What'll they be when they grow up?
To expect politicians to be role models is naive, but those in power should think about the awful examples they set on a regular basis
I have mixed feelings about WhatsApp, like I'm told a few million users do. On the one hand, it allows me to keep abreast of what's happening in the lives of family and friends across the planet; on the other, it exposes me to everything that is wrong and awful and negative about life in our rapidly deteriorating country on a daily basis. To uninstall it is not a solution either, given that a new social media platform is always waiting in the wings to take the place of what we collectively embrace or reject.
One of the reasons for this is our increasing obsession with what online marketers refer to as 'virality'. This is helpfully described online as 'the tendency of an image, video, or piece of information to be circulated rapidly and widely from one Internet user to another.' It is now sought-after the way imported chocolates once were. When something, somewhere, starts to go horribly wrong, there are now a few hundred eager people, smartphones held high above their heads, desperate to capture it all not for posterity, but for the rapid consumption of other people online.
This week alone brought me three videos that would probably have shocked me a half decade ago, but only left me with a few minutes of sadness this time. One involved a minister screaming at a Governor in public, because his microphone had been interrupted during a speech. The second involved an MLA trying to intimidate an IAS officer because some files presumably related to his business had not been cleared. And there was also one involving an MP addressing a crowd of disabled people and threatening to break the leg of a man who did something that displeased him while he was speaking.
These videos had all obtained virality, which means they had all been watched by millions across India, shared and discussed by all kinds of people. This virality made me think of children, and the definite possibility of thousands of them being exposed to this behaviour. In case you haven't noticed, our news channels stopped focusing on issues that matter a long time ago, and now routinely rely on viral videos to whip up emotions or stir up feelings in the hope of encouraging the creation of more such videos.
Civility in public discourse is now a thing of the past. Politicians who once treated each other with respect, recognised the importance of their positions and didn't allow power to go to their heads have long been replaced by men and women who think nothing of attacking an opponent's family in public, laughing about cutting off the heads of enemy soldiers, or referring to migrants as termites. These aren't speeches made in private either. They are shouted from rooftops, in front of news cameras.
I wonder about what goes through the minds of these politicians when they say the things they do. Do they think about repercussions beyond political mileage? Do they consider how young Indians look at them? Does it ever matter to them that their words have an impact on how children start to look at politics and what it means?
I understand and acknowledge that expecting role models is naive in a democracy now powered exclusively by mysterious sources of funding that are never revealed, and candidates who look upon criminal cases as badges of honour. I still find it strange that so many of them continue to behave the way they do knowing that their own children are watching.
The argument that politicians behave badly the world over shouldn't matter, because those leaders and their actions don't have the power to influence the young the way leaders here do. We are now condemned to endure illegal hoardings, screaming matches, allegations and counter-allegations, insults and invective on an hourly basis, simply because we all lost our way somewhere. What ought to have been nipped in the bud was somehow accepted, because acceptance comes so easily to us as a nation.
I wonder about how children look at politicians because they are the ones who will one day replace the current lot. Our doctors, engineers and sportspeople may encourage children to save lives, start companies or win glory for India, but we no longer care about what the politicians of tomorrow will be like, when we should. None of us will be around to watch, of course, but it should worry us all that the future of politics in India only looks dark and ugly.
When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to email@example.com
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