By Dr. R. Balasubramaniam
India is not only the largest democracy in the world but is also known as one of the noisiest and unhealthy ones. Whatever it is, the events of the last couple of months is something that will make Indian democracy qualify as a ‘ugly’ one too. We always knew that the electoral democracy in India made our politicians dance — dance to the tune of the pressures of caste, cash and elite interests. But these recent events do not take much to convince us that our politicians are now making the Indian democracy dance. And that too in its naked form bereft of any decency or dignity and with scant regard to the people for whom this democracy exists.
If formation of a coalition Government in the State of Jammu and Kashmir by parties with two opposing ideological forces was mocking our democracy, its continued existence without a clear action plan to deal with the problem of insurgency, of conflicting interests and of the stagnation of both governance and development in the State leaves one feeling lost and despondent. This situation does not seem to trouble anyone in the Government or in the citizenry beyond issuing emotional expletives and listening to irrelevant politicians and retired bureaucrats on endless television debates.
The State of Bihar saw the change of dancing partners overnight. Partners who had earlier come together to tie the knot knowing fully well that their marriage may not work and with another opportunistic suitor constantly wooing one of them. How could anyone promise good governance and a corruption-free administration with having one of India’s most corrupt politicians as a partner? And overnight, we are again promised good governance all over again. And in hindsight it does seem to augur well for the State with the Prime Minister announcing an emergency grant (dowry) of Rs. 500 crores to tide over the devastation caused by the recent floods. It would have been interesting to see if such prompt relief would have been made available if the original marriage had continued.
As though the decibel levels are not enough, we have the latest entrant to India’s list of politicians — Arvind Kejriwal striking at the core of our electoral system. While he seems to be convinced that good governance for him is the constant blaming of the Central Government for all ills prevailing his State, his antics surrounding the Election Commission of India (ECI) lies exposed by the fact that he never took up on the challenge that they posed to him. All that he seems to be indulging in are cheap theatrics, but he must be given the credit to make this ‘dance’ a ‘duet’. And the promise of exposing all his opponents and getting them to dance naked seems to be stuck in the court of law while his lawyer saw fit to script his own dance and withdraw from the defamation case that he was representing him in.
The election to the august office of our President and Vice-President was another treat that was scripted by Prime Minister Modi and his chief choreographer, Amit Shah. Together they pulled off one of India’s greatest political operas. It was so well-planned and executed that the Opposition could not even get their stage ready, leave alone perform their dance. While one has no opinion on the ability or the capacity of the people elected, one only wonders if merit alone was the factor under consideration. Suddenly being a Dalit or coming from a poor farmer’s family or from South India seemed to matter.
Democracy is now spoken of as being healthy as the elites’ of Lutyens Delhi are now being replaced. Are we sure that these replacements are because of democracy working or is it because of a few master puppeteers pulling the strings and making democracy dance to a new tune that one will hear for some more time before this new set of elites will be replaced by the Indian electorate.
Maharashtra presents an altogether different scene. While a coalition government is ruling the State, one of the partners seems to be living in perpetual doubt over whether it is on the dance floor or in the audience. One is unsure of how the Chief Minister keeps assuring the people growth and development, while at the same time battling this everyday distraction and rumours of his Cabinet colleagues succumbing to the temptation of corruption.
The Gujarat Rajya Sabha elections was surely an anti-climax to what could have become a well-orchestrated performance. One party went overboard to ensure a candidate wins while another tried hard to get him to lose. The ECI, not to be outdone, also jumped in and disqualified two MLAs. All in all, this dance had so many twists and turns and was performed on so many different stages and with several actors. Karnataka had its share to contribute to this emerging dance-drama and a key protagonist was made to dance to the tune of the Income Tax Department. One is unsure if the dance has ended or we will soon have a series of sequels.
In the same Rajya Sabha elections, another political party refused to endorse the candidature of a star Parliamentarian for the third term. One is not sure if this was just democracy in action or a party going by its own Constitution or the handiwork of another senior politician in the party who wanted to end the Parliamentary role of Sitaram Yechury.
The entire drama of Tamil Nadu is something that defies reason. We have powerful external forces negotiating peace and bringing together warring factions and allowing them to share the spoils of war. All in the name of saving democracy and wanting to provide a stable Government. Not to be left behind we can see dynasty politics establishing itself firmly in both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana with members of the Chief Minister’s family in both the States holding sway.
In neighbouring Kerala, we have political differences settled in barbaric ways and end up maiming and killing each other. All this in the name of democracy.
Karnataka has begun its electoral dance in right earnest. From stroking regional sentiments and having a separate flag to starting a debate around forming a religion, the State’s politicians are writing tunes that they will soon lose control over and lead to irretrievable consequences. The cacophony that will emerge will possibly deafen saner voices and we can be assured of some interesting days ahead.
West Bengal is a State that never tires of making democracy visible. From the street-lights, all over Kolkata painted in the ruling party’s colours to ‘Ma, Mati, Manush’ being the slogan scribbled all over, to the everyday fun that the Chief Minister dishes out with her own special touch — the dance is always loaded with contradictions that is so cleverly camouflaged. It is indeed ironical that the TMC keeps talking about grassroots democracy and how the voice of people matters but bans Students Union and elections in a reputed University. One needs to follow the social media of the key political leaders of this State to indulge in some real confusing intellectual dancing.
Haryana — How does one even describe what has transpired in this State in the last few days? How do we condone the actions of the Government and the State which acted by not doing anything? How can one describe the Institution of the Executive failing to dance along with the Judiciary? How can the State escape the responsibility of not ensuring law and order with its Police being one the most top heavy in the country? How will one justify the loss of 38 lives and millions of rupees worth public and private property? How can we pretend that we are living in a democracy when it takes 15 years to prosecute a rapist? We saw how the State works to please a potential electoral constituency while losing sight of the larger responsibility of providing law and order to all citizens alike. And as though this degenerate dance was not enough, we have another Parliamentarian arguing that the voice of 5 crore devotees of this Godman should have been heard more than that of the court of law.
With elections to several large States round the corner, this dance will not only get more interesting, but unfortunately be baser and degraded. With the Nation having no credible Opposition party and motley groups coming together, not out of any larger national interest but out of their own need to survive and be relevant, this dance is only going to border on the absurd. We need to remember that the audience always gets the show that it deserves.
The quality of this dance will continue to worsen, till we the citizens decide that enough is enough. We need to reclaim the space that we have so negligently given up. We now need to restore dignity and decency to democracy. And this can happen only when each one of us breaks out of our slumber and self-imposed indifference and decide to rid ourselves of our ‘voice poverty.’ It is only the citizens voice that can provide the much-needed music to make our democracy healthy and vibrant again. Otherwise we will only have ourselves to blame for the trash that is dished out to us in the name of democracy.
[Dr. R. Balasubramaniam is a development activist and a public policy advocate. He is the founder of Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement (www.svym.org) and can be reached at [email protected]]