Democracy at risk

Karnataka elections

It is hard to ward off anger and depression as one follows the campaign trail in Karnataka. One wonders: Whose elections are these? What are the issues raised? Whose issues are they? Are these the elections to Karnataka Assembly or a tribal battle between two chieftains, fought only to establish their relative superiority? If so, how does that concern us?

The one thing no one does is raise issues that concern the people most. It isn’t as if they are a few. There are plenty of them: both state-level and national issues; issues that impinge seriously on the life and welfare of the people, like the silent syphoning off of citizens’ hard-earned lifetime savings from banks, with the cruel complicity of the government. Civic amenities in Bengaluru, ineptitude at almost every pocket of local administration, extreme farmer distress, fanning of communal hatred for petty political gains risking the life and liberty of the people, and a host of other issues that demand urgent attention. But, for the political parties in the fray, they don’t seem to exist. To them, the all-important question is dynastic politics, as it was in the 2014 elections and as it will be, it seems, till the end of time.

The people of Karnataka need to realise that they are being put to test. How they exercise their franchise in the coming elections will establish whether or not they deserve to be governed within a democratic framework. Will they allow themselves to be fooled by the cynical and hollow rhetoric, or be blinded by communal polarisation, and fail to vote based on real-life issues and merit of the candidates? In which case, they would do the Indian democracy a serious and perhaps, irreparable harm.

To legitimise a situation in which a political party is allowed to come to the conclusion that service to the people does not matter, and theatrically-spiced rhetoric would suffice to steal the show, is to deal a body blow to good governance in a democracy.

India is not the monopoly of any political party. The legacy of representative democracy is our shared home. Today this heritage is in serious peril. If the Budget of a country, amounting to over Rs 24 lakh crore, is passed without relevant issues being discussed even for a minute, it mocks the very notion of representative democracy. The concerns and interests of the citizens have been rendered utterly superfluous to governance. We are constrained to hold the Modi government responsible for this sorry state of affairs. Those who disrupted the Budget Session of Parliament seem to have been put to it. Nothing worse can be said about the decline of Indian democracy.

Whether the Lingayat community should be recognised as a separate religious block or not, is a question of marginal interest to the state as a whole. I have been in favour of this step, if only for the reason that it helps to debunk the pretence of the BJP to the right to parade a centrally united and communally mobilised Hindu community which, I believe, holds the sinister prospect of degrading Indian democracy into fascism. The beauty of the faith community — falsely named Hindu — that follows the Vedic faith, is that it is a multi-faceted community held together by a spiritual vision and not a regimented political force hysterical with hate. This unity-in-diversity is central to the uniqueness of India. Today that diversity is in peril. And outlandish promises of an earthly paradise cannot make up for the terrible loss this would entail. So, the issue is not the status of the Lingayats. It is, instead, the sanity of Indian democracy.

Deterioration of discourse

I feel deeply upset by the distressing deterioration of public discourse. The BJP may be under a political compulsion to re-cast Karnataka elections as a Modi vs Rahul boxing match. This is a state election. Of course, there must be a debate. But it should be between Siddaramaiah and Yeddyurappa. At any rate, it does not behove a prime minister to boast of his superiority or, worse, taunt his rival on his presumed inferiority. The evident bad taste in this can only jar on the sensibilities of Kannadigas, who are a discerning and sensitive people.

At any rate, this hallmark rhetoric of mockery has had its day. Its shelf-life is over. I could see evident signs of weariness in the audience as Modi began to spew his lava of derisive eloquence. Surely, the voters of Karnataka will realise the false logic employed. Whether a political leader consults a piece of paper while speaking or whether he speaks off the cuff is immaterial to their welfare. What matters are: (a) is the speaker telling them the truth or is he taking them for a ride? (b) are their interests, their welfare, safer in the hands of this leader or that?

There are times when a man’s strength begins to be his weakness. Modi seems poised on such a state. Take, for example, his uncanny ability to play with words. Rahul is ‘naamdar’ and he is ‘kaamdar’. That would have sounded all right four years ago, but not any longer. Modi’s four-years-long track-record in office is, by any standard of reckoning, deeply disappointing. Also, no political party is as abjectly dependent on one man’s ‘naam’ (name) as the BJP. All tall claims made are belied on the ground by the deprivation into which the people have sunk. Only the rich are thriving under his watch. The rest of the country is inching closer to disaster.

I wish to be proud of India’s democratic heritage. I am worried that it is being ruined. Elections are the only opportunity we have as citizens to speak for ourselves. To be able to do that, it is imperative that we stay calm and rational and refuse to be led by the nose by loudmouths and oily tongues.

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