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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 43

Erosion of our Democratic Values and Unconcern of Political Parties

Tuesday 16 October 2007, by Chaturanan Mishra

Despite the fact that more and more downtrodden people have begun to exercise their right of casting votes and there is a new consciousness among Dalits, tribals, women and Other Backward Castes which deepen the roots of our democracy, this in itself does not result in strengthening the rights of the people. More Dalits are killed in India than what happened to the Blacks in South Africa during the apartheid period. Even elected Dalit Presidents of village Panchayats in Tamil Nadu are not allowed to function. Untouchability persists. Now the OBC people are launching more offensives against Dalits. Something new has happened in UP: Brahmins accepting the leadership of Mayawatiji; but it is too early to assess how far the Brahmins in general agree to end untouchability and give social respect to the Dalits. This has to be watched. More girl children in pregnancy are killed. There is no political movement for social reform though the society itself is reforming slowly. Gandhiji mixed political movement with social reform also to some extent.

The bureaucracy is uncontrollable. The colonial tradition of bureaucrats as the rulers and people as the ruled is continuing. Corruption even at the local level of administration has increased so much that people do not get even one-fourth of what is budgeted in Parliament and Assemblies for them. Rajiv Gandhi said people get only 16 per cent of what is allotted in the Budget for them. People are unable to check it. It has spread even to village Panchayats. The police has become more tyrannical. Lathicharges and shootings by the police are quite common. Even the Left Government of West Bengal is now no exception after what happened at Nandigram. In 2005 alone, 44 persons were killed in police firings. Between 1990 and 1999 the police opened fire 5994 times resulting in 1753 deaths and 6886 injuries. The same police is unable to check criminals who rule in cities also. Children are kidnapped and killed if firauti is not paid to them. Even in the central Capital of Delhi women are not safe. The days of Pattam Thanu Pillai, when he was forced to resign for firing, are gone. Politicians are party to it. There is a general feeling that all politicians, barring a few, are for making money. The old respect for politicians is no longer there. Similar is the feeling about political parties since now they don’t go to the people to solve their problems. This is the most dangerous feature since healthy political parties and politicians are a must for the strengthening of democracy. Members of Legislatures change parties for personal benefit. Politicians behave in such a manner as to prove that they have no ideology.

Though in our Constitution every citizen has the right to be elected to Parliament and Assemblies, as the election now costs a crores of rupees ninetyfive per cent of our citizens can’t think of contesting elections. Our janatantra is becoming dhanatantra. Though the Election Commission has recently taken some strict reformist measures, political parties are voicing their protest. Due to casteism, fear and communalism more and more veteran criminals are elected to Parliament and Assemblies as candidates of political parties. It is not safe to oppose such criminal candidates. Parliament is helpless in the case of Gujarat where thousands of Muslims, including women and children as well as even pregnant women, were massacred and so our janatantra is becoming gun-tantra.

Courts can help to provide some remedy and in fact the Supreme Court acted sometimes but courts are so much overburdened with a number of cases that it takes years to have a final judgement. It is so time consuming and costly that the mass of people don’t go there. Rich people use it to harass the poor. It is happening since the days of British rule and continues till today.

Political parties are a must for democracy. The old national parties are getting weakened and caste based regional parties are coming up. This gives us coalition governments. Though the formation of regional parties take democracy to so far unawakened people, the absence of a national party can weaken the Centre. This danger is there. However, so far regional parties have helped to strengthen federalism.

National parties failed to understand the new feeling of the caste people. Different castes of people want their development through their own caste or group of castes. National parties are dominated by high-caste leaders and they run the government. Backward castes united to change this and this they did through caste or group of castes organisations. While Hindu castes were earlier based on religious faith, now they are based on politics and they are changing their position from time to time. This may lead to weakening of the caste system. This problem needs to be tackled in the national interest. Now Dalits strongly protest and what happened in Rajasthan for reservation of Gujjars as tribal people is a serious warning. The tribal people’s position is worse than even the Dalits and poor Muslims. All over India except the North-East they are coming under the influence of Maoists. Very often policemen are killed by them. Terrorised government officials, contractors, truck owners pay them levy. They are equipping themselves with modern arms. They are spreading now in the plains too. Farmers are also paying them do kathia, that is, the produce of two kathas per acre. With its present policy towards the poor the government cannot stop this development.

The poor people are unable to maintain themselves in the rural areas due to the agricultural crisis; they are coming to cities and get shelter in slums making jhopris. Now the government and even the courts are evicting them without giving shelter. No political party takes up their cause and ultimately they may go over to the Maoists.

Farmers are in a serious crises. According to 59th National Sample Survey, a majority of small and marginal farmers are unable to make both ends meet. In the post-liberalisation period and after India joined the WTO, production and productivity of agriculture has been heavily reduced. The growth of agriculture has reduced from 3.08 per cent in 1980-90 to 2.65 per cent in 1991-2000 due to reduction of the Plan outlay in agriculture and also in public sector work in agriculture like irrigation and scientific research etc. While the input price of agriculture has heavily increased, the price of agricultural produce has been reduced. Because of this condition, 40 per cent of farmers have desired to leave agriculture if they get an alternative job. As many as 48.6 per cent of farmers are debt-ridden; of them 42.3 per cent are indebted to moneylenders at high interest and forcible realisation. We are again dependent on import of food at higher prices. Starvation and malnutrition have become commonplace for a long time. Now thousands of farmers commit suicides every year. No political party takes up their cause seriously to force the government to act. On the nuclear agreement with the USA political crisis has been created but on the issue of peasant suicides or for unorganised workers or against price rise no such political crisis was engendered.

There is a vast and big population in the poverty zone of Bihar, Jharkhand, UP and Orissa etc. Despite our high national GDP growth, they are becoming poorer. Every year floods from Nepal destroy them. Nepal being a foreign land it is the Central Government’s constitutional responsibility to tackle the problem but it does not. One can be certain that a time will come in the near future when this poverty zone will rise against the Centre and the Centre will be unable to suppress it.

Our people have deep faith in democracy but such issues as mentioned here are fast eroding that faith. It is time that political parties reform themselves to restore the people’s faith in democracy. At present people are highly frustrated and angry. Frequent spontaneous violent outbreaks are taking place. The police is the target. This has no backing of any party. If these violent outbreaks are coordinated which the Maoists can, then it will result in a countrywide or Statewide violent attack directed against the democratic set-up.

The author, a veteran CPI leader, was the Union Agriculture in the United Front Government at the Centre (1996-98).

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