The Political Trees

During a strong breeze, we see the trees on a beach swaying with the wind, one way or the other. The direction of the breeze determines the direction of the swaying of the trees. Since the tall palm trees are flexible, these trees survive the winds and continue to stand.

Exactly what we see with politics today (and we have more or less seen the same yesterday !). Only the flexibility has increased enormously, to counter ever stronger “political” winds. There is no one who can withstand the onslaught of the demanding winds.

When a State Government changes, as it has done recently both in the states of Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, it is funny to watch how the re-alignment of loyalties take place across the board. There is just no loyalty anyway, the re-alignment is for a medium-term survival, say for the next 5 years or less. When the Opposition Party comes to power, as is the case in both states, it tries to eliminate the old allegiances which have been strongly established over the past 5 years or more (in the case of West Bengal State, it was almost 35 years of Communist rule), and if it could not, then it transfers officials to remote places to eliminate their influence and potential spying. This goes on and on as far as the bureaucratic cleanup is concerned.

Then comes the business interests. The COO of Sun Pictures was arrested earlier this week at Chennai, and efforts are on to reduce the power of the Sun TV and Sun Pictures, both of which dominated when the ruling DMK Party was in power in Tamil Nadu state. Other large businesses are currying favour with the new disposition. The speed at which these interests move to assert their new-found allegiance to the party in power is dramatic. This happens all over the world, there is no doubt. In the case of India, there is a specific price that will be charged for each such “temporary” switchover, otherwise approvals will be denied or declined outright. The discretionary power of chief ministers and other ministers has been effectively used in many aspects of life, and recently the Supreme Court of India ruled against the arbitrary sale of land taken away from farmers by the Uttar Pradesh State Government, and handed over to powerful real estate companies.

What is worthwhile watching is the balance of power between the executive, the parliament/state assembly and the court of law. In my opinion, this validation of constitutionally granted division of powers is in full play in India, and rarely one is able to see the same in other countries. Notwithstanding the high marks given to the Western countries in terms of democratic institutionalization and governance models, the effective practice of the same in what is the largest democracy in the world on a daily basis proves the strength and value of these principles. While I am not saying that we are avoiding or eliminating corruption and poor government performance by adoption of this fine balancing of powers, such a practice sets us apart from other pseudo-democracies, and puts us in good stead for tackling the ills of the poor governance and the society.

Let the political trees enjoy the sway, in the meanwhile.


Vijay Srinivasan
9th July 2011


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