Imagine the fate of a political leader who goes to the polls asking people to work hard, tighten belts, travel by public transport, eschew lavish weddings, desist from encroaching on public space like roads and pavements, and adopt a modest lifestyle. What would happen to a political party if its manifesto criticizes consumerist tendencies and ostentation in society and promises to tax or curtail products and practices that encourage it? Or out-lines a systematic plan to dismantle the structure of graft, patronage and largesse characterising governance and public life?
Would anyone vote for a candidate who wants illegal constructions and extensions in his area to be demolished? Who would want to support a prospective legislator who promises to penalize law-violators, habitual litterers, street goondas, and touts? Or someone who makes reclaiming illegally converted agricultural land his or her campaign plank?
One expected response to this would be that some of these issues pertain to the social sphere, have more to do with attitudes and aspirations, and are therefore outside the purview of “political leadership,” while others are already addressed under existing law. Besides, which adult is not already working hard, and suffering privations according to what he or she believes ought to have been his or her returns?
The “existing laws” part becomes assumes significance in the light of what law-makers made of them in the case of massive structures put up in the state’s capital in violation of guidelines. The reprieve the law-makers devised in their hallowed councils came even as the highest judicial seat in Jammu and Kashmir had gauged not only the seriousness of the issue but also the political, societal and administrative implications it represented. Lest it be forgotten, the reprieve came just on the eve of parliamentary elections when people were supposed to choose leaders to lay out, or at least defend and advance, a template for a safe, secure and just future – an exercise they are purportedly engaged in at present too.