in order to ward off repeated aggressions from the Greeks. Chandragupta protests only to be rebuked by Chanakya who insists that a king has no personal choices other than what is beneficial to his subjects.

This is a tall order for a country like India. We are taking baby steps towards it. How to achieve it?

An important tool to achieve this new politics is the explosion of new media. New media is truly democratic media. It has ended the era of ‘opinion makers’. The advent of internet enabled people’s media has freed the dependence of public opinion on the elite group of intelligentsia that has captured the space in mainstream media.

With more than 800 million Facebook users and 200 million Twitter accounts the new media is ruling the roost in India today.

It is this media that is ensuring the emergence of new politics in India. Not just the politician, even the MSM is under constant scrutiny by the new media. It is making system accountable and transparent. Fear of public outrage in social media is a big conditioning factor in Indian politics today.

New media is also a great instrument in data and information inflow and outflow. Used appropriately the new media can be of great help to the government and institutions in the discharge of their duties with due diligence. At the people’s level governments are expected to deliver on 6 major areas: bijli, sadak, pani, swasthya, suchita and suraksha (Power, roads, water, health, sanitation and security). The Chanakyan principle of ‘minimum government -- maximum governance’ can be achieved in several of these areas if the government uses new media. It can help in surveys, data collection, information dissemination and feedback gathering.

Crowdsourcing is increasingly becoming popular with governmental departments thanks to new media. People’s participation is key to the success of new politics. The days of political elite have ended with the advent of new politics and new media. Thanks to new media today every citizen is a politician, social worker and an intellectual rolled in one depending on what he does in a given situation. In a way the new politics empowered by new media has brought in a major paradigm shift in Indian politics. Today the ancient dictum ‘Yatha Raja Tatha Praja’ (people imitate their king) no longer holds any water. It is the other way now: ‘Yatha Praja Tatha Raja’ (As the people so the king).

A small caution though. While the era of new-age politicians has begun in India there can be many a politician who would be unwilling to let it succeed. In no time would he master the art of manipulating new media and new politics too. Hence eternal vigilance is the price that a society has to always pay to ensure its own safety and well-being.

BJP, National General Secretary Ram Madhav’s address to the Harvard India Forum at Harvard University. Reproduced with permission.

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