In Defence of the "uneducated" politician

By Prabhakar Timble
21 September 2011 09:07 IST

Politics and politicians, though inseparable from democracy and people’s empowerment are treated as dirty words. Politicians are mocked, ridiculed and scorned. Many of them might not have gone to school but that does not mean that they are not educated.

Successful managers gather the alphabets of business management in B-Schools whereas most corporate leaders and entrepreneurs might have never even heard of Business Schools. To use the managerial jargon, political leadership demands skills in human relations, communications, public relations, time-management, public speaking and resource management. Field performance supported by visible results and responsiveness to customer (voter) needs are the managerial objectives to be achieved.

Informal school and laboratory

Politicians and political leaders in the making learn these skills in a different laboratory through informal schooling.  This is learnt in the market, on the street and pavements, in lanes and by lanes, on grounds and ‘maidans’, in villages, slums and ghettos of the dispossessed and undernourished. Political leaders acquire the desired attitudes, skills and knowledge without going to formal institutions. And even if they go, these are just not taught there. These skills have more to do with common sense and street smartness. They do not form a part of the curriculum of formal education. The formally educated and qualified might not have acquired the skills needed for political leadership. It’s not money alone and money only that takes one on the ladder of political leadership.

A politician has to be prepared for a life of service to the community, accessible to all at all times. There are no fixed hours of work. There is no security of office or tenure with assured age of retirement and terminal benefits. They face compulsory termination at the end of every five years. They are evaluated by thousands or lakhs of examiners. Their question paper is unpredictable not based on a pre-determined syllabus to be studied with the assistance of text-books and reference materials. There are no minimum standards of passing. You either win or lose. There is no third option.

It is true that there are too many political parties and groups in our country. Hence, we have political leaders of all shades and of a variety of educational, social and economic backgrounds. Some type of social background including educational backwardness may not be digested by the forward classes, middle-class and the formally educated. This disagreeableness is the main reason for many to demand educational qualifications for candidates to enter the portals of legislatures and grass-roots democratic institutions. However, we hardly realise that political literacy for democracy is different from acquiring a mere formal qualification in schools and universities.

Explosion of politics

In many political discussions amongst youth reading in universities, I find the multi-party tradition in our country is singled out as a cause for the ills of the present electoral system. To my mind, multiplicity of political groups is inevitable in our society with multiple caste and language identities, regional aspirations coupled with regional inequalities, natural feeling of insecurity perceived by minority groups and the inequality in wealth and opportunity. In fact, I would argue that this multiplicity has acted as a countervailing power on fundamentalism in different spheres. It acts as a speed breaker; thereby, balancing economic policies related to globalisation, privatisation and public sector dis-investment. A two-party system would have been ruthless towards the disadvantaged and the marginalised. The multiplicity has also opened platform and opportunities for participation of all sections and communities in politics, thereby deepening democracy. If we have managed to remain as a single nation with minimum of internal threats and turmoil, it is because of the multiple parties which have provided the voice for the grievances of all. This is another angle to look at the multi-party system which the pure academicians perceive as a demerit.

“Less educated” will usher change

Nurturing vote banks is a very common charge levelled against what is conveniently termed as the “uneducated” politician. The educated elite blame the landless and the poor in the villages, the homeless and destitute in cities, minorities based on caste/religion and the migrants as being responsible for the sway of questionable politicians. When we talk of clean cities and clean politics our eyes move to the residents of slums, construction workers and hawkers as the culprits for polluting our cities and politics. Little we realise that whatever cleanliness we find in our cities is because of the labour of the migrants. Despite the exploitation by the educated and also by the politicians who claim their support but never represent them, the underprivileged have mastered the art of survival, suffering and endurance.

Look at us and at them. We agitate if there is a power failure for ten minutes. They endure even without power. A delayed train or flight is big news. They wait for hours at the bus stands for a State Corporation transport every day. The moment we switch on the tap knob, we get water. If there is a failure for one hour, it would be depicted as a crisis. They are resigned to bring water in pots walking for miles. We sleep in bungalows and flats with air-conditioners and mosquito repellents. They are on pavements and dingy surroundings. They send their children to primary schools where there is no guarantee of toilets and teachers. We bull doze their occupations and livelihood. They still come to us for alternatives. Should we label them as vote banks and responsible for the mess we are in?

Having said all this, let me also reiterate that it is only such citizens and voters who can bring a change. We accuse them of falling easy prey to bribes by the politicians. But, who bribes the politician? Is it anybody else other than the educated and professionals? We also indict the disadvantaged for goondaism and muscle power and the politicians for offering protection to them. This muscle power protects the educated and professionals and not the illiterate and underprivileged. This muscle protects the economic interests of the powerful as opposed to the less advantaged. How should I describe the educated in the political context? Are they non-vote banks? Or Are they money lenders and bankers to the elected representatives?

Our educated politicians are gradually painting and adding two more words as dirty in their vocal dictionary. “Secular” and “Intelligentsia” are under attack. It had started by describing this class as pseudo. The formally educated are right in a way because the intelligentsia cannot go on fast with arrogance and aggression for “swabhiman” and “sadhbhawana”. Neither can the secular shout “vande mataram” and “bharat mata ki jaye” with hatred in the heart and abuses on the tongue for fellow countrymen.

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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