Rekindled hopes for democracy

With the prime minister’s renewed avowal of adherence to the Constitution and inclusive politics and his goal to win ‘Sab ka vishwas’, there is hope for rekindling democratic values in India. Individuals who have spoken against the Constitution, in a bid to promote Hindutva majoritarianism and divisive politics during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first term and during the recent election campaign, have not found a place in the Union council of ministers. This is an indication that the fringe elements will remain consigned to the fringe, at least for the present. But the battle for democracy and Indian nationhood values, modernism, rationality, secularism and universal human and minority rights has to again begin, be reinvigorated and continuous fought.

In the modern world and in India, liberal participatory democracy cannot be divorced from socialism and secularism. And that means a thrust for distributive justice and equality progressively, and allowing freedom and dignity to citizens of various denominations and scrupulously avoiding excluding and criminalising them or treating them as enemies merely on the ground of their religious adherence.

The welfare state is another articulation of socialism. Despite liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation, the envisaged next round of economic reforms and unleashing of the animal spirits of the markets, pro-poor policies and administrative dirigiste mechanism are found manifestly necessary.

Public opinion has veered round to it. The idea of special schemes and allocations for the poor, farmers and rural areas and their financial inclusion embodies this welfare state. Extending it a little more, the time-honoured policy of reservations in education and government jobs is a welfare and redistributive measure.

Modern day human activity or preoccupation has less and less to do with ritual denominational religion, whether Hindu, Muslim or otherwise. In other words, society is inevitably becoming secular. Hence, an abiding divorce of religion from the economy, education, technology and politics is found to be a fact and a necessity. But whenever a mention of socialism and secularism is made, adversarial and invective politics manifests in India — in an act of belittling the nation’s past unequalled leaders.

The entire divisive majoritarian phraseology gets unleashed — Muslim appeasement, vote bank politics, Hindu victimhood, churlishness about the Constitution and universal human and minority rights, etc. This is despite the manifest material denial of space for Muslims, as evidenced from the Sachar Committee report.

This at a time Hindus have an increasing preponderance (call it hegemony) – religious, social, political and economic. More temples and mutts are proliferating in every city extension and village; more festivals with all mumbo jumbo, more collections of tax-free money, including embezzlement with impunity, free feeding at temples and mutts, government organising transport, extra buses and trains, temporary accommodation and general police security, etc.

In other words, Hindu victimhood is just political propaganda for votes and to benefit from the creation of unfounded fear and enmity -- a counter vote bank politics. The institutional functioning of religions and mutts has become a licence for the free practice of inequality and injustice — violation of laws and the Constitution.

The sustenance of democracy depends on various highly evolved and evolving checks and balances, including a free press, really freed from paid news and other temptations. Autonomous institutions like the RBI, the CBI, the press council, the women’s and minorities’ commissions, NGOs like human rights bodies, etc., have to function with vigour and alertness, not cower to the powers that be, much less be manipulated, enticed or bought.

Add to this the freedom of the judiciary — in a system in which the judges at various levels are subject to transfers and thus manipulation. Elections are eagerly won, in no-holds-barred contests, to confer impunity on a select few individuals and bodies who have manifestly indulged in misdemeanours, big and small. This impunity is accomplished by transferring/reconstituting the prosecution machinery or officials. Thus, there is jeopardy of the rule of law; due process is vitiated.

Whenever there is a public outcry about these infractions, paid news is used to forestall public opinion; detractors are hoarsely described as ‘anti-national’ and often subjected to capricious criminal prosecution with a view to disabling them.

Past crimes cannot be sought to be buried deep as fossils in the layers of political stratigraphy. Being nationalist is sought to be defined as supporting the wielders of government power unconditionally or absolutely and invariably, a patent superstition set afloat in India. There is thus systemic intolerance of differences of opinion and of the ‘other’.

Democracy and the idea of India familiar from the freedom movement and the making of the Constitution are in serious peril because democratic practice has come to be widely equated with winning elections and forming a government, forgetting that once in government, it has to be leadership to build consensus, that the parliament and its committees must function with vigour, that  accountability through debates and answering questions is essential.

(The writer is former professor, Maharaja’s College, University of Mysore, Mysuru)

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