Need to rediscover democracy

Need to rediscover democracy

Our country has to launch a rediscovery and reaffirmation of democracy. Conduct of regular elections, winning them and getting into positions of high political power cannot be equated with subscribing to a democratic polity or with vigorous canvassing, manipulation for votes and victory thereof.

Majority in an electoral sense legitimises the democratic credentials of rulers but it can never be deemed achieved by brandishing majoritarianism, a measure or envisagement to subdue contrary opinions and parties, and religious, caste and other kinds of identities/minorities.

Democracy can never be equated with religious, caste or other kinds of social oligarchic self-righteous hegemony. Ensuring freedom, dignity and justice to all and enabling all round equality of opportunities in participatory rule accompanied by political consensus, free press and real responsiveness to public opinion marks democracy.

India is growingly imperilled by denudations to the ideal of democracy whose obverse is equality. With inequality of every description increasing, without any compunction and most of the incomes accruing to the top few, and very little of the share accruing to labour at lower levels, how can the generality of people, large numbers of the poorest, ever feel the much avowed sense of belonging?

Though we claim to be a democracy, there is little effect of taxation on equalising wealth, capital gains and incomes, indeed a skewed distribution of the proceeds of growth, a real jeopardy to economic democracy.

More serious than this setback regarding economic democracy is the vigour and variety of the Hindutva thrust, often euphemistically called cultural nationalism with all its kangaroo court proclivities, exemplified by the activities of UP’s Hindu Yuva Vahini founded by its Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.

Only people at the receiving end can tell/feel what this nationalist tantrum or agony is. It seeks to challenge equal citizenship and rule of law ingrained in nationalism, regardless of their religious belonging: Christians and Muslims are inventively otherised and even criminalised, their religious cultural social food profession legacy spaces are subject to envy and often destroyed/engulped.

Certainly an obtrusive attempt to subdue people of non-Hindu religions; their cultural political social elbow room is set at naught. There is even an extant doctrinal exhortation that Muslims and Christians do not even deserve citizens’ rights, readily concealed under the wrap of electoral politics. There are many cases where owning or renting a house is prevented so that Muslims are ghettoised and their dignity and visibility reduced.

Parallel to this pernicious phenomenon of Hindutva is what is often called soft Hindutva. The Hindutva protagonists are branding their traditional opponents, proponents of secularism and religious tolerance or ‘detractors’ as a Muslim party, despite the affirmation by these detractors of universal inclusive politics.

This branding is further armed with the weapon of propaganda and paid news, and often succeeding electorally. Amidst political priorities and avowals like promotion of secularism, pluralism, equality and development, this soft Hindutva political class has become misled and worse, weakened in their mission of secularism and inclusive politics what with their temple going and other manifest religious externality and keeping company with swamis and mutts.

They have failed in the ideal of keeping religion and its practices and rituals a purely private unostentatious matter, of eschewing mixing of religion and politics and to proffer guidance in this regard.

Credible bodies

Political parties have to shape themselves as credible democratic mobilised bodies to get come to power; this is not their entire writ of course. They are persuasive agents in the realm of public consciousness, political instincts and proprieties.

In fact, the entire freedom movement persuaded the people of India regarding liberalism, equality and fundamental rights, all enshrined in the Constitution. Promotion of democracy and values of rule of law, equality and justice has to become the basis of claim to legitimacy to lead.

Hindutva, with its manifest all too frequent ugly proclivities, cannot be hoped to rise up to this criterion of democracy. Electoral parliamentary majority is no doubt the practice to determine who should take the reins of power under a party system. When it comes to making laws and governing, issues are fundamental and there is no constancy of majority.

In the first past the post system of elections, groups or parties getting a minority of polled votes have come to rule and the complementary opposition parties are denigrated. The Opposition calls for circumspection and
consensus in policies and functioning, an essential part of institutional checks and balances.

Other pillars of democracy are the judiciary led by the Supreme Court and high courts, and a free untrammelled press. Constant revisiting to these ideals contributes to rediscovery and reaffirmation of democracy in India.

(The writer is formerly professor, Maharaja’s College, Mysuru)