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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 17 New Delhi April 13, 2019

Festival of Democracy

Saturday 13 April 2019

by Samit Kar

India, the world’s largest democracy, would go to polls shortly. Never in the history of Indian democracy, the party or the coalition that had been able to usurp power at the Centre could gain the support of more than 50 per cent of the net population of our country. In several cases, the support base was hardly 30 per cent of the national population. Though the concept of democracy was found in the Indus Valley Civilisation, the Greeks and the Romans were instrumental for the development of democracy as a vibrant institution. The Western European nations and the United States were well known to have a fledgling democracy to run the governments. Even though having the largest democracy, can India excel to have a functional democracy like the countries of the West? Can the festival of democracy remain really free from the control of a select few?

A recent World Bank Report has noted, 32.7 per cent of the Indian population lives below the poverty line whereas 68.7 per cent survive on less than US $ 2 per day. Fortyfive per cent of the children in India is malnourished. Twentyone per cent of adults and half of India’s children under five are malnourished.

The rising trend of unemployment across the country has taken anything but a very virulent form. The rate of literacy has increased. But how many neo-literates can really make use of the literarcy or education that they could have gained? Most of the neo-literates continue to indulge in livelihoods that require very little education. They continue to carry on a more or less similar occupation that their forefathers used to follow. The gains of development were unable to alter their nature of occupation and physical quality of life significantly. Therefore, how can they join the festival of democracy from the core of their heart? As development remains elusive in their life, how can the majority of the Indians be part and parcel of the festival of democracy? Yet, the percentage of polling in recent years has no doubt been astounding.

The history of polling in India is often dictated by muscle power and money power. As the bulk of the Indians are dependent on powerful men belonging to different categories—politicians, wealthy businessmen and powerful bureaucrats, the common people usually do not enjoy the right to exercise their voting power independently. On the one hand, they are usually coerced or coaxed and on the other, they intentionally fall in the trap of the powerful to extract different mileages in their day-to-day life.

Noted sociologist and former Member, Planning Commission Rajni Kothari, while discussing the inter-relationship between caste and politics in India, said there is a growing trend of politicisation of caste on the one hand and the castisation of politics on the other. This means, political parties or the political leaders especially during the time of elections, woo voters on the basis of caste lines often indulging in making attractive promises while banking on the influence of caste leaders on the members of respective caste-groups. On the other hand, caste leaders belonging to different caste-groupings grab the opportunity to rub shoulder with influential political leaders to reap attractive mileages that could not have been possible to gain in the existing constitutional framework of our country. The way the yardstick of reservation of jobs was constantly reworked in the recent period of time does prove how the politicians as a creed were bent upon wining the minds of the voters to secure advantage in poll politics. Every political party has a single game-plan of outsmarting the opponent and in order to do so distributes sops to the people.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) has prescribed a rule to follow the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) once the poll schedule was declared. But the political parties and government have become fairly intelligent to get a premonition of the date of announcement of the poll schedule and accordingly make poll pledges to win the hearts of the millions. However, Indians by this time are able to understand that most of the pledges made before the elections are meant for breaking those. Then, how can an election become a festival of the masses?

Regarding the track record of the candidates contesting in 2019 Lok Sabha poll, the scenario is indeed discouraging. There is a common saying in India that the people who used to indulge in active politics in the pre-independence period intended to serve our country as patriots whereas those who do so in the post-independence period intend to serve their selfish interests as selfish beings. The transition of power from Britain to India was able to make a radical transformation of our minds—patriots becoming selfish souls. Why could most of the politicians amass voluminous wealth while working in a poor country like India? Why many of the corrupt leaders were found to be more popular than the leaders who were known to be genuinely honest and hardworing? Has colonisation made the bulk of Indians greedy and prone to corruption?

Whatever development has happened since independence was largely reaped by the influential sections of our country. This has led to the accentuation of social and class polarisation. This is no doubt a very sad saga of development in our country. But it needs to be understood, being poor is not always a reflection of honesty. Many poor men and women fall into the trap of dishonest practices. But falling in the trap of dishonesty does not exonerate them. Many poverty-stricken persons were known to have become poor by dint of their idleness and adherence to malpractices and corruption. Many of them are seasonally or perennially unemployed. These men and women join different political parties essentially during the time of election in lieu of money, liquor or other types of attraction. They usually refrain from a bare minimum ethical practice and are the major conduits of what is known as criminalisation of politics. They are the major players to make the festival of democracy a veritable horror in some select pockets of our country.

Democracy is a system of goverment by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through the elected represen-tatives. Democracy is a system where the citizens exercise power by voting. But in a country like India where there is an obnoxious disparity in wealth, education, culture, ethical practices, social opportunity among others, how can democracy play the role of a meaningful catalyst of develop-ment? Can democracy sustain or grow in a relatively underdeveloped country like India?

The concept of democracy was artificially implanted in India from the West on accout of the Nehruvian legacy. But the social roots of Western democracy are unable to have a firm foothold in a country like India where region-wise decentrali-sation of power while adopting a multi-stage Panchayati Raj would have been a more prudent and justified model of power to the people. Unbridled corruption, unequal distribution of wealth and power through States and individuals and a faulty administrative system have exposed the limitation of the Western type democracy forcibly applied in our motherland. All statesmen and policy-planners need to make a deep soul-search as to whether comprehensive nation- building is possible in a country like India bearing the inheritance of a very ancient civilisation while inserting artificially the Western type democracy. The recent trends of terrorism, seperatism and regionalism have squarely exposed the limitation of governance in India ruled by democracy.

The author was in the Sociology faculty of Presidency College, Kolkata.

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