FAULT LINES OF DEMOCRACY
I was born in free India – the world’s largest democracy – and hopefully would die in free India – the world’s largest democracy. Does the fact of being a citizen of the world’s largest democracy fill me, a normal educated Indian, with pride? Am I a happy citizen? I and my family are well provided for and I am free to express myself. Still neither I feel proud nor happy. I feel to the contrary. I feel uncomfortable to be a part of an unjust system where the resources are usurped by a few and citizens enjoy equality only in having equal voting right.
In most, if not all, of our intellectual discussions and public discourses, we find solace in blaming our leaders – the rogues, rascals, and men of straw in Churchill’s prophetic words – for all our ills, at the same time feeling proud about being a great democracy. Could there be anything more farcical than this? Because we very conveniently allow ourselves to forget that the very definition of democracy entails the leaders to reflect nothing but the character of the people they lead. And as a result we also miss to see the clearly visible fault lines of democracy.
The fault lines of parliamentary system of democracy ~ the system we follow ~ are many and we must see these and know these before we can even think of undertaking the repair work. The run up to the General Elections 2014 has made these fault lines more pronounced and hence easier to see for a keen observer.
Going by the media and the social media - rightly or wrongly - there is a strong wave in favour of Mr Narendra Modi to be the Prime Minister or the Chief Executive of the country. If it is for the good of the country that Mr Modi should become the Prime Minister, then I and you must vote for the candidates fighting the election on his party symbol or on symbol of the parties supporting him. If such a candidate is a known rogue, we shall be electing such a person as our representative by voting for him, and if we choose not to vote for such a person we would be defeating the larger cause. In the present system of party politics, electing a good candidate from a constituency may mean nothing at the national level or may mean getting a rogue or incompetent government as a result (if the ‘good’ candidate belongs to a party having rogue leaders).
We have about eight hundred members of parliament, distinguished men and women from all walks of life and all political parties being among them. In last 3 years, I had occasion to write individually to them all on two substantial matters of national/international importance, one on continuing leakage to the tune of above Rs 5000 crore per year through procurement of goods in Indian Railways, and second on a massive continuing international fraud in the name of Cricket. None of them ever bothered to find out from me what the matter was, let alone take any effective action. I am sure some, if not many, of these parliamentarians, must be honourable, honest, and well meaning individuals as per our perception of these qualities. Even they failed the nation when a call was made upon them. To my mind, nothing punctures the bogey of voting to elect good individuals better than my experience with our elected parliamentarians. It is evident that who end up as parliamentarians are all just individuals living only to serve their self interests. There are reasons for same as discussed in various paragraphs here.
The above brings to fore the least perceived and yet the most significant fault line of democracy - the bogus propaganda made out of our right to vote and the importance attached to exercise this right. This right exercised in the right way doesn’t ensure anything for me. I may exercise utmost wisdom in voting and yet find the worst of all the candidates elected. My right doesn’t encourage or make really good people offer their services and jump in the fray. Only thing it does is that it makes the job of one winning an election to wield power tedious and difficult. The candidates using money and muscle power to woo voters or to indulge in booth capturing and bogus voting is a common phenomenon in a large number of constituencies. The vicious circle in fact keeps the really well meaning people away from jumping in the fray and be able to serve the nation. The election through majority vote ensures that rogues, rascals and men of straw become our leaders rather than the opposite. And the vicious circle continues. We have been witnessing and experiencing this fact for last sixty five plus years and yet have remained impervious to it.
The system we follow is bound to give rise to vote-bank politics as it has. Voters are wooed on religious and caste lines and fissures are necessarily created in the society. One is never made aware of one’s religion or caste more than during election times. Even leaving this apart, one becomes pro Modi or anti Modi; pro Congress or anti Congress; pro AAP or pro corruption. The friends become foes and we become a society vertically divided. One has to see the comments and posts of the educated on the social media to fully appreciate it. This is what democracy is not supposed to do but this is what it does.
We must understand that whatever is happening in India is what democracy allows. It allows the contesting candidates to publicly call others names on their whims, thus seriously vitiating the social environment. Calling others names is the easiest thing to do as is finding fault with the individuals. One can win an election simply by finding fault with others and not having any concrete program of one’s own. It is no wonder today that all political parties and leaders on scene without exception are doing just that and we find nothing but poison to inhale if we read newspapers or turn on news channels. We suddenly find that democracy also entails an irresponsible and at times biased media without having much accountability.
The role of the media, especially the electronic media, may better be expressed in other words. They are simply acting as marketing medium for various political parties and candidates. Interestingly, media considers it its sacred duty to act as carrier of the abuses and senseless utterances by the big leaders throughout the country 24x7.
Everyone is selling oneself to the best of one’s ability. The candidates leave no stone unturned in their attempt to befool, or, putting it mildly, to woo the voters. Democracy would ideally demand that there should be candidates, with intention to serve the people, aspiring to represent them, and people should choose the best among them. But most of the times we find there is not a single such candidate and we are left to choose the lesser evil. And it is not that the best candidate gets elected, generally it is the best marketed/advertised candidate that gets elected and the democracy loses its very purpose. Media no more appears even to be aware that its purpose in a democracy is to do objective reporting about issues to inform the populace and not to act as a medium through which the rogues market themselves.
Marketing also requires spending big time money. If you have intention to serve people and would like to contest an election towards that end, you can’t and wouldn’t do so unless you have access to surplus money. Again a vicious circle.
Then do people have a say in choice of the candidates who would be representing them after winning an election? The candidates are chosen by the political parties that are run as family business or private corporations controlled by a few individuals. Aam Aadmi Party promised to do away with this culture but forgot its promise more hurriedly than the other political parties have been forgetting their promises. When the political parties present a large number of persons with criminal cases or criminal record as their candidates, democracy becomes a curse rather than a blessing straight away.
The above should make us wonder whether democracy in India even remotely means ‘government of the people, for the people, by the people.’ Is it something to feel proud of? The time is overripe for the nation as a whole to ponder over this question and find answers. We shall continue to overlook the fault lines of Indian democracy to our own peril.