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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  1. #1 rowena young 06 Nov 12

    Good post Mari. Gordon was treated shabbily - didn't look like a movie star, did he? The big challenge for America, is can it avoid electing someone whom the rest of the world isn't incredulous about - they do seem to go for jokers.

    Good to hear of the Indian anti-corruption movement. Hope it builds and builds.


  2. #2 mari 06 Nov 12

    I'd vote for Gordon Brown any day over Blair, Bush or Clinton. Almost everyone I know in Britain agreed GB was solid, dependable, trustworthy and they'd go for that rather than facile smarmy I'm mystified as to why the British media treated him so unfairly...

  3. #3 Jayanthi 07 Nov 12

    Well written. We shall go down in history as educated illiterates who did nothing to change the situation

  4. #4 Ludwig Pesch 07 Nov 12

    Thanks for this frank and disturbing account of ground realities. No change can take place without facing the facts, and accountability has to go beyond national borders.
    An encouraging sign is a Swiss initiative by concerned citizens currently under way and described in the highly respected NZZ daily newspaper: holding the boards of corporations accountable for the havoc they cause abroad (in this case Swiss based multinational); namely on two fronts: ecological and human rights.
    If that gets the required support and judges the power to act, this should cause a stir among politicians. The idea here is that affected parties will be able to go to court in Switzerland. Not a joke if one considers the long list of corporations ’conveniently’ based there at present. Will it reduce corruption and money laundering that all too long tarnished the reputation even of decent Swiss citizens? At least it would become more difficult there, and perhaps even less viable anywhere. Every bit makes a difference, and a working similar legislation could be called for by pressure groups in any country.

  5. #5 david cohen 07 Nov 12

    I write this as I await the election results for President, the US Senate and US House.

    My friends and I, my children all worked hard in this election as foot soldier canvassers. Going to voters, learning if they are for Obama and urging them to vote. I did this on 6 Sundays and 2 Saturdays and today. I did it all in northern Virginia, close to Washington DC. Virginia is a closely contested state.

    Canvassing is good for the canvassers. It brings you to areas you rarely traverse. The people
    I saw are young, old and in between; returning veterans and people with the disabilities of age, a young mother who had just finished nursing and people voting for the first time because they had just become citizens. I saw African-Americans, Ethiopians, Eritreans, El Salvadoreans, Bolivians, Mexicans and white people whose legacy is family living in the US for many generations.

    All treated me with smiles. Only one rude person and one cynical person. In some homes the door bells were broken, others were freshly painted, some are newer, others were built right after World War II. These people are all living within a few kilometers of each other.

    They know what they believe even though they are not ideological. They are coping with change and uncertainty. The Obama campaign values organization and people's participation. At the beginning we were asked to give our story on why we favor Obama and favor him strongly enough to volunteer and spend many hours at this effort.

    As I am nervous and worry about the outcome for President and Congress--worrying is part of my culture and DNA-- participating this year, as I have in previous elections, is the best antidote for worry and most of all connects me to other Americans.

    I know elections are imperfect. This had more lying than usual (particularly from Romney) but the
    process engaged many as we found ways thorough law suits, and more importantly through organizing to overcome obstacles designed to keep poorer, older and people of color from voting.
    We fought back--and for the most part successfully..

    So hats off to Mari Marcel Thekaekara for writing such a thoughtful piece from India which conducts elections in ways that I know our countries can learn from each other.

    David Cohen,
    Washington, DC

  6. #6 tricia zipfel 09 Nov 12

    Such a relief................but let's hope this gives him and his team the
    confidence to be more radical - though they still have to contend with a
    fiercely reactionary Congress.
    I looked at Mitt Romney last night and thought how 'past it' he looked.
    Perhaps the US is no longer the preserve of rich, elderly, corporate white
    men - minorities and women are making their mark - let's hope so!

    Tricia Zipfel, London

  7. #7 david cohen 09 Nov 12

    We're all feeling good and pleased that we did our part.
    This will be my last 2012 election note (except to comment on others).
    My friend Mari Marcel Thekaekara writes a wonderful blog from India. I am a regular commentator.

    At 6pm on election night I commented having canvassed but not heard any returns. Of course I was boosted by Nate Silver.

    Now we will all be engaged in countless issues. But let us savor this special moment of victory, lifted by the President's memorable
    speech and for me an inspired one.

    David Cohen
    Washington DC

  8. #8 priya chatterjee thomas 09 Nov 12

    Priya wrote on Face Book: ’the polity is not to blame if the options are limited and incapable of delivering-the voter can only be blamed if he chooses a substandard candidate over a capable one-sadly he has no option-the answer would be for capable and conscientious citizens who have a working knowledge of governance to enter politics and lead the people-they should be spurred on to lead the country-and if we fail to return them to parliament then tocqueville's statement would certainly be applicable to the aam junta’

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

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