Where are we taking our democracy to?

[I am aware that this piece may sound polemical, which it is; and cynical, which it is not. It is not a well argued treatise, only a quick expression of opinion. Most views expressed can be backed by argument and evidence to my belief; but that would take a lot more time. So!]

Bhartiya Janata Party after a long agonizing—for it alone—wait has finally announced the inevitable: Narendra Modi of 2002 Gujarat fame is its Prime Ministerial candidate for 2014 general elections. We need no such announcement from the Congress: the succession line is clear enough. These two are the biggest players at the national level, the regional fiefdoms go with one or the other depending on the size of the chunk of proverbial pound of flesh they are able to extract. Another player at the national level is a conglomerate of what is called ‘left’; they are more of a nuisance with their strange religion-like theories and boundless personal ambitions.

If we look at the history of the Congress since 1920s, in spite of its successful steering of the freedom struggle and enormous contribution to nation building, the feudal character of the organization is unmistakable. From 1920s to about 1946 Gandhi dominated it and no dissenting voice was ever allowed. The succession of Nehru after Gandhi was not dynastic but was neither democratic. It was simply the fulfillment of the wish of Mahatma Gandhi. Any danger to Nehru’s succession was seen far in advance and curbed at the very nascent stage; treatment of Subhash Bodh can be seen as a case in point. Nehru, in spite of being a great democrat neither dismantled the feudal character of the organization nor did much to develop the democratic imagination of the population. He was the true controller and malik  of congress from 1947 till his death. A possibility of Congress party coming out of Nehru family’s grasp emerged after his death but was quickly led to rest by Indira Gandhi. The second attempt to wrest congress out of Nehru-Gandhi family was made by Kesari after Rajiv Gandhi’s death. But Kesari had neither the vision nor support of congressmen, so failed and dispatched to oblivion. Now the Congress party is a complete fiefdom of current Mrs. Gandhi (Sonia) and her children. It was often the case in medieval kingdoms that while the king was a minor some close confident ruled in his place. Sometimes these surrogate rules rebelled and started their own dynasties. The congress has perfected the system to the point that the surrogate rules can not even imagine such a rebellion.

BJP is basically is a party of upper caste Hindus. Its political thinkers—Deen Dials’ and Atals—have always been pigmies as far as political vision goes. Its national imagination comes from the RSS. The RSS certainly would like to have a mono-religious and mono-cultural country. Its vision of Hindutva is to make it a religion with one book, one prophet and one central authority to interpret religious dogma. This imagination is borrowed from Semitic religions and is in reconcilable variance with religious thinking in India; which has emerged more organically and therefore is not amenable to a final central dogma. BJPs commitment to secularism and inclusive polity has always been suspect and with good reasons. Its intellectuals are far inferior to the intellectuals that support Congress. And now it has accepted the leadership of Modi, the worst of the pack.

So what choice do we have: Modi versus Rahul? Free to choose between the devil and the deep sea!

Do we see any alternative? All the regional fiefdoms—that go by the name of various political parties—are modeled on the Congress’ dynastic structure; albeit with the poorer imagination of the nation, more sunk in the caste rivalries; deeper into corruption and blatant use of power. The Congress at the least has the support of sophisticated Brahmin thinking to fool the public and do its corruption in a more elegant manner!

One need not even talk about the left. They always have been living on borrowed imagination, often have been taking orders from outside of the country, their irresponsible piggy-backs to power at the centre have only made them worst, as they tested the blood of power.

At the moment the most recent flash in the pan is created by a bunch of anti-corruption activists, with their own record only half explained and a pedestrian national imagination. They came to fame on the basis of shallow, fleeting, unthinking, momentary interest of the Facebook type crowd.

What is often described as the Indian voters’ wisdom in producing hang governments and rejection of totalitarian tendencies is actually a huge misinterpretation of their behavior. The voter is simply guided by the local and immediate benefits they are promised or given by the local half-politician-half-goons and power brokers. It just so happens that these immediate interests do not add up to any clear verdict. It is an arithmetical result of non-thinking random self-interest and not of any social and political imagination.

So is there a hope for us? Can there emerge a challenge to Modis and Rahuls, both being bad news for Indian secular democracy? Perhaps yes, but not immediately.

A negative hope from the politicians: they are acting in total self interest, we know that. They also love power. Their love for power may result in two positive benefits to Indian democracy. One, they may hold the country together as fragmentation will make their power shrink. Two, they may prevent each other from becoming totalitarian despots, as each one wants that position for himself/herself. Therefore, the unity of the country and a semblance of democracy may continue. This sham democracy, however, is not going to deliver better life and the necessary amenities to the public. Nor will it fulfill the promises of equality, justice, freedom and fraternity. And still, it may give a chance to genuine democracy to emerge.

The second avenue of hope is from the public itself. Humans are selfish, true enough. But they also are capable of imagining long-term selfishness (often called enlightened self-interest) and empathy for the other. The Indian public may learn from its selfish behaviour directed at immediate interests and may include its neighbour in its consciousness. In other words, the public may be arriving at unarticulated conclusions of its own and in its own intuitive manner. There are other ways of development of human consciousness than strictly articulated and debated rational ones. The problem with them is that they are something like the dance of the bees, take too long, are intuitive and instinctive, and hold no guarantee that will progress in the most socially beneficial direction. But still, may produce more evolved civic consciousness and behaviour. The Indian public has been under tutelage of its rulers, caste leaders and religious leaders from time immemorial. The last sixty odd years might be forcing them to realise that they are on their own now, and they may realise the responsibility thrust upon them. If that happens, it will certainly be the most important thrust to the India democracy.

That brings us to the third avenue of hope. The opinion makers and intellectuals in the society may finally be able to articulate the national vision and citizenship responsibilities that make sense to the public in its own intuitive churning. The imagination of the intelligentsia at the moment is bound by borrowed theories, they are busy producing more and more obscure jargon in the name of nuanced articulation; and are guided by academic visibility in their own circles rather than by fidelity to and clarity of thought, and public good.

These three possibilities—one negative and two positive—may save and develop the Indian democracy into a more robust and healthy system. But, one, it will take time; and two, it sounds strangely like waiting for Krishna—yeda-yeda hi dharmasya glani….. and all that. These hopes will take significant nudging to emerge, waiting for Krishna will not do. The one possibility to give that nudging in an organised manner rests with the intelligentsia. Will they take up the challenge?


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