It would have been nice to have had Meera Sanyal [ Images ] in the 15th Lok Sabha. So would it have had Captain G R Gopinath and Mallika Sarabhai been elected too. And more of such persons like them and Arun Bhatia. Or even T Chandrashekar, another former bureaucrat from Mumbai; for that matter, any good person who did not belong to the political class but had the gumption to stand up and be counted. I would say they were recklessly courageous against all odds and they deserve to be thanked.
They would have taken to the Lok Sabha with them a whiff of fresh breath, perhaps new ideas which are not tainted by mere and only political considerations. They would have gone there with no personal agendas which the professional politician manages to camouflage as socially purposive agenda. They would have spoken up for the middle classes, the upwardly mobile, the professional and the aspiring classes. Their size is not small but growing.
However, that cannot be in this country for the simple reason that in a Lok Sabha constituency, the odds are far too tough to tackle for a person who is not a political animal but would like to enter that arena and make a difference. The complexities which include the by now entrenched politics of patronage and networks built on that, of money, caste, affiliations with the powerful, the willingness to handle the quid pro quo arising from past, present and even future deeds are enormous. They are a kind of outcasts.
Did you notice that not a single newspaper or a television news channel which ran after these very kind of professional independents when they threw their hat in the ring failed to devote even a few paragraphs or a single minute for their defeats and analyse why things went that way? There are no tears shed for them as if they were not brave but foolhardy. These people, perhaps an exception like Gopinath, may not have had enough money to spend on the polls when traditional parties poured it in abundance.
The independents who are really independent in an increasingly awakened India [ Images ] is a breed I would like to see in the Lok Sabha and even in the Rajya Sabha. But they are not found there. Not even as the nominated members, nominated because of their perspectives, their contribution to the society. They would be nominated if and when they are close to party machines. So A Capt. Gopinath for pioneering cheap air travel, A Sarabhai for her contribution to arts, are not ever going to make it there on this criteria.
Run your eye down the list of candidates and the victors in the just concluded elections and you would see that of the 1,799 independents who got their names on the ballots, only eight emerged winners. And these eight worthies, barring an exception if at all, are politicians who broke away from the parent parties and then tried their luck because the political equations with their erstwhile bosses had changed. They have been around in the political establishment for long to have emerged as barons in their own right.
The courageous independents have not had that kind of helpful background. Nor that kind of support network except for the enthusiasm of the few who rallied around to lend a shoulder and perhaps a bit of cash but they all lacked the cutting edge political machine. And mere enthusiasm of the voters soon after a devastating events -- Mumbai terror attacks [ Images ], the Mangalore moral policing and such like -- do not translate to actionable steps that could translate into votes in the ballot box.
Not good enough
There can be no better illustration of this than the fact that South Mumbai, the most vociferous part of the country where people in chiffons and business suits hyperventilate on occasions and clear their conscience of being good citizens, most of them who should have voted or intended to vote did not either have their names on the voters' list or had not registered themselves. It is hard to expect that class to go and vote. They think their voice is good enough a proxy for the footfalls towards the polling booth.
That is the bane of being an independent even if they do catch the popular imagination. This leaves the field wide open to the mercenary, conscienceless, professional politicians who are willing to mortgage anything for personal attainment of pelf. However, I would personally stand up and salute the independents who decided to make a difference but were felled by the very people who sought to egg them on to contest. The attended responsibility to vote and get them elected was missing. It was glaringly so. The middle classes always have this propensity to let down.
There is an argument in the air that in a democracy like India, where not quality of the people but the numbers make a difference to the kind of governments we get, independents are of no use because they would not even be heard. It could well be true because time allocations for debates are decided by the number of people who want to speak on any debate and the time available. But is that a good enough reason. I think there are other, more potent, reasons as well.
Can be nixed
But this approach was foiled when the late Raibhan Jadhav, an Independent MLA in Maharashtra [ Images ], formed a group of independents and demanded and secured attention during the legislative session. But the problem is that the independents are not a favoured lot with the voters. Even the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena of Raj Thackeray [ Images ] managed better support at the hustings.
This is a worrying phenomenon because the high spending requires corrupt practices upon being elected to recover the huge investments made in getting elected. The corrupt practices include use of muscle and cornering of businesses and protection rackets. This in turn leads to promotion of a cult where family members get preference over even a hard-working party aspirant because if the current leader's patronage is important, then the cadre has to suck up to him and bolster the son, nephew, daughter, wife et al.
Family is all
There was a time when a family member found his or her way to Parliament or the legislature only when the sitting member died and his posthumous influence and the 'sympathy factors' were flogged into a victory. These were more often seen in by-elections across the country, as if a seat once won was some kind of an endowment to a family. Nothing can be ridiculous than that but now the trend is worse: those in power propel their kith and kin in their own lifetimes. Look at the Badal family in Punjab [ Images ] -- a chief minister has his son as deputy chief minister and the daughter-in-law goes to the Lok Sabha!
Or the four seats -- one to Lok Sabha or three in the assembly -- assigned to one extended family of Botcha Satyanarayana with its fealty to the Congress being the main consideration. So is the case with the Bhujbals, the Patils and the Pawars in Maharashtra. This can be an endless list and each state would offer this breed of politicians, except perhaps in West Bengal [ Images ] where the virus is yet to spread mainly because the Left have held sway there for long.
Not conducive for independents at all. It is unfortunately so because the political system frowns on these people because they would not fit in into it and if they were allowed in, it would cause huge embarrassment. They are outsiders and would be kept out while a even a rebel can return home and be embraced for he is one of 'them'.
Mahesh Vijapurkar is a Mumbai-based commentator and former deputy editor, The Hindu