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During a trip to the US, my father brought back a boxed set of The West Wing DVDs. While I planned to watch them during my school holiday as amusement, the show instead became an obsession and an education in itself.
My greatest passion has always been politics and global issues. I have a keen interest in joining the political process in my own country, India, and I see myself as a person concerned about the issues of the world at large as well. This zeal has existed in me for a long time, but it was in 2006 that I began to truly understand my passion. I attribute this to many things: reading books, newspapers, and magazines and talking to people who feel similarly (or radically differently!). But nothing has given me a better understanding of the deeper issues and the effects of politics than, strangely, The West Wing and its core characters.
The series deals with a Democratic administration led by an economist-President, and offers a glimpse into the workings of the White House. Delving into the relationships between the President, various senior staff members of the West Wing, Senators, lobbyists, foreign leaders and journalists, it is a political junkie’s delight. However, it offers me something more. It reflects my image of an ideal government. The show portrays committed individuals, idealistic and yet practical, who always have their country’s best interests in mind. Though this can be mocked at as a utopian dream, it realistically blends this fantasy with a very realistic world of discord and compromise. It embodies the notion that politicians can be intelligent, honest and honorable while at the same time remaining flawed human beings.
Another feature of The West Wing that appeals to me is the exploration of complex domestic and international issues from a liberal viewpoint very similar to mine. The show’s thorough dissection of global problems such as terrorism, nuclear proliferation and foreign policy has peaked my interest to the extent that I have carried on to learn more about these issues through other sources. I attach great importance to the sustainability of the environment, and the fictional administration’s ardor toward this issue indicates a welcome alternative, albeit fictional, to the environmental policies of modern governments. The West Wing engages me far more than the average television drama by actually involving debate about our pressing problems and positing pragmatic ways in which these problems might be tackled.
In the recent past, I have engaged myself in various tasks connected to politics. There is a terrible lack of accountability among politicians in my country, caused in large part by the paucity of accurate data pertaining to elected representatives. I work extensively with a non-governmental organization in my city, Bangalore, to find and make available accurate and verified data regarding the constituencies represented, the margins of victory and the assets of elected representatives in my state. Publishing the assets of a politician is especially satisfying, since the public in a country so riddled with political corruption like India ought to know the sources of their leaders’ wealth.
The West Wing itself inspired me to get actively involved with an election campaign. For two weeks in mid-2006, I volunteered to join the campaign of a maverick politician running for a seat in the legislative council of my state. Highly educated and possessing great integrity, he seemed to me a one-of-a-kind statesman, removed from the appalling political climate of my state. My task was to campaign over the telephone to numerous constituents. Despite the fact that the politician ultimately lost, the conversations I shared with these constituents truly inspired and encouraged me.
Though The West Wing is set in the United States (a developed country whose problems are fundamentally different from the problems of a developing country like my own), it still offers great lessons applicable to issues in India as well as the rest of the world. This American television series has not only bolstered my passion to join politics but also taught me an important life lesson. I have realized that while the world order necessitates pragmatism, idealism and vision must also be present. As The West Wing’s President says to one of his advisors, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world.” To which the advisor replies, “It’s the only thing that ever has.”
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