2014 General Election in India: Is Democracy at work?

By Suresh Nautiyal*

MAY 16, 2014 shall be recorded as a historic day for several reasons, no matter how large section of the Indian society was disappointed! The result of the 16th Lok Sabha (Upper House of the Indian Parliament) is overwhelming but not up to the expectations of the marginalised majority.

The progressive and democratic voices and the voices that speak of equity at all levels including political, social, cultural, religious and ethnic feel marginalised by the victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance for this victory belongs to those who singularly talk about equity of the dominating communities and advocate a specific cultural and religious unity as they consider this the only proof of loyalty towards the nation called INDIA!

In other words, it is a victory for those who think India belongs to the majority community, majority religion and the communities and religions that emanated from the majority religion! It would be pertinent to quote here that the majority Hindu community has no issue with the communities that belong to the Sikhism, Jainism, and Buddhism as these religions somehow emanated from a larger body called Hinduism!

The election victory euphoria is so maddening that there is hardly anybody ready to listen against the victorious party or its hero! And, hardly anybody to realise that democracy is also about the disagreeing and dissenting voices and that the quality of democracy in a country depended on the quality of disagreements and dissent there!

India has been touted time and again as the largest democracy in the world. There is no doubt that one of the most populated countries, India, has democracy as its ideology, but the moot questions are: What level of democracy is there? How does the democracy work there? What is the future course of democracy in India? And, how democracy is going to survive there in the era of globalisation and liberalisation?

These questions are there because the present form of democracy in India is not for all citizens, despite prevalence of universal suffrage. Every citizen of the country has a right to a single vote. There is no distinction at all. Citizens from different backgrounds have equal weightage of their votes – either s/he is from a royal lineage or a wealthy background or from a poor background! Superb! No discrimination, no distinction!

But, there is no equality in practice. A poor citizen, or a citizen with a marginalised background, has a right to a single vote like her/his wealthy or influential counterpart; but the poor citizen has no right to win votes of others in her/his favour, simply because s/he has no money to buy votes in her/his favour. If this analogy is incorrect, let me ask: Why the so-called national parties spend billions of rupees (Indian currency) on the elections? Why this money -- which could have bought bread for millions of people for several years or could have been enough to create several hospitals, institutions, and other bodies for the public welfare – has been wasted on elections?

The point is: Was not that a tactics to win votes of the ignorant masses who hardly knew about the real issues facing the country? Was not that an effort to distract them from those issues? Was not it an effort to misguide the citizens on several issues and create a sense of imaginary fear in their mind about the neighbouring countries?

The verdict which we have today is largely due to the anti-incumbency factor because the previous Congress-led UPA (United Progressive Alliance) was not in a position to remind the citizens about their claimed good work during last one decade. The UPA in general and the Congress party in particular came in a defensive mode without much resistance as it saw the main opposition party, BJP, and its prime ministerial candidate as real threats.

Several other factors also led to the resounding victory of BJP, a political party whose politics is not appreciated among the progressive and positive circles. The wipe out or semi-wipe out of several regional parties, which were thriving on regional, sectoral or religious sentiments, is writing on the wall with capital letters! The results have left much for the Left parties to think about their strategies and failures!

The students of the Indian politics and the observers in general would recollect that BJP stalwart LK Advani once advocated the two-party system for India citing the volatility of the regional parties a valid reason. I just wonder whether this verdict is an approval of what Advani advocated several years back! Was it on the backyard of the public memory or it just happened due to an aggressive election campaign in favour of a particular hardliner leader? If Advani’s advocacy was the reason, I must say that India is heading towards suicidal politics.

I am saying so because we at the same time need latitudinal, longitudinal and multitudinal politics in the country – a political ideology that encompasses the whole country and all of its peoples in their extremist diversity and individuality.

One has to keep in mind that India is country which has multiplicity and plurality of ethnicity and languages, multiplicity and plurality of religions and sects, plurality and multiplicity of political thoughts, and multiplicity and plurality of so many other aspects of human life.

However, India, as a nation, will never ever advocate the two-party system. But, there is a looming threat. A time may come when people are convinced that the multi-party system has not worked, therefore, the two-party system is the best one for the country and its people. Such a system will only help the politicians of the main two parties, and these parties can conveniently rule the citizens one-by-one.

The two-party system would be fatal and the most undemocratic. Such a political system in practice will kill plurality and multiplicity at various levels! At the same time, this system will kill local aspirations and dreams! This is beyond doubt that each and every region of the country has its own specifics, distinctiveness and uniqueness, which do not get priority on the agenda of the large parties. Thus, the regional and local dreams and aspirations remain unattended and ignored! Such apathy automatically leads to disgruntlement and disenchantment! At the end of the day, these elements lead to anything and go to any extent!

Therefore, we should neither encourage the two-party system; nor vote for two party system. In the wild of a thriving and healthy democracy, we must need trees, flowers, vegetation of different types and colours! The wild will not be wild if these ingredients are missing from it!

The performance of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) provides thought for introspection. It seems that an effort to rope in a third party in the two-party system has been stalled for the time being! Reaching out to the last person can be a step forward towards the direct and participatory democracy, which to an extent is being practiced by AAP!

Also, we need to create a new political thought. The Socialist and Communist thoughts have not worked in India so far at the national level. It is because they have become almost redundant. Today, we need a new politics that talks about the impending issues like climate change and global warming. Corruption is just a miniscule of a serious disease! Therefore, the Green politics and philosophy need to be promoted as they are inclusive, peaceful, sustainable, broad, and not biased.


*Suresh Nautiyal is a journalist and Member of the Global Greens Coordination and associated with several international and Indian organisations.