In my two year journey through Indian politics I’ve learnt a lot of important lessons about how politics and policymaking function in this country. A lot of the lessons have come through the analysis of electoral data but the truly eye opening lessons have come from travelling with party leaders and karyakartas. This article is a compilation of five lessons I’ve learnt about Indian politics in the last two years but only recently crystallized while travelling across eight districts of Tripura with BJP’s National General Secretary, Shri Ram Madhav.
- It’s the hardest job
Grassroots politics is not what is reported to be politics from the TV studios of Delhi. It is one of the most grueling professions than anyone could chose to embark upon. The toughness of politics doesn’t come from the long work hours or the rigorous workload; it comes from the uncertainty involved. The people who’ve chosen to enter politics need to work for a political party or a constituency without the slightest surety of winning, or even getting a party ticket to contest. Everyone in politics is essentially a volunteer and the only real motivation to put in the hard work is self-motivation. A person who has entered politics from the grassroots is someone who is willing to travel from village to village meeting people for weeks and months while spending his or her own money with an expectation of a future reward that might never materialize. It’s this risk that prevents educated people from entering politics. Most people who can get high paying jobs wouldn’t even considering foregoing that income to indulge in the risky business of politics. Even after winning an election you only have job security for five years.
2. Unlimited Patience
There are a few Members of Parliament (MPs) who won elections during a wave when anyone who’d gotten the party ticket would have won. Some of these politicians got the ticket due to their proximity to senior leaders, their successful careers outside of politics, their intellectual abilities, their performance in TV studios, and some even got tickets just through luck. The number of such politicians drops drastically as you go lower down the political hierarchy to the level of Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs). Most MPs and almost all MLAs come from the grassroots and are people who’ve spent years cultivating relationships in their constituencies. These politicians must possess the quality of unlimited patience because they are often responsible for hosting multiple meetings a day where exactly the same issues are discussed. They must patiently listen to constituents who come to them everyday with problems that they have no jurisdiction over, yet they must attempt to help or at least assure the voter of trying. Very senior leaders of the party like Ram Madhav ji often attend over half a dozen meetings each day with party functionaries from the State and Mandal level in states that are going to polls. These meetings last from 7:00 AM in the morning to 2:00 AM the next day and the leaders have to repeat the same messages during all of the meetings. The issues raised by party functionaries from different Mandals are also largely the same and they are repeated multiple times in all meetings by different people. Grassroots politics isn’t for someone who can’t bear with the monotony.
3. Diversity of character
This one isn’t strictly a requirement for success in politics, but the trait is required for someone to be a good politician. A good politician must have the diversity of character to meet people from all walks of life and from all socioeconomic backgrounds. They must have the capacity to interact with foreign diplomats in the morning and maintain equal enthusiasm in meeting with illiterate laborers from the most backward areas of the country the same evening. Exhibiting this trait sounds much easier than it actually is, and I’ve rarely met politicians who can do this well.
4. Never stop learning
The media has branded the Indian politician as a brash individuals who knows nothing beyond caste and votebank politics. In the constant fight for survival that politicians must endure, a lot of them do forget that there is more to politics than winning elections. Every politician must keep learning about his or her constituency, voters and the changing power dynamic within their party, but there are several great politicians in India who are learned individuals with a surprising breadth and depth of knowledge. They are informed about the happenings of the world and are voracious readers. In my two years in politics I’ve met several politicians who defy every stereotype people hold of the Indian politician and they often know far more than most highly educated corporate employees. Constant learning and a habit of reading are essential to politics because a good politician must be able to connect ideas from multiple places to form a novel narrative. The job of winning elections also involves a lot of monotonous work and travelling, from which reading is a welcome respite.
5. Persistence wins
This lesson is the secret to succeeding in politics. If a person has no other skill put persistence he or she will likely succeed in politics. Every incumbent is bound to mess up eventually. If you can position yourself as the alternative then the people will sweep you into political power. The secret is to always be the primary opposition, and you are bound to become the incumbent in due time.
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