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Dear Mr. Tharoor, You’re Mistaken If You Think Indian ‘Professionals’ Can Help Politics

For us, saying “yes” to the boss is more important than speaking the truth…

13/08/2017 12:32 PM IST | Updated 13/08/2017 12:32 PM IST
Anindito Mukherjee / Reuters

Dear Mr. Tharoor,

Like many others, I am in awe of you, especially your intellect and verbal acumen. This is a humble attempt to respond to your recent "openings" pitch for the newly launched All India Professionals' Congress.

Like many other would-be professionals, I too never considered politics as I readied myself for a career. It's true that politics is still considered as an activity for "other people". In your words:

My generation grew up in an India where a vast gulf separated those who went into the professions or the civil services, and those who entered politics. The latter, at the risk of simplifying things a bit, were either at the very top or the very bottom: Either maharajahs or big zamindars with a feudal hold on the allegiances of the voters in their districts, or semi-literate 'lumpens' with little to lose who got into politics as their only means of self-advancement. If you belonged to neither category, you studied hard, took your exams, and made a success of your life on merit – and you steered clear of politics as an activity for those "other people".

But here's my contention: are we professionals really the solution? Are we as "professional" as you seem to think we are?

More than honing his or her work skills, a "professional" in India must master the arts of "buttering up" and "adjusting" to a flawed and corrupt system.

My generation grew up in an India where since we were toddlers we were taught to work hard to build a career in medicine or engineering or in the government. The more artistic pursuits such as singing, dancing or painting were scoffed at as mere hobbies.

So we followed the path that was laid out for us and aimed to bag "respectable" jobs. But what did most of us find? We found politics even in the workplace. We learned that saying "yes" to the boss was more important than speaking the truth, we learned that looking the other way was better for survival than blowing the whistle, we learned to make friends in high places rather than stick to high ideals.

More than honing his or her work skills, a "professional" in India must master the arts of "buttering up" and "adjusting" to a flawed and corrupt system. Do you need our kind of "professionals" in politics? In India, we know how to bow to authority and are well-aware that reasoning and debate have no place in any engagement with our "superiors."

Mr Tharoor, it's true when you say:

"Around the world, the educated taxpaying professional classes are normally the ones who bring values and convictions to a country's politics, and who have the most direct stake in questions of what a government can and cannot do. Across Europe, for instance, it's people from the middle-class who set the political agenda: They make up the bulk of the activists, voters and candidates for political office. In most Western democracies, politics is essentially a middle-class pursuit."

But again, does this apply to India? The competition for scarce resources is fierce here and most "professionals" have been trained to avoid risks and not question the system in any way. They are taught to keep their heads down and their mouths shut. They choose to disengage from flaws in the systems and processes. They'll often abstain from voting and value a promotion over a principled stand.

The educated middle-class taxpaying professionals are not empowered enough to ask questions. What transformational politics would they do?

Do we need such "professionals" of today for the politics of tomorrow?

It's correct that they value an idea of India that is growth-driven rather than built along the fissures of caste and religion. They demand a sustained increase in the quality of public services paid for by their taxes. Far from the shrill cries of Hindutva and the gau rakshaks, their priorities are investments in education, healthcare, urban development and a stress-free professional life. Yet, it would certainly not be an exaggeration if I say that "professionalism" in India only teaches some of us how to curb our voices. The educated middle-class tax paying professionals are not empowered enough to ask questions. What transformational politics would they do?

In India, the kids who "conquer our most exclusive universities" would strive for a professional career. However, they will soon have to confront the reality that the skills required to thrive in the world of Indian workplaces have nothing to do with the talents honed by a first-class education.

The skills required to thrive in the world of Indian workplaces have nothing to do with the talents honed by a first-class education.

On that note, an initiative which can teach us what professionalism is would be far more beneficial right now than the formation of a Professionals' Congress. Perhaps professionals need to really be professional in their own field before they can hope to make a difference in politics.

Dear politicians, first make India a better place to work in!

So my message to you all, the caretakers of the country, is this: When you think about the future of India, consider getting involved in workplaces as well and affecting policies that encourage real professionalism.

Yours truly,

A big fan

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