New Internationalist

Do we get the governments we deserve?


We need more hope in democracy. Photo: comedy_nose, under CC License.

Elections always leave me depressed and cynical. As the US goes to the polls, the rest of the world watches detached, and slightly amused, as the planet’s most powerful politicians go for the jugular, attacking each other savagely. Fact-checkers tell us both sides use half-truths, lies and more damned lies. Politicians all over the world play the same games, apparently. Even though their voters see through them and laugh at them. Just watch the Jay Leno show.

The truth always lies somewhere between. The charade of kissing babies, and wives onstage is something other cultures recognize from Hollywood – yes, I’ve been watching The West Wing and Scandal.

I’m shocked that Obama can get away with hiding his antecedents and sealing his college records. Why, I wonder? Must be something to hide. Romney doesn’t inspire either. An ex-Mormon bishop now being exposed as not following his own teachings! It amazes most people that Republicans choose to treat global warming like a joke. A friend from New Jersey tells me that after bearing the brunt of Hurricane Sandy, the mayor has decided to change his endorsement from Romney to Obama. Yes, he believes in global warming now, after the devastation in his own backyard.

Back home in India, the scenario is bleaker. Voting is difficult in the world’s largest democracy. People are torn between the devil and the deep sea. The corrupt and the more corrupt. Several states are going to the polls. Minorities and secular folk fear the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) because of their hate campaigns against us. Because the 2002 pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat was an experiment to see if a Final Solution was viable. The ruling party, on the other hand, gives us an outrageous new scandal every week. I’m tempted to urge people to watch a funny Hollywood movie which encouraged voters to vote for ‘none of the above’.

Yet if we remain apathetic and don’t vote, we deserve the government we get. An Indian anti-corruption movement has begun to expose corrupt, venal politicians from both sides, giving voters vital information. The campaign appears unbiased. And the public, our long-suffering people, are backing the movement in much the same way as people flocked to the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ groups all over the US.

Like most Indians, I am deeply troubled and disgusted by the scams. The most recent one literally takes food out of the mouths of babes. A friend in high places in Delhi’s corridors of power despairs, ‘Everyone knows who it is, who is stealing the children’s food from government anti-poverty programmes, but we do nothing to stop it. They get away scot-free.’

I’m used to the apathy in India. But the way bankers and financiers have walked away with pensions and poor people’s savings in the West somehow shocks me even more. Not the scams. But the fact that they’ve been allowed to escape with impunity. And then demand refinancing of banks and finance institutions.

Many people felt former British prime minister Gordon Brown’s tough stance in the face of the economic meltdown was the right way to go about dealing with the  financial mess. Yet he was voted out. I thought the British media was totally unfair to him and treated him shabbily. Perhaps we get the governments we deserve.

Throughout history, people have struggled against corruption and bad governance. And with all the hype, the technology, the new communication systems, we appear to be getting worse, not better. And the revolution seems to have retreated into the distant past with no hope for change. We badly need hope and we need it soon.

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