Are we really a democracy?

One of the refrains heard ad nauseam is that we are the largest democracy in the world. Is this true?

It’s only partly true. It’s true that we are the ‘largest’ country that claims to be a democracy. Whether we really are a democracy has to be verified. A dispassionate study will reveal an unspoken secret, the underbelly of our polity. The truth is, we are perpetuating a huge myth, an illusion, a farce. How long can we go on with this self-delusion that we are a vibrant democracy?  

The most fundamental premise of a democracy is a free and fair election. On a 10-point scale, where do we place ourselves? If it’s below 7, it’s a misnomer to call ourselves a democracy for the simple reason that we are governed by people and parties without a legitimate mandate to do so. This amounts to a fraud, to say the least. 

Seeking votes in the name of religion is considered a malpractice in law. This stricture has the specific motive that we remain a peaceful secular country. But what is happening on the ground? Communal propaganda of all kinds goes on, either favouring a community or against a community.

Communalism has assumed centre-stage during the last two decades, and it is taking deep roots because it gives electoral advantage to its practitioners. Polarisation and hate-mongering are inevitable offshoots of a communal agenda. This is a dangerous tendency and can result in the gradual erosion of peace and harmony in our country. Signs of stress and strain are already clearly visible today. It will not take long for the situation to degenerate further. Is this not suicidal? Are we not heading for a disaster? 

Free and fair election also points to an election without malpractices. The most widely used malpractice is influencing people with the lure of money. In a country with around one-third of its population living below poverty line, money can easily influence people. That money plays a prominent role in elections is known to all. 

The three Ms that corrupt a free and fair election are money, media and machine. 

Media is the fourth pillar of democracy. Objective and fearless reporting is expected from journalists. But, is the media unbiased? Are they free and fair? A sycophantic press is by far the biggest millstone around the neck of democracy. They can very well drown a democracy. Aren’t we already seeing the signs?  

‘Machine’ stands for the electoral process, not just the voting machine. Of course, the voting machine should be error-free, in fact, absolutely infallible. Do people have complete faith in the electoral process, including in the EVM? Is the Election Commission absolutely independent of the government and the ruling dispensation? If not, the less said about the sanctity of the electoral process, the better.

Making sensible choices

These are critical questions that beg for answers. It’s naive on the part of the educated class to refuse to read the writing on the wall. The educated young people should evaluate the functioning of our systems. They should not be swayed by apparent electoral successes. They should be rational in making decisions and choices.

If the bandwagon effect is what influences the educated youngsters, it does not augur well. Betting on a winning horse may be a tempting option, but not necessarily the right or sensible one for our democracy. 

Our nationhood is at a crossroads today. If we do not cleanse our electoral system and rid it of the major ills that plague it, we will have an autocracy masquerading as a democracy. We will have to live with a dictatorship in the guise of democracy. We will be saddled with demagogues posing as leaders, instead of statesmen leading us by virtue of wisdom, leadership attributes and, above all, their unblemished record of service to the nation.

We are a blessed nation, endowed with both human and natural resources which could well be the envy of the richest of nations. Then, how are we still a ‘third world’ country?

It’s because we are riddled with corruption of all kinds. Unless the electoral process is cleansed, we will have no way forward. Everything hinges on the purity of the electoral process. As long as money and other inducements, including the use of religion, continue, we will never have a healthy democracy. 

If we emerge as a strong and stable democracy, built on the pillars of justice, equality and probity, we will surely emerge as a world power — a dream often bandied about by our leaders, without any idea about how to get there.

We have everything going for us to become a world power, but what’s lacking is probity in elections and governance. To achieve this, we need statesmen to lead us, with a clean record, elected by means free and fair.  

(The writer is Director, Little Rock Indian School, Udupi)

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