The great philosopher Aristotle stated the bare truth when he said centuries ago that man is “a political animal”. He and his equally famous disciple Plato strongly denounced politics. Plato went so far as to say: “O, men of Athens, if I was engaged in politics, I would have perished long ago and done no good either to you or to myself.”
Since then, however, politics has pervaded every sphere of life, and the number of politicians has grown beyond measure. There is politics everywhere, in government generally, in the administration, in schools, colleges, universities, art, literature, and even in sports and games.
In fact, there is hardly any sphere of life and activity, male of female, which is free from politics and the insidious influences of the fast-growing tribe of politicians of various hues and types sincere ones (their number is indeed small), insincere ones and downright hypocrites (their tribe is fast growing), and others who fall mid-way and share the traits of both the good and the bad. Of course, it would be unfair to paint them all with the same brush.
The lament of Aristotle and Plato has become pointless in modern society, despite the advance of civilisation and the remarkable progress of education and general enlightenment.
Politics and politicians have not only grown amazingly, but have also prospered without let or hindrance. This may indeed be described as the age of politics; politicians are supreme everywhere.
The gates of politics are wide open; anyone (preferably people with some means and a mastery of rhetoric but there is no bar on others who can, and do, acquire wealth as the years pass) can join the vast society of politicians, learn their devious ways, especially their oratory, deceitful tactics and hypocrisy and thus become prosperous.
Politics and hypocrisy have become inalienable from lies, change of colour like the chameleon, and shift of loyalties to people who can pay them best. Consequently, politics has also become synonymous with endless graft and deep-rooted corruption.
Jawaharlal Nehru wrote in his famous book “Glimpses of World History”: “Politicians usually hide their real reasons and talk pompously of religion and justice and truth and the like. And still the great majority of people are taken in by the soft talk of politicians.”
Again, in a letter to Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru wrote: “Ordinary politicians have no principles to stand by and their work is governed by day-to-day opportunism.” He also knew that politicians cannot build India and held the view that in perfect society politicians would fade away.
A perfect society exists nowhere on earth, and it is no wonder that both politics and politicians continue to flourish, despite all their flaws and foibles.
While it is true that politicians manage to prosper, and many of them have become prosperous almost overnight through their tact, manoeuvres, deceit, and flattery of those in power and exploitation of those who are weak and helpless, it is also true that they have lost credibility.
No longer do the masses at any rate, the majority of them who have become politically aware, thanks to the “education” by the politicians themselves take politicians at their word. Even in India, where a large number of people are illiterate, the people no longer believe in politicians’ promises.
During the elections, a common comment by the average voter in the rural areas was that these politicians make tall, high-sounding promises but never fulfil them. They come to the people only at election time, and during the intervening period they are too busy feathering their own nests to bother about the plight of the people.
As for corruption and betrayal of public and even national interests by politicians, there seems to be no end. In this connection, one may recall the statement made by late Mrs. Gandhi in December, 1979, when she was out of power and virtually in the wilderness.
She disclosed that she had information from Dr. Henry Kissinger, the U.S. diplomat, to the effect that there was a C.I.A. (Central Intelligence Agency of the U.S.A.) agent in her Union Cabinet. In fact, it is no longer a secret that hardly any State is free from secret agents of foreign powers and, consequently, it is difficult to keep anything secret.
As for political morality and the standards of conduct among politicians, the less said the better. The loud professions and promises of politicians of all ranks are a mockery of the system they represent.
Each election brings out a long story of money changing hands, of loyalties being bought and sold like commodities in the open market, of betrayal of principles for personal gains, of going back on commitments almost by sunset the same day, and of crossing over and switching from one party to another, depending upon the weightage each commands and the prospects of power and privilege each holds.
Many politicians cry from the house-tops that they would fight authoritarianism throughout their life, and yet they have no hesitation in switching support and selling their vote in the legislature to the highest bidder.
It is even true to say that, despite the progress of science and of the process of enlightenment, ours is not a critical age, nor the age of reason and rationality. Rather, it is the age of cheap politics, of partisanship, nepotism and selfishness of the highest degree. For most of the evils in the social system, the responsibility is that of the politicians.
When they lower the standards of conduct, their example proves infectious, and the fallout of dishonest practices is widespread and, of course, highly distressing.
It is futile to talk of principles and ideologies in such a dismal context. Ideologies are thrown to the winds at the slightest pressure or temptation.
In fact, the very words “ideology” and “principles” have become totally irrelevant in politics and among politicians. Alterations and adjustments seem to become necessary whenever the needs of power politics dictate such adaptation.
Almost every issue has become political or is tainted with politics of some sort. In our schools, colleges and universities there is politics almost everywhere. Admissions, studies, appointments of lecturers, selection of examiners and paper-setters, manipulation of examination results are all dictated by political considerations.
Merit counts for little; expediency, which is just another name for subtle politics, governs most aspects of education. This is indeed a pity because there should be no politics at all in the sphere of education, especially in the temples of learning.
Politicians often take refuge behind the easy shelter of flexibility. There should be no rigidity, they argue. Ideals, they think, are not and must not be, absolute. The need for change is emphasised, not in the public interest but in their own.
Politicians readily quote the scriptures, and our religious books, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Gita and even the Koran and the Bible, in defence of their actions. One may cheat, swindle, exploit, suppress, oppress, reach disgraceful compromises on basic principles, discard old friendships and form new ones to meet immediate needs. All this is permissible in politics and among politicians.
Politics is the art and science of government. Politicians, by and large, know little of it. They do nothing, but they appear to do everything—Jacks of all trades. Worse, they remain in public life endlessly and never seem to retire until they are called to heaven or hell, as the case may be. Their conscience never seems to prick them.
And it is not Indian politicians alone who are notorious. In many other countries too they play a dubious role. Nikita Khrushchev, the well-known Russian Prime Minister and Communist Party leader, once said: “Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river.”
A European commentator was also right when he said: “To be a-chemist you must study chemistry, to be a lawyer or a physician you must study law or medicine, but to be a politician you need only to study your own interests.”