Saturday, August 22, 2015

Something to believe in

There is a certain sadness in writing about things that once mattered to you, and realising in the present that your interest was founded on a once profound naïveté and unjustified optimism that you wish you weren't disabused of, if only because the myth would have been easier to live with these days.

The myth of representation is certainly one of those things. I grew up in a community that was wholly sceptical and apathetic when it came to matters of political representation. It was understood that council members, MLAs, MPs, and sundry representatives of even the local Residents Welfare Associations (or equivalents thereof) were corrupt, mean-spirited, under-educated, big-mouthed, self-serving accused (or convicted) criminals, that one with some future in life would do well to steer clear of. Elections, consequentially, were times to sit back and let the whole pageantry of campaigning glide by your upraised eyebrows, when you were not smirking at those poor schmucks to whom they apparently meant so much. Nothing in the personal experience of public life ever changed those fundamental impressions of lassitude and was indeed only ever scrutinized subjectively when you were forced to confront the fact that you did share a country with those who would determine the state of the roads and/or the condition of the drains before the monsoons came if they embezzled too much of your taxes when they did come to power.
In such an environment, if one were to enter the political space as a campaigner, coordinator or even a vocal supporter you had to be prepared to face scorn, accusations of complicity in an unethical social order, and sometimes even violence when the confrontations with the status quo became too immediate for a retreat into the relative safety of a measured appeal for civil discourse.

This very environment, or somewhere very similar, is where most first-generation migrants to the First World originate from, and if they claim that they are treated as second-class citizens in their adopted countries, feel constantly racially and ethnically discriminated against, and worry for the futures of their children, what is most often the reality is that they are disillusioned with the quality of political representation, in comparison to their encounters with political representation in their home countries.

When my family and I migrated to Australia in 2013, the timing of our move happened to coincide with the 44th Australian General Elections. The first thing we noticed was that it was an event lacking in the loud pomp and skulduggery and drama that characterises every election in India. The second thing we noticed were the colourful names of the myriad smaller parties contesting seats for the Federal parliament - names like, 'Australian Sex Party', 'Smokers Rights Party', and, ' Pirate Party Australia', to name only a few of the more colourful. The third thing we noticed was that the campaigns, at least between the two parties seriously competing for power, were being conducted almost purely on a platform of prosperity vs. economic doom, with the challenger repeatedly focusing on a plus/minus view of public policy vis-à-vis graphic projections of looming budget surpluses or deficits depending on who the Australian public chose. The fourth thing we noticed, and that we are still continuing to see, is that the business of political representation in Australia is as feckless a performance being enacted for public consumption as it was in the country we left behind, albeit with the stakes much higher for us now.

From the time of the first alarm bell ringing in the current Coalition government's record to the latest one (there are so many of them, take your pick), there is no evidence that public life here is more accountable, held to a higher standard, or less petty and basely competitive than it is even in the places where politics is only a matter of assassinating your opponent and declaring a State of Emergency for the 1000th time. The level of discourse in Parliament is wearily obfuscatory, the campaign promises one after another so spectacularly disowned and discarded, and the character assassinations so familiar, that it takes all I have not to dissociate in despair of the legacy we are leaving behind for this increasingly multi-cultural, immensely promising, stunningly beautiful nation of wanderers, dreamers, and doers.

There is no question that this base ignorance of the real reasons behind the, 'Stop the Boats' slogan, the relentless attacks on the Renewable Energy industry, and the suspiciously regular eruptions of a patriotic dissonance based on supposedly, 'imminent' attacks on our way of life, must be tackled among the electorate so that we, as a society, do not succumb to the hysterical world view of Tony Abbott and his honourable frontbenchers, but what is also of increasingly critical import is that Australia as a nation must live up to its potential as a shining beacon of fairness, a place of boundless possibility, a land where its truly wondrous indigenous history and fantastic geography can seamlessly come together to create the conditions for true leadership in the modern world.

We must always remember that hundreds of millions of people in the developing world are watching us and waiting for a sign that things can and will be better.