India Uncut

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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

A closed space

Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes:
There is half a truth to the maxim that when a position reflects consensus, it is probably a good reason to oppose it. But, more seriously, the kind of consensus we have suggests that the political space, for all the noise it generates, is relatively closed, ideologically. We often worry about various groups, defined by some criteria of ethnicity, being under-represented in Parliament: minorities, women and so forth. But we should worry more about lack of ideological variation in Parliament. It is amazing that a liberal democracy, with a liberalising economy, has no parliamentarians with a genuine liberal sensibility: a healthy scepticism about the scope of state activity, a reluctance to reproduce invidious group distinctions, a presumption in favour of the people against the paternalism of the state, and a genuine regard for individuality, speaking the truth as one sees it.

There is something close to an iron law of Indian politics. If government proposes spending on any programme, the only political criticism is that it is not spending more. The usual way a distinction between Left and Right is carved is as follows. The Left wants the government to spend more money, the Right opposes this in all matters — except in defence. In our case, the distinction is between who gets to come up with a spending proposal first and who gets to endorse. Or, if someone even so much as suggests that it might be time to think of a paradigm of justice beyond reservations, they are unlikely to find significant political space.
The immaturity of our political space is a result of the ignorance of the voters: as the cliche goes, we get the leaders we deserve. How long will it be before we start voting in a smarter, more committed class of legislators?

Cross-posted on The Indian Economy.
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