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Political honesty, the definitive example of oxymoron

When a group of young people were asked what came to their mind when they heard the word “politics”, they said: “It’s just scandals and accusations”, “Lies and manipulations – all they want is your vote”, “Long speeches,  rehearsed and unfeeling – it’s not about you” …..  In short: “political dishonesty”.  One moment…..  Is honesty still, nay, ever a part of politics?

We want honesty, yet we don’t behave that way because we want our candidates to be winners. Our judgements are coloured by perceptual bias, especially with whom we disagree. We see their failures as a reflection of personal limitations and downplay the context.  So, whether the issue is, say, slow economic recovery or failure to curb the rape culture or delay in exposing the list of black money account holders, or whatever, we attribute it to a person, say, the Prime Minister. No matter how difficult the situation the leader inherited, failure is ascribed to him. The challenger’s job is to make the failure as stark as possible. To borrow from a philosophical wit, “we have met the enemy and he is us”.

No one holds politicians accountable. Ideally, this responsibility could be held with the media outlets, but the majority diluted their “objectivity” decades ago.  Opinion pieces that favour one politician/party over the other, albeit subtly, are the new form of lies. They appear in the format of “news”, and provide some factual data to appear more truthful, yet delicately push the author’s/editor’s opinions.

Are there honest politicians?  Most would say “No”. But were there any before? A handful of famous historical figures like Dr. Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi etc. come to mind.  Could these people have become dishonest if they were involved in politics for a long period? Some may agree in line with the saying “Tell me your friends and I will tell who you are”, while these legends and the likes could still be historical exceptions.

What is the benefit of being honest?  Many cannot give a right answer, but most politicians believe it is definitely more gainful to be dishonest than honest, unmindful of the long-term consequences. Since time immemorial, greed has prevailed, particularly when there is an accessible trough of public money provided by hapless taxpayers. In a democracy, when society attempts to elect the “honest” politician, difficulties that arise are, therefore, inevitable. In an ideal system, honesty is the backbone, but we are settling with elbows. Change is needed to improve the hinges of democracy.

Honesty in politics is myth for two reasons.  The “political system” is a power, influence and control game, which enjoins manipulation. Secondly, the “system” is too inept to mandate personal honesty. For those lacking character, politics provides a platform.  To climb the ladder of success, they lie to the point where, in order to convince others, end up believing their own lies.  Failure of our politicians and political systems are primarily a product of our failure to embrace responsibility for our decisions. Dishonesty in politics demerits the people from going to polls. Charlie Chaplin succinctly said: “I remain just one thing, and one thing only, and that is a clown.  It places me on a far higher plane than any politician”.

C.S. Krishnamurthy  

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