By the time, Mira, you have a conversation with me about politics, I would not know how I’d have changed from now. I would also not know how the world would have changed. Maybe it is these fears of the unknown that I want to forestall by writing this down now.
I have seen how age diminishes humans. Mighty childhood heroes appear frail and pitiable as you review their actions in your adulthood as you walk through the same phases of life.
Father figures are especially prone to such deconstructions. I want you to be able to look back and have a conversation with a younger me, a me that is not burdened by age, a me who is yet to learn to temper his views, a me who is not indebted to anyone to the point of compromised servitude, emotionally, physically, or socially.
Politics is a fundamental right and necessity of societal life. There are many around us who claim to be apolitical, who disdain the label of politics, and, especially in India, there are those who plain do not understand what it means to nurture and develop a persona and a society. But then, there are also pockets of people who fully understand and engage with the system, carving out for themselves an awareness to operate within society with intent. Such individuals are fascinating, inspiring, and attractive. I do not know how exactly, but I hope to steer you towards the latter.
Politics starts from the self.
Who you are, what you can be, how others treat you, how safe you are, what you wear, what you say, what freedoms are allowed to you, is all argued for, and, determined by political systems. Some of these fundamental rights make its way through as rules and legislatures, some of them exist within us but would not have made its way into the state’s constitutions. It takes an empathetic, bold, and sharp, mind to determine what is a fundamental right and what is legal, and work towards bridging that gap, or if that is impossible, rationalize the dichotomies of those two states.
Legal, spiritual, and moral laws are man-made. They are not sacred. The human merits (depending on how much you value and understand your own and others’ freedom) are what determines whether the laws upholding them are sacred or not. It is up to you to sift through humanities lessons to be able to judge for yourself, grapple, and arrive at what new laws are worth making, what existing laws are worth breaking, and what enshrined laws are worth defending.
This is politics.
Authority figures and structures, be it familial (including me, your mom, or anyone), institutional (your school, or college, or the police station), or religious (Gods, idols or scriptural texts) are all man-made. You have the right, and duty to question all of them.
That is politics.
One of the most fascinating aspects of politics is its contradictory clauses in trying to uphold a lot of differing and warring ideals. Free speech might infringe on others’ sentiments. A woman’s abortion rights might infringe on a fetus’ existence. But society is messy and humans are fickle. It is not, however, an insurmountable problem. Many minds have grappled with these problems and have floundered spectacularly, like Hitler, or have risen majestically to the cause, like many great statesmen.
Question and analyze their causes, but do not make it an academic study without taking sides.These are human values and neutrality is cowardice and ignorance.
Your understanding of what dignifies a human’s life determines how much you respect others and how much you value life. You need not be idealistic to the point of breakage. However, ignorance is not flattering. It diminishes your words and opinions and makes life poorer.
Electoral politics, the very underpinning of a free society, is the bartering of different ideas, the legitimizing of the various interpretations of life that each party and their supporters thrust onto the rest of the society. Shunning electoral processes without fully understanding the implications, the beauty, and the power of that structure and process is shallow. Do not do that.
However, of those that do profess political awareness, many do it for material gains, or for the adrenaline rush of participating in a race, and various other similar reasons. That is the reality, not just of politics, but of any human activity. Educate yourself to know the differences in the intent and understanding of those participating around you in electoral politics.
It is not just that one cannot be apolitical, but of those who fall under the politically active label, learn to differentiate between those who understand politics versus those who employ realpolitik with an ulterior motive.
You cannot make out the difference between political machinations of people just by viewing electoral politics, because the realities of a democratic political system are set up such that everyone has to participate with vigor to canvass enough support to gain control of the state machinery. Though everyone’s actions might seem to be similar, that does not mean everyone is the same. Your fundamental politics, politics of self, your understanding, and values, should be able to guide you to identify the effects of the electoral politics espoused by the different political parties, and more importantly, individuals around you.
You can politically engage at many levels. The basic and most important quality is informed criticism of the systems that you are part of willingly,unwillingly, and unwittlingly. Do not let any fool tell you that criticism is cynicism or futile. Good criticism is your ability to articulate the pitfalls, praise the benefits, and attain mastery of any phenomenon. Unless you question, you will only be a tool, a peg in the system. Once you have seperated yourself from the slave mentality of unquestioning fidelity, your quality of criticism next will set you apart from among those who question.
Do not fall for simplified answers. Do not look for caricatures. A politically aware person can be quiet or vocal, smooth or rough, young or old, rich or poor, man or women, father or mother, brother or cousin, conductor or businessman. As can be a politically unaware person. It is up to you to be able to look through to the core.
At the electoral level, your vote, the equivalent of your voice, is your opinion on who, how, why, someone should or should not be allowed to legislate the society, and it is a reflection of you yourself. At an individual level, your personal politics will shape you to be who you are yourself. Judge those around you by their political awareness and leanings. It is a good indicator of their personalities. What you do with that knowledge or how you act on it I’ll leave it to you.
Be a political being. An informed, empathetic, bold political being.