Memo to Kejriwal

New political parties in India face structural and ethical hurdles

The efforts of a group of India Against Corruption workers to float a new political party have generated a lively debate. Opinions vary from unrestrained romanticism to unyielding cynicism. But it will be productive to go beyond personalities and power games.

Why is there political unrest and disquiet in the country? There is a sense of foreboding among all thinking citizens. Politics is too polarised. There is a great churn, evidenced by the rejection of both the Congress and the BJP in recent state polls. Parties are forced to rely on criminals, dynasties or money bags for funding. Corruption is rampant. Reckless populism is hurting the exchequer. Infrastructure is in a shambles, stunting economic growth. The fiscal deficit is out of control. Governments and parties seem to be powerless to arrest the drift and there are grounds for serious concern.

What do we, as a nation, need to do to address this crisis? We need to mobilise the middle classes and the youth, who are shunning politics, into meaningful political activity. True politics is vital to reconcile conflicting interests in society, make rational choices, allocate resources wisely and enlist public support in nation-building. At the very least, we need to make ethical politics sustainable. Education, skills and employment must be at the core of our governance if we are to end discrimination by birth and poverty. We need to empower local governments and give people at the community level the opportunity to make a difference.

We need to address the challenge of short-term populism versus long-term public good. In a democratic society, there is a political price to pay for pursuing rational and sound public policies. If our quest for votes at any cost leads to short-term maximisation and instant gratification, we will be enjoying tomorrow's fruits today, endangering the future. All parties must agree on the role of state in a modern society. No matter which party is in power, we need a clear sense of purpose and direction as a society. Parties should provide the platform and politics is the process to achieve this. It is because politics, which ought to be the solution to the nation's crises, has become the problem itself that we are in a quandary.

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