An Independent Politician – To Be Or Not To Be?

Meera Sanyal, Mallika Sarabhai, Capt Gopinath have announced their entry into electoral politics – marking a noisy entry of new civil society players into the political space! What does this  mean?

There are two pieces to this phenomenon. The first is the entry of the middle class educated elite into politics – This can’t be anything but good for the country! Especially since this is the class that has almost bored the nation with it’s whining and complaining about politics and all things about politics including politicians, but done precious little about it! This is also been traditionally the group that disappears during vote day, off on holiday weekends or whatever else is higher priority than elections!  A song composed by a Bengaluru band called ‘Shut up and vote’ aptly describes this group. So if more and more people from this group enter active politics – it’s a great thing and must be welcome! When I was asked  the usual group of journalists especially about Meera in Mumbai, I said exactly that .

The second piece of this is the issue of independence! I am currently an independent MP and have been for the last 3 years since I have been elected. So in a lot of ways I understand the political space available to the Independent politician. The raison d’être for wanting to be an Independent politician is solid – you want to have your independent say and not get contaminated, diluted by the baggage of a party’s collective thought – more often than not which is usually a lowest common denominator of many peoples’ thoughts. But there needs to be a deeper understanding to this.

Being an independent Politician gives you one advantage – i.e. of being the contrarian to the mainstream parties in terms of one thing and one thing alone – that is of opposing and voicing your opposition to the mainstream views. However, in a very fundamental way, an independent has very little space or to create change.  So an Independent politician in India can be not much more than an Vocal advocate of issues, points of view but will lack the political support that’s required to effectively make change happen. That’s unfortunately the reality. I have lived it and experienced it for the last 3 years. I have in Parliament way back in 2008 budget discussions made many points and suggestions anticipating the slowdown – but while I made a decent speech (at least in my opinion and my friends), it amounted to little more than that – despite follow-up meetings with the then Finance Minister, meeting the media etc.  The reality is in our current political system, an independent voice or voices amounts to very little political strength.

Now there is a counter argument to this – which is , let us build a group of independents  over time to create an alternate political thought in Parliament. Let’s be honest and practical, our politics is tremendously fragmented and evolved over the last 50 years or so. The time to develop an alternate political platform of urban voters is neither going to small nor the task insignificant.

So what’s my answer – I am actively advocating that more and more of Meeras, Mallikas and Gopinaths join active politics (as is already underway) but chose to align with and/or join one of the two National parties. The idea being that if more and more join these National parties (who at least have a focus on India and are not regional) then the path and thought of these National parties can be modulated/changed/redirected/influenced. This is a far more practical approach if the objective is real change in the short term, which is use the existing political platforms to effect change than go to the time consuming (and results unknown) process of creating alternate and new political platforms!

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