There’s no critic like an Indian critic. Kitschy drawing rooms and smoky lounges across the country are filled with the latest laments of the Great Indian Perfectionist, constantly weighing and coming up short. Be it cricket, the latest Bollywood line-up, a child’s near-perfect report card, the rain gods, in-laws, spouses, the domestic help, parking hierarchies, the butter in our dal makhni or the Oscar shortlist, we set impossibly high standards.
But when it comes to our politics, there is no fatalist like an Indian one. For a country where primetime shows hotly debate every political hiccup and sneeze, we Indians seem to have – in the past few years – set the bar alarmingly low for those who govern us. As if we are scared to expect anything more from our politicians or administrators except a good slanging match to complement that pre-dinner single malt.
Having lived most of my life in that unholy state of mind, Uttar Pradesh, I’m willing to admit that perhaps my judgement is a little skewed. It is difficult to break out of a cycle of despair when your choice depends more on the lukewarm merits of a government that will ‘at least give a percent of it back’, than a truly credible alternative to a non-performing one. Sadly, it’s the most two generations seem to think is their due.
If it was in our nature to be apathetic, it might almost excuse our political fatalism. But the truth is that we have forbidding expectations when it comes to our personal lives. Check out any matrimonial ad and its long list of desirables in a single person. Go to a parent-teacher meeting, eavesdrop at a wedding or trawl any city bar around the time performance appraisals roll in and you’ll catch my drift. Good enough is just never enough for any self-respecting Indian.
We may stand proud and hopeful at the altar of our personal expectations everyday but we wring our hands helplessly when faced with political choices that affect the quality of our lives. Nothing will change, we say, so why bother? Our choices seem to be informed by half-baked convictions based on ‘better or worse than’ instead of a resounding ‘best’. Given the supreme competency and spirit of inquiry that every proud Indian possesses, such a lukewarm outlook is nothing short of baffling.
Now another election season is upon us, and I can’t help but wonder: will it be business as usual or has the Indian electorate crossed the Rubicon into an enlightened realm of political wakefulness that truly represents our collective aspirations?
Another confession is due here. I don’t watch too many news shows, preferring to watch my blood pressure levels instead. Some days I don’t even read the newspaper. Phone apps and Google News are usually my poison of choice. That is why – less distracted by all that entertaining pessimism – I am more hopeful than most that things are changing. Slowly, but surely. Whispers of transformation are waiting to be heard.
Let’s forget the screaming politics of the recent state elections and their continuing aftermath for a while, and focus instead on these gentle murmurs. Sweeping change and the return to an apparent status quo both underscored the changing mood of the Indian electorate. The AAP’s impressive administrative implosion aside, it finally tipped the scales on choice. The BJP’s thumping return in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh and the Congress’s lacklustre performance almost everywhere evened the odds on reward and punishment, delighting karma lovers like me. Just as steadily-climbing voter turnout rates, long sign up lists on online petitions, social media squalls and the changing demographics of protests and political rallies belie the sentiment in this article right here.
Elections are supposed to be great levellers and much-needed opportunities for course correction when business as usual is no longer an option. So is technology, in its potential to arm every voter with a powerful arsenal at his or her disposal. In a world where the very nature of interaction is changing faster than the fortunes of the stock market, systematically altering the landscape of information, response times and political conversations, it will be interesting to see how these two fascinating creatures collide and what they come up with in a month from now. Add to that the vibrancy and drama of an Indian election, and we are in for quite a ride.
Of course, we can’t change our politics overnight, but let’s at least begin by shaking up that stubborn status quo that keeps us spinning around in circles. I used to have this Leo Burnett quote taped inside my desk in school. “When you reach for the stars you may not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either.” Let’s raise the bar and see what we come up with.
Preeti Singh is a New Delhi-based writer. She tweets at @TruthAbtNobody. Views expressed are personal.