Rahul Deepankar, a distinguished Indian physician from Chicago, said goodbye to his roaring practice to contest election in his country. Being a dalit, he thought he had all the advantages of contesting from a reserved seat. His first call was on the Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). But, to his dismay, he found that his "high qualifications" were in his way. "She does not like highly educated persons in her ranks," someone from the party told him. He had heard that he had to grease the palms to get a ticket but not that his learning would come in the way. He tried for nearly five months to have an interview with her, but she thought he would have got the message. Rahul is secular and would not touch the BJP. The second best bet was the Congress. He drew a blank here too. Sonia Gandhi had no time for him. The second-rung leaders kept him twiddling his thumbs. He could not beak into the inner ring which has its own hang-ups. He met Ajit Singh to find out if he could get his party's ticket. But when Ajit Singh joined the BJP, purists like Rahul had no place in Indian politics. Disappointed, he has gone back to Chicago after spending a lot of money on "contact men." His resolve is not to return to Indian politics which has grown rotten over the years and which has blocked the entry of people with values. With crime and corruption having the run of politics, it is difficult for a person like Rahul to get a party ticket. Leave the national parties aside, even regional parties have fallen in the hands of those who use them as a vehicle to do all illegal acts. Crime and corruption are the readymade tools which the regional satraps use for their personal end. It is often argued that a candidate to the legislature or Parliament should have minimum educational qualifications. I do know why. There is no study to suggest the quality of assembly members or parliamentarians from among the educated have excelled others either in speech or action. The drawing room type of sophistication may get more space in the press or television networks. But in reality it means little. The educational qualification came up in the Constituent Assembly. President Rajendra Prasad regretted that the constitution which he claimed to be the best in the world would be interpreted and advocated by the best of minds but those who would be legislating required no qualification. In reply, PM Jawaharlal Nehru said that when they were fighting for freedom, the poor and the uneducated were with them while bright minds were on the side of the British. Still, the debate did not degenerate into communalism and casteism. The discussions were mostly issue-based. Nehru would pose them, like the role of public sector in industry or the balance between agriculture and manufacturer. There was no television. But the word of mouth would take the questions to the countryside where they would be discussed in the light of Nehru's explanation. Those were formative years of the country. Election campaigns would reflect that. When Mrs Indira Gandhi assumed power, the emphasis got changed from issues to personalities. Her slogan was: "You give me vote, I shall oust poverty." Indira became India and India, Indira. The voters had no alternative. The Jana Sangh, now the Bhartiya Janata Party, was too communal to their liking. Nurtured in secular environment, they returned the Congress again and again for about 50 years. They could see the party deteriorating and losing the ethos of freedom struggle. Still they had no alternative. Dr Ram Manohar Lohia's plea that non-Congress elements should join hands was not first accepted because the Congress had come to represent India's unity. Slowly and gradually, the magic of the party wore out. When Mrs Gandhi turned authoritarian, the voters punished her by defeating her and her alter-ego, Sanjay Gandhi. The Congress could win only two seats in the entire northern India. Chastened in the wilderness, she begged for one more chance. The electorate returned her to power. The three-year-long experiment of the Janata Party, an agglomeration of different opposition groups, except the Left, turned sour because of the clash of leaders' ambition. After Mrs Gandhi's election, the content moved from the cult of personality to the greed of power. With years, this stigma has got stuck to political leaders more perniciously and more firmly. How to grab the kursi has become the ethos of political parties. First, the sentiment of anti-Congressism brought the parties together, then the anti-BJPism. Now, it is about who can get whom on its side to enable them to cross the magic figure of 272 in the 545-member Lok Sabha. Atal Behari Vajpayee effected a combination, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and ruled for six years. He devised the formula of allotting ministerial positions in proportion to the strength a political party enjoyed. The Congress learnt from the BJP's experiment and constituted the United Progress Alliance (UPA), which was primarily a Congress-Communist front. Like the NDA, the target of the UPA, was also power. The Congress now wants to come on its own. It has, therefore, disbanded the UPA. All allies are fighting elections on their own and may be joining the alliance later. The party has, however, entered into a seat-adjustment with only anti-Communist leader Mamta Bannerjee in West Bengal. Ironically, the Congress which has run its full five-year term with the help of the Left picked her up, the virulent opponent of the Communists, as the first ally. The Congress alliance with Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party (SP) is neither here nor there. Sonia Gandhi has learnt enough of political tricks to be vague. She cannot limit her party to mere 15 seats, the offer by the SP, in UP which has 80 Lok Sabha seats and where the Muslim electorate, roughly 15 percent, is not too happy with Mulayam Singh because of his alliance with Kalyan Singh, the state chief minister when the Babri Masjid was demolished. The BJP, in contrast to the Congress, has gone out of the way to sustain the NDA. Many parties have left it. The biggest loss is that of Orissa's Biju Janata Dal which has opted to stay away after 11 years of alliance. The Telugu Desam, headed by Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh, walked out of NDA earlier. Elections provide breath to democracy. But when they are fought in the manner in which India political parties are doing, with hate speeches and threats, they are suffocating the dissenters who want space and free say. The writer is a former member of the Indian Parliament and senior journalist