Do people like us deserve politicians like them?

ALOK PRASANNA writes from Bangalore: Over the years, Indians have yearned for lots of things American. Everything from American money to American education to American movies and sitcoms and not least of all, an American lifestyle.

So it should come as no surprise that the latest fad in India seems to be, of all things, American politicians.

Rajdeep Sardesai wonders “Who will be India’s Obama?

“Captain” Vijayakanth shouts, “I will do an Obama here.

Shashi Tharoor is the latest in the line of commentators who have enviously eyed the pool of candidates running for what has to be the longest and best publicized American Presidential election, and wonders why “we” couldn’t get a Barack Obama, or even a Hillary Clinton as prime ministerial candidate.

Indeed Shashi Tharoor ends with the oft repeated lament, “Why don’t we get the politicians we deserve?” but prefers to blame middle class Indians for not taking to politics for all the good spitting into a cyclone would do.

The problem with that question (and his recommendation) is the word “we”.I say this in relation to the other term used to denote a collective in the first person “us”.

At first blush (and a quick dictionary check), the two English words seem to mean the same (with small differences), but their usage in our political discourse shows that they in fact mean almost opposite things.

For instance, the Constitution of India does not begin as “Us, the people of India”. Nor are community conflicts usually painted as “We v. Them”.

This gives a clue as to what “we” and “us” actually mean in the context of political discourse.

“We”, for instance, when used in the context of the “people of India”, seems to be used in the context of a wide inclusive definition. The people of India, as against just the citizens of India (itself a pretty inclusive definition) is broad, all encompassing and general, trying to do away with the millions of differences between the actual individuals, putting above all else, their identity as Indians.

Even the UN Charter (from which the preamble to the Constitution seems to be clearly inspired), begins “We, the peoples of the United Nations” much to the same effect.

Yet, when caste, class and race conflicts are discussed, the phrase almost inevitably invoked is “Us versus Them”. Here, the “us” is narrow, limited and confined to a set group of people with the same inflexible identity. By the very nature of the conflict, a loosely defined “us”, would mean that eventually “them” would become superfluous if there is no difference between “us” and “them”, signifying that there is in fact no conflict at all.

Pretty much all definitions of race and caste, legal or simply societal, have been exclusionary definitions to make sure people don’t forget who exactly the “us” are, and who the “them” are.

Think of all the caste prohibitions that make one lose one’s caste (marriage out of caste, eating “prohibited” foods, drinking from “prohibited”wells, travel across seas), but remember that there is only way to gain membership of one, birth.

But coming back to our earlier question, “Why don’t we get the candidates we deserve?”

The “we” here is definitely the “we” of “we, the people of India”. Yet, if voting patterns in the last 57 years of electoral politics is anything to go by, the question in election time, utmost in the voter’s mind has always seemed to be “Who is the candidate who represents us?”

The “us” here is ethnicity, tribal affiliation, caste, sub-caste, linguistic identity, religion, you-name-it-you-have-it-division in India.

This trend has in fact accentuated as even the national parties field candidates in each constituency based on caste and religious configuration. So much so that a national election in India turns out to be a combination of 500+ local elections where the whole is lesser than the sum of the parts.

So the question “Why don’t we get the candidates we deserve?” is about as relevant to electoral politics in India as say, “Do androids dream of electric sheep?”

The fundamental question still remains, “Who best represents us?”

Depressingly, that answer is the current crop of politicians, H.D. Deve Gowda included.

Photograph: courtesy sneakerobsession

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12 Responses to “Do people like us deserve politicians like them?”

  1. ptcbus Says:

    India has a parliametary form of democracy which means the rotten apples will always keep pulling the strings in our government. Even if a person like Obama became the prime-minister, there will be a Mayawati or Left party member who will hold the entire country for ransom.

  2. wanderlust Says:

    i read the shashi tharoor article. WHY WHY WHY is educational qualification equated with administrative capability?

  3. Chinmaya Says:

    The isssue is not about educational qualification being equated with administrative capability. The administrators should be preferably from a pool of educated cadre. Look at the post-independence scenario. Initially people like Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabbhai Patel were people who read the pulse of the people accurately but also had a solid grounding when it came to education. Even now the perceived clean and able politicians are Manmohan Singh, Chidambaram who are being held back from achieving any quantifiable achievements by the local goonda politicians(dunno about the Left). So it is eminently more desirable to have educated politicians in our realpolitik.

  4. Aditya Says:

    Educational qualification is a bit more triky. It is the mission of schools to educate country men to take ahead the country in terms of economic/technical/moral verticals.
    It takes more than just administrative capabilities to make a true leader! You’ll need vision, broad-outlook to life, good judgement.. Good education certainly helps provide these
    look at the politics in the national level. educated politicians/ the others.
    do people like us deserve better. hmm.. do _all_ the voters understand this ?

  5. wanderlust Says:

    dr. praveen togadia is an oncologist. narendra modi is a postgraduate in political studies. laloo yadav is a qualified lawyer. jairam ramesh and manohar parrikkar are from IITB.
    even deve gowda holds a diploma in civil engineering. HD revanna is a qualified doctor.

    it’s not at all like we lack educated politicians. just that they are not sold on just the basis of which college they graduated from and in what discipline. And frankly, they shouldn’t be. what does shashi tharoor expect, a platoon of politicians from St. Stephens or JNU? how good would that be? that would just be elitism, which would throttle our heterogeneous society.

    i don’t think high educational qualifications are the need of the hour in politics. i mean, what has a degree from the school of architecture, delhi given Arundhati Roy other than a husband? And what has Arun Jaitley lost by studying in Delhi University and not Fletcher School of Economics?

    Not having politicians from elite institutions speaks of other things – the lack of opportunities for a grassroots guy to get into them, the shortage of such institutions, and the lack of nationalism in the students who graduate out of these places.

  6. VitlanPotli Says:


    HD revanna a qualified doctor ……..what are you smoking?

  7. Anonymous Guy Says:

    Looks like a silver tongued guy like Shashi Tharoor will equate talk and debate to real action. No surprise that the statement came from a guy who is mostly all talk and no substance.

    The sort who relishes talk, commentary (and bureaucracy?) and has to depend on others when it comes down to doing some real work. And who our colonial masters loved to keep as their pets and watchdogs.

  8. VitlanPotli Says:

    ……and what was that being said about Shashi Tharoor?….oh yeah “a thinking woman’s pinup posterboy” what ever that means…..

    Shashi you need to chill. Listen to the album “Zingalamaduni” by ‘Arrested development’ and dude PG wodehouse is good to read but you dont have to be Jeeves

  9. Gokulam 3rd Stage Says:

    Notwithstanding the semantics involved in “we” vs “us”, our system at the least exposes our leaders’ stance (hypocrisy, warts and all) better than the American system. I am glad we have ours instead of the manufactured smiles, audiences and debates of the American system.

  10. Dr. Sree Reddy Says:

    We Indians are very very “phoren crazy”. Everything in some one else’s lands look green, clean and shining.
    houdri, pakkadamane oota ruchiyagiruttade. allva?

    Our system is doing OK. The solutions for India’s probelms are in India, not elsewhere.
    Dont forget we had a long history of colonial rule which robbed us of many oppurtunities to industrialise.
    Administrative capability will not come with educational qualifications.
    In some cases, education provides ‘knowledge’ to manipulate the system sophisticatedly.
    All those Indians who are doing well outside India are doing so because of Indian education. Their foundation is formed in India, not elsewhere.
    We have many good educational institutes despite shortage of funds.
    Access to education should be equally privided to all.
    Panchayats in the villages are a good example that democracy is here in India for centuries.

    Caste discrimination itself is a colonial product. Earlier division of labour on the basis caste did exist and it was not that rigid as it was thought.
    Nobody thinks that their community is “low” in status.
    If you look at the “jati” it is mostly profession based.

    United States of America: you have all kinds of discrimination based on colour, religion, race, coloured immigrants.

  11. rar Says:

    ..”and dude PG wodehouse is good to read but you dont have to be Jeeves”


  12. mayura Says:

    Imagine if Tharoor had become the General Secretary of UNO, what he would have done to India :(….

    thank god for small mercies

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