Democracy at crossroads in India!
‘Will India survive’ asks one. ‘This is not the India that the freedom fighters fought for and sacrificed much and dreamed about’ says another. Such captions and titles, alluding to and reflecting the ground reality, are alarming. Each time major elections are conducted in the country, headlines globally refer to India as the largest democracy in the world. Yes, we are, and each time millions go to vote and return from the booths with ink-marked index fingers, it feels us all proud. On the hills and on the plains, the poor and the rich, the young and the elderly, people of diverse religions, languages and food habits walk together to exercise their right, an incredible gift. At least during these times, ‘the forgotten little ones’ are remembered and recognized, and with folded hands the mighty politicians approach and seek their votes.
If the politicians of various national and regional parties are retained at times, at many other times they are displaced with newer members, from the older parties and at times from the newborn parties. Major parties publish their manifestos stating how they differ from the others and what they will do if voted to power. The various wings of media dissect and discuss and debate these agenda, whetting the appetite of diverse constituencies. Such exercises inevitably strengthen the democracy.
While there is much in this process that needs to be acknowledged and appreciated, I like to flag two contemporary developments that are worrisome. The communal factors were not absent in the electoral process in the past but by and large people voted irrespective of one’s religious affiliations. However, these factors have taken a new life and direction and force under the current dispensation. Proponents of democracy worry about how religious riots are orchestrated and passions are aroused in order to control and manage voting patterns. In many instances the contesters won elections, almost predictably, confirming how successful the process of polarizing people is along religious lines.
Another worrisome factor is the role of money in this process. Again, this is not a new thing in itself. Various political parties, overtly or covertly, have been giving gifts to people –bicycles to clothes to Television sets to cell phones to Tabs etc.,- trying to please them, and bind them to vote for them. However, since from a decade and more so now, the role of money in elections has changed remarkably. Contesters of major parties have been distributing money directly and this is not just to the poor people but to the most populations. Obviously, the more one is ready to spend/distribute, the more one is likely to win. It’s sad to see people reducing the entire democratic achievements and processes to a ‘buyable’ commodity. One way to look at it is to examine how free people are to understand and participate in the democratic process and how many un-freedoms block and blind people from realizing their political potential!