The Game of Politics
For the politicians and bureaucrats in India, there is only one thing that matters – power. They will do whatever it takes to stay in power. The political parties are machines to maximise power and wealth for their leaders. The bureaucrats are vehicles for the politicians to exercise their power. India’s bureaucrats long ago stopped the steel frame of India; they have rusted and rotted from the inside and are only there to serve their political masters in return for some petty gains. Gone is their desire to build a nation; all they now do is work as the extraction and exploitation agents for the leaders in power.
Let’s understand the game of politics and how it gets played. Each political leader has sharpened the game building on the learnings from their predecessors. The only objective is power – win every seat, win every election. Only if one is in power can one rule. The conclusion politicians reached very early in India after the British departed is that voters are not concerned about the economy. So, while a few of us may care about economic growth, the smart politicians know that the state of the economy is irrelevant to how the people vote. The few who care about the economy won’t even fill a single polling booth in India.
For the politician therefore, it is all about politics. That means power; ideally, absolute power. The game is about acquiring it and then retaining it for as long as possible. That means winning elections again and again. What does it take to win an election? In a first-past-the-post election, it means having a candidate on the political party’s symbol who gets one more vote than the runner-up. With anti-defection laws and party whips, winning candidates are reduced to mere rubber stamps – at the beck, call and mercy of the party leaders. Voters vote for party symbols; even the party name doesn’t show up on the EVM. Even supporters of the party have no say in the selection of the candidate – only the high(est) command does. It is a two-way patronage system – please the leader at the top and get the ticket to contest. Voters are irrelevant except for their votes at election time.
Look at what’s been happening in recent years in India. Leaders who swore to the ideology of a specific party (and against another) suddenly quit and flip their beliefs. It is not a change of heart that drives them, but a change of bank balance. They are driven by fear or favour – fear of the investigative agencies or favour from those who can bestow it. Every party looks the same – filled with defectors who were on the other side until only very recently. When the lust for power encounters political leaders hungry for absolute domination, a deal is only a matter of time and negotiation.
MLAs, MPs and even ministers resign and flip – like pieces in the board game of Othello Black one move, turned to white in the next move. Money or a threat does the trick. Politicians with a clean track record have long become extinct. The ones who make it to the top are the ones who can play the game. In all this, voters aren’t even in the decision frame. The highest bidder wins, and it is typically the party in power.
And so it is that the party leadership at the HQ exercises absolute control. The real elections game happens before and after the voting. Scandals, suicides and sensational headlines are used to distract daily and keep us entertained so the real issues never get discussed. After all, public memory is short and their attention has now become even more micro – reduced to forwarding WhatsApp messages and discussing the trivial. When were Indian elections ever about matters of substance? There are only speeches, not debates. They are only nominations, not primaries. An unlimited supply of money combined with media dominance and MLA-MP acquisition machine (before or after an election) is the source for power. Voters are just incidental to the real game of politics like pawns in a game of chess, like spectators watching a rigged race, like prisoners electing their masters in a jail. Everything in politics is just a transaction – what does one give, what does one get. This is the India we live in but are unable to see.