Beyond slogans

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When Barack Obama first ran for office in 1995, he argued that politicians should not see voters “as mere recipients or beneficiaries”. It’s time for politicians and other leaders, he maintained, “to take the next step and to see voters, residents or citizens as producers of this change.” Obama was talking of ‘the change’ that can be brought about by harnessing people’s power. For being able to use people’s power for social and political change, Obama advocated that a politician must see his or her job as that of an organizer – as part teacher and part advocate – “one who does not sell voters short but who educates them about the real choices before them.”

A political leader has to be able to combine streaks of idealism with a realistic appreciation of the ‘politically possible’. The political strategies have to be goal-oriented and defined more by coalitions and compromise than by the flashy but often “hollow rhetorical pyrotechnics” that Hillary Clinton calls “the luxury of symbolic suicide”.

Now let’s turn around to our breed of political and other leaders. The obvious next step is to ask some uncomfortable questions which, even when it’s known that nobody in the leadership roles here has the gut to answer, must be asked. Irrespective of the ideological and other lineages, how many of Kashmir’s leaders fit into the definitions and descriptions given out above. Some may question if Obama or Clinton themselves are the likes they have described; but that is besides the point. What is important is the description. Preachers say ‘do as we say not as we do’ – message and the messenger are two different things.

How many political leaders in current time and space are able to garnish their idealism with streaks of reality? How many actually talk of issues and concerns without passing moral judgments on them and on the actions of others? How many punctuate social and political aims and ideals with commas, semi-colons and periods of possibility?

Fact of the matter is that politics in this part of the world, Jammu and Kashmir in particular, is yet to grow beyond attention-seeking rhetorical flourish. Indeed so strong is the culture of allegorical jingoism here that even the Friday preachers in our mosques make hollow but loud noises and think they have impressed the God and their audiences both. One doesn’t necessarily have to be loud or shrill in order to make a point; it can be done with much ease and greater efficiency by being calm and composed. Inverse proportionality between the sound decibels and substance of message needs to be understood by those who are, as well as those who aspire to be in the leadership roles. Once this happens, it’s for sure that there will be fewer brawls in the legislative bodies here than what people have otherwise been witnessing. Instead of wasting people’s money and state’s resources on unnecessary din and commotions day in and day out, it will be prudent if “people’s representatives” and those aspiring to be the representatives actually devote some time to talk sensibly about their issues and problems.

Similarly, instead of indulging in hollow slogans, those in the leadership roles have to educate people about different available choices and how they could reasonably express them. Talking about change is not enough – those who do must also show how to bring it about without harming people and their interests. Similarly instead of stoking and aggravating visible and invisible fears and panic among the people, it would be worthwhile if the public is informed and educated on how to get out of this panic.

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