Nine out of ten daily conversations with friends, family and even acquaintances tends to include politics as a compulsive subject in Sikkim these days. Politics is more than just a part of Sikkimese life. Nowhere else does politics have such a direct bearing on people’s lives than here. Nearly every single Sikkimese citizen experiences and faces its direct impact in varying degrees – some to advantage, others to disadvantage. You might ask, “Nearly every single Sikkimese citizen?” Yes – consider the cruel irony that even those who are not the slightest bit interested in politics seem to have been made to feel it. Yesterday, I met one such friend who looked a bit strung out and solemnly quiet. It didn’t take long to discover the reason for her anxiety. She was deeply troubled by a rather persuasive rumour that many of her colleagues were being enlisted for transfer. She took a long, deep breath and vented it out with the declaration, “The situation is pretty alarming in the work place”. As she went away, I could not help noticing her heavily dragging steps and fearful countenance, giving a glimpse into her drooping morale. I said to myself, “No one is safe from the fear of democracy. Democracy safeguards human rights just as much as it makes them vulnerable to the ire of the electoral rivalry”. Many are sucked into the vortex of political rivalry merely by virtue of belonging to a particular family like the person I referred to. It is a classic case of a poor defenceless calf being crushed in a bloody fight of violent bulls as the Nepali saying goes.
Whether she and her colleagues will eventually be transferred is beside the point. The fear is real. This individual example is symbolic of how politics hounds the Sikkimese mindset almost inevitably. After the election results were out, fear began to grip people even harder. The fear is on both sides. The losing side is shaken by the thought of being “victimized”. The winning side is faced with the counter-fear of what could happen if the victimization process misfires or backfires.
This is nothing new. It is a cyclic process. A man wrote on Facebook – it happened in the past, it is happening now and it will happen again in the future. In response, I wrote – this statement is charged with diplomacy, trenchancy and prophecy. We laughed, probably in an attempt to quiet the agonizing fear within. Social media is where we socialize to pretend to be super humans, don’t we? But the fact remains – our problems are real and solutions do not seem to be forthcoming. This begs the question – how long can Sikkim tolerate such vindictive politics? The previous governments have to live with the guilt of vindictive transfers and preferential deputations. SKM came along, condemning them and brandishing a banner of change. But when the decisive moment of proving its true colours came, the truth came out. The new government needs to start with headlines for the right reasons. But sadly, too many disturbing decisions made in the first two weeks are playing spoilsport to the honeymoon phase of governance. This government must safeguard itself against too many negative issues right in the beginning. Setting the right tone is key.
One area where Sikkim needed change is this area. As long as our political priorities are determined through a shallow rationalization which is hopelessly confined to the victimization of the vanquished voters and a false sense of triumphant joy to supporters, change remains meaningless. If the present government really feels that the previous government was guilty of favouritism and vindictiveness, now would be the perfect time to rise above pettiness and deliver. A kind of politics that resorts to gratifying the impulsive desires of mean-minded leaders and supporters to put down rivals through the misuse of power will not only not go far but it will have to go down in the annals of history with an industrial amount of guilt and condemnation. It would be colossal foolishness on the part of the SKM government if they coldly repeat the mistakes that they alleged their opponents of making in the past.
Make no mistake about it that transfers and deputations are just the tip of the iceberg. The undercurrent of fear runs deeper. A sense of fear has gripped people from all walks of life. Not that all fears are justifiable, but its presence in the public mind is not a good sign. Employment, entrepreneurships, businesses, contractor-ship, journalism, social media (some have started taking fake Ids) etc. are the areas where public stakes are parked and some stakeholders are shaken in their boots, worrying about their future. Generally people are smart (calculating) enough to work around the fear but the fear hounds realistically. In the worst cases, people could unfortunately lose their very human dignity. The hallmark of a civilized democratic society should be the absence of such fear.
The flipside of fear is ‘blind devotion’ which is even more destructive – both to the devotee and the object of devotion. Did you notice that many a quiet fence sitter has now started showering honeyed words unreservedly on the new chief minister and other influential leaders? They now tell us about how they ‘always’ appreciated their leadership and how close a relationship they enjoyed with them and what a long ways back they go, etc. Sikkimese political history is replete with sycophancy heavily contributing to the collapse of leadership. The people who are toadying up to the incumbent leadership layer up as liabilities which will eventually strangulate that very leadership. Somebody posted on Facebook, “Chamcha jahan ghusega, khali karke hai chodega” which can be roughly translated into “A spoon once put to work eventually empties any full plate. (spoon is the vernacular equivalent for sycophant). Truly powerful leaders know who their true friends and enemies are. To quote a scripture from the Bible, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” (Proverbs 27:6).
The psychological, familial, social and administrative impacts of such a political culture can be far reaching. The end result of it would be the production of two kinds of people – toady citizens always wanting favour and bitter ones always feeling victimized. A society with such binary options is suffocating. Given the stakes people have in politics, a third option seems improbable.
Democracy technically means rule of the people but the term ‘people’ is surely the trickiest one. Isn’t it? The people (but not all) voting for the winning side enjoy democracy in a true sense. The other group of people spend the remaining five years ruing the last election result or waiting for the next one. I have been to a few countries where people’s lives seem genuinely unaffected by election results. Can we envision such a Sikkim in our life time?
“A kind of politics that resorts to gratifying the impulsive desires of mean-minded leaders and supporters to put down rivals through the misuse of power will not only not go far but it will have to go down in the annals of history with an industrial amount of guilt and condemnation. It would be colossal foolishness on the part of the SKM government if they coldly repeat the mistakes that they alleged their opponents of making in the past.”
By Jiwan Rai, the author can be contacted at email@example.com
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