What Is Politics?


People have different ideas about what politics is.

  • Political leaders, and persons who contest elections and hold political office, may argue that it is a kind of public service.
  • Some others associate politics with manipulation and intrigue undertaken to pursue ambitions and satisfy wants.
  • A few think of politics as what politicians do. If they see politicians defecting from parties, making false promises and tall claims, manipulating different sections, pursuing personal or group interests ruthlessly and in worst cases stooping to crime, they link politics with ‘scams’.

So prevalent is this way of thinking that when we see people in different walks of life trying to promote their interests by any means possible, we say they are playing politics.  If we see a cricketer manipulating to stay in the team, or a fellow student trying to use his father’s position, or a colleague in office mindlessly agreeing with the boss, we say he or she is playing ‘dirty’ politics.

Disillusioned by such pursuits of selfishness we despair of politics. We say, “I am not interested in politics” or that “I am going to stay away from politics”. It is not only ordinary people who despair of politics; even businessmen and entrepreneurs routinely blame politics for their woes even as they benefit from and fund various political parties. Cinema stars also complain of politics though they seem to be adept at the game once they join it.

Mahatma Gandhi once observed that politics envelops us like the coils of a snake and there is no other way out but to wrestle with it. No society can exist without some form of political organization and collective decision making. A society that wants to sustain itself needs to take into account the multiple needs and interests of its members.

A number of social institutions such as the family, tribes, and economic institutions have emerged to help people fulfill their needs and aspirations. Such institutions help us find ways of living together and acknowledging our obligations to each other. Among such institutions governments play an important part.

How governments are formed and how they function is thus an important focus of politics.

But politics is not confined to the affairs of government. In fact what governments do is relevant because it affects the lives of the people in many different ways. We see that governments determine our economic policy and foreign policy and educational policy. These policies can help to improve the lives of people but an inefficient or corrupt government can also endanger people’s lives and security. If the government in power allows caste and communal conflicts to occur, markets close down and schools are shut. This disrupts our lives; we cannot buy things that we may need urgently; those who are sick cannot reach the hospital; even the school schedule gets affected, syllabi cannot be completed and we may have to take extra coaching for the exams and pay tuition fees. If, on the other hand, the government makes policies to increase literacy and employment, we may get an opportunity to go to a good school and get a decent job.

Since the actions of the government affect us deeply we take a lively interest in what governments do. We form associations and organize campaigns to articulate our demands. We negotiate with others and try to shape the goals that governments pursue. When we disagree with the policies of the government, we protest and organize demonstration to persuade our governments to change the existing laws. We passionately debate the actions of our representatives and discuss whether corruption has increased or decreased. We ask whether corruption can be rooted out; whether reservations for specific groups are just or not. We try to understand why some parties and leaders win elections. In this way we look for the rationale underlying the prevalent chaos and decay, and aspire to create a better world.

To sum up, politics arises from the fact that we have different visions of what is just and desirable for us and our society. It involves the multiple negotiations that go on in society through which collective decisions are made.

  • at one level, it involves what governments do and how they relate to the aspirations of the people;
  • at another level, it involves how people struggle and influence decision making.

People may be said to engage in political activity whenever they negotiate with each other and take part in collective activities which are designed to promote social development and help to resolve common problems.

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Bibliography : NCERT – Political Theory

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