VIEWPOINT - The New Indian Express (Kerala), 5 May 2003

The significance of Antony
and his 'new politics'

Kerala does not need a third front. It needs a second front.

By ASHOK R CHANDRAN

Kerala under BJP will be no better than under a stagnant UDF or a regressive LDF. O Rajagopal's dollops as Union Minister may win a few votes. But it will not make any difference to Kerala. An "alternative" that rides on patronage politics is no alternative.

In Kerala, an "alternative" would be to have a political party whose members put public interest above self-interest and party interests. Learned men will quickly dismiss notions of public interest. I draw their attention to A K Antony.

The lesson from Kerala's CM [Chief Minister] is not that it is possible to be an honest politician; but that honesty is a virtue and an element of people's conception of public interest. It is difficult to win the trust of Malayalis, cynical as they are. Yet, in recent times, when Antony's government has shunned populism, ordinary Keralites have remarked, "If he has taken that harsh step, it may be for our good." How is it that people within and outside Kerala like A K Antony rather than despise him? Tomorrow, if Antony were proven to be corrupt, Indians would chuck him and embrace the next non-corrupt leader to emerge. People do not admire Antony, we appreciate integrity.

Like integrity, merit is held in high regard and is another element of public interest. It may be tough to identify public interest, and tougher to execute it amidst constraints. But it is wrong to say that there is no such thing as public interest.

Unless a society is sitting on a natural treasure like oil, it can develop only by tapping people's creativity and rewarding merit. The genuine alternative - a second front - will have political leaders with their hearts in public interest and heads firmly in place. Such people can give up patronage politics and pave the way for progress.

If Kerala Government has failed to capitalise on the momentum generated by GIM [Global Investor Meet], it is not wholly because of tribals on the warpath or Marxists with an anti-development agenda. Despite changes happening in Government, the underlying current in UDF remains that of patronage politics, and putting one's party above public interest. This "politics-as-usual" of Ministers is the key reason why they have been unable to energise talented and sincere government officials.

A K Antony appears to be testing the waters of 'new politics' through his personal example with the Home portfolio (minimal political interference, greater autonomy to professionals). New politics gives up abuse of political power. In return, it expects the resulting good governance to translate into goodwill and electoral support. Kerala society must recognise this and encourage Antony's move because reciprocity is required for new politics to succeed.

A political party led by public-spirited ex-officials and honest citizens may appear too elitist at first glance, but holds the best bet for the future.

But one cannot rely on UDF or LDF to shift to new politics soon. Old UDF leopards are unlikely to change their spots. It is also true that Antony is able to play new politics on his turf because there are Congress colleagues working overtime to replenish the party coffers. In the CPI-M, even younger development missionaries with social science PhD cannot rise above petty party interests. If the anti-Cola antics of Marxists are a pointer, that party's interests will continue to overshadow public interest.

It is in this scenario that the need for a second front arises. A political party led by public-spirited ex-officials and honest citizens may appear too elitist at first glance, but holds the best bet for the future.

If Keralites respond overwhelmingly in favour of Antony's 'new politics', it may prompt individuals with personal reputation to enter politics and form a second front in the State.

Call it the New Politics, Public Interest Politics, or the Second Way. Amidst the constraints of coalition politics, Antony is trying his best to do his job. But are the Keralites ready to do away with their "clientelism"?


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