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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Politics: chhee chhee?

Now that the American Presidential election-race has really heated up, a lot of interesting things are happening on the Net in connection with it. I found the following link on the official Google blog particularly noteworthy:

Some American teachers are organizing a letter-writing campaign to the next President. I avidly read numerous 11th-grade (class 11) students writing about the issues that are close to their hearts, issues they want the next Chief Executive to think about and act upon: the war in Iraq, the price of gas (petrol), the state of education and healthcare, the matter of growing infringement of human rights in the name of ‘homeland security’, the gathering economic recession… It is not that all these young folks are very clever or very articulate or very well-informed; it does not even bother me whether the new President will really be much bothered by these letters (though the fact that an organization as big and far-reaching as Google has taken the initiative in this regard makes me hope that they will matter): I am happily surprised that so many of today’s American schoolgoing teenagers take such an active interest in political issues – that means they do understand that politics closely affects their everyday lives, and they want to make a difference by getting involved, even in a small way.

Contrast that with Shashi Tharoor’s lament (Tharoor is a writer and hotshot diplomat: he came within a whisker of becoming the UN Secretary-General last time) in today’s edition of The Times of India (p.8, Kolkata edition, 'The nation needs principled youngsters'):

Read the article. I have commented on this issue earlier on this blog: it will always remain a live and immediate issue with me. I entirely agree with Tharoor, who, like me, knows perfectly well why our educated urban middle-class has stayed (a little disdainfully, a little enviously, a little fearfully) out of politics for three generations or more, but nevertheless insists that India does not have much of a future unless today’s educated young Indians (at least the small percentage who have any values and ideals at all) realize that ‘not getting involved in politics is a copout. The nation needs you.’ For far too long all our ‘good’ boys and girls have been told to steer clear and aim at a vision of very narrow self-advancement in complete denial of the larger social realities. Unfortunately it’s not working any more.


Tanmoy said...

Actually after repeated reading of this post, I see that I have nothing constructive to comment on this article (not that I am assuming that I always comment constructively) other than mostly pessimism.

I have read Mr. Tharoor's article and also understand that what you are trying to convey and I seem to be in agreement with you all.

As a young student in university I strongly believed that student politics does make a huge difference since it brings forth new ideas. In an attempt to explore my belief a bit further, I came close to students who indulged into active politics in JNU. I was a student politician myself. To my utter dismay, I found it as murky an alley that we generally see our national politics to be. I can narrate lot about my weird experiences and observations which made me conclude the functionality of JNU has nothing to do with the ethos on which student's politics should be built upon as most students indulged in the politics as a matter of "fun" or “fashion”. The university authorities allow them to exist because politics has become a part of JNU culture. Thus the political groups in JNU are essentially community groups or friend circles of either Bengalis, Biharis, Dalits etc. I tried to change that myself. However, I was slandered, made a social outcast of sorts and yes I made mistakes too but largely I was singled out for that treatment because I believed in something beyond the way politics is done in JNU.

My experiences say even though nation building is a good enough motivating reason to enter into politics but it is such a murky road that I would not like to enter it and hope to clean it. I am sure that I am too much of a coward to accept such a thing. I don't mind being that at least in this regard.

Thus, I don't suggest anyone getting into it.

I wonder at times why did people like Mr. Tharoor did not enter into politics, why did the great Economists like Mr. Sen only does work for poor people in France (where he gets paid by the Government)? Isn't it too easy for them writing such articles after they have attained what they wanted to achieve. Why even these people who are heard more easily, read quite often don't actually come onto the ground and meet with people who matter?

Why is it so unusual to find a bright Indian professor teaching in the Havard and MIT, devoting a month in a year to teach the misguided youth in the schools of say a Patna and Bihar? Is social responsibility such a taboo in India that "great minds" only restrict themselves in writing articles for famous publications?

Why Nirad Chaudhury was branded a lunatic when he took on the establishment in India and why did not we have many like Nirad Chaudhury ever again?

Indian youth lacks motivation and direction and I know mostly they pass on the mantle to someone else but then don't you think at some point "ideals" are necessary.

When our nation did last have a statesman to admire?

Since my parents would be visiting us, I requested my father to get me an Indian flag for the simple reason that I would keep it on my desk or even use it when I go and watch India play New Zealand in Auckland. Baba informed me he spent a whole of two days going to nearly ever Khadi Bhandar which was accessible to him and could not find a flag. He went to Indian Museum and found the memorabilia shop is unattended and some people are sitting there hoping that none comes to ask them for anything. He could not get a flag for me and he was very upset at that. I told him, fine I would buy the Indian flag here by spending $30 – I am sure the Chinese have made it to sell it outside India.

In a State where we don't even have access to the flag then how can anyone hope for its youth to come up?

It is a weird thing where I at times feel the politicians, industrialists and the media are all conspiring that we remain mute and idiotic spectators to what they have been doing. I know it is a negative and scary thought and that is why I am hesitant to post this thought on your blog. I perhaps need direction to find light at the end of the tunnel to feel optimistic on this issue and before that I don't want to pass on this pessimism to bright youngsters who are reading your blog. Thus I shall also include a optimistic bit in this comment of mine.

However in all this murkiness, I would like to comment about one particular apolitical group called ‘Student’s for harmony’ in JNU. I did not find any website of theirs to share with you but I would request everyone who has an orkut account to check the account of Mr. A.Prabaharan from my friend’s list. Praba is a friend of mine and though he is often laughed at by many Bengali dada’s but he created something which remained with me. Praba was one of those students who made students from all sections join his group and organised social events against all odds inside the university campus. Over time Students for Harmony attracted media attention and Praba became very popular. I won many quizzes organised by him and was amazed to see Praba doing his bit for students. Not that he was totally apolitical but his group was totally apolitical and an oasis inside murkier JNU student associations. Praba is a gentleman and still remains so helping a huge group of students and to me one of the true student leaders I have met who could assemble students under a single umbrella despite lot of opposition.

We need to perhaps talk of people like Prabaharan much more than the failed political leaders but our media is also filled with negativity and you cannot find single happy news reported in a day’s paper.

Dr.A.Prabaharan said...

Indepth analysis about the perennial political problems.
Good that you connected the current affairs to the youngsters thoughts.
Keep writing
Praba (Tanmoy's friend)

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Given the kind of effusive testimonial I have received about you, Prabaharan, I wish you had written a little more.

And, while agreeing with virtually everything Tanmoy has said, I would urge readers to think about this: if everybody goes for safe and 'clean' options, who will clear up the Augean stables? Aren't we at the same time complaining night and day that bad politicians are taking the country to the dogs? (incidentally, I feel very strongly the same way about my profession, teaching, too. Barring oddballs, few talented people have come into this calling for the last three generations, especially at the school level, where foundations are laid for life - does that not spell doom for the country in the long run? ... I see for a fact that not only are parents complaining that schools teach nothing, but they rarely get their money's worth even from private tutors these days!)

NA said...

This is a great post, and I cant but put in a few words based on my recent experiences here in the States.

I was pleasantly surprised to see how actively university students were involved in this year's election campaign, especially for Barack Obama. West Virginia is a traditionally red state and voted Republican this time as well and yet, the strength and intensity of the on-campus campaign was amazing.

The Obama campaign on campus was led by a group of students who called themselves the Young Democrats and I got around to being accquainted with some of the group members- I was fascinated to see how passionate they were about their candidate and how involved they were in the whole process. It was almost like they had a personal stake in the process (of course thats how it should be). Surely, some of this is Obama's (and his campaign managers') credit, but at the same time you have to give the students their due - they responded to his call and how!
McCain supporters had their group as well; called the College Republicans. And they did a fairly good job of promoting McCain too.
Interestingly, there was no violence between the two groups, no uncivil behaviour, even though the campaigning was pretty aggressive - the young dems did everything from setting up booths to register new voters and arranging for car pools to take student voters from the campus to the polling stations to organizing Obama-parties and selling Obama-t-shirts. The College republicans on the other hand brought out a new on-campus newspaper since they found the usual one to have a liberal bias and had their own registration booths as well. The Student Government was equally involved and they started a new online programme called 'Be Involved" and all these groups together organized three major debates where students participated and put forward either party policies and viewpoints. The debates were well-fought out and the turn out was great. On election day, the university put up big screens in the food court (which also doubles up as an informal gathering space) and the election was telecast live and many students came in and watched the coverage with their friends.
I found all of this phenomenal. The students who organized these events were not lathi-weilding ruffians but intelligent, sensible young men and women who were passionate about their country and the man who will lead them.
I wish we could have something like this at home and if I go back to an Indian campus, I would want to try this out.

As an after thought, I must add though that not all American students (probably not even a vast majority)are equally involved in politics; that many are pathetically ignorant and it was not uncommmon to hear something like "Man, I dont know who I am gonna vote for.. you know... we'll see..maybe that Obama dude or whatever".

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Not just pitifully few comments here, but remarkably few from young people, whom this blogpost was about. That says a great deal, doesn't it?