Indian Democracy : Meanings and Practices
Jaya ·       

?Independence is the only benefit we have gained at the cost of everything else?, an anonymous Indian said a few years after independence.

Democracy in India, as elsewhere, is not just about periodic elections, nor about voter turnouts, nor about oratory. The central objective of democracy is to enable every person to have a say in deciding about the greater collective social worth.� In an age given to superficiality and facile soundbites, ?Indian Democracy: Meanings and Practices? edited by Rajendra Vora and Suhas Palshikar is a perspicacious anthology of sixteen essays that address, brood and elaborate upon ?the substance and vibrancy of Indian democracy? with rare academic depth and seriousness. Democracy, like so many other important notions like independence, socialism, secularism, constitutionalism, equality, liberalization, was thrust upon the Indian masses by their enlightened elites. Thereafter intertia� has seen to it that it continues. How has Indian democracy lasted and how is it likely to proceed in future amidst the enveloping militarized environment nurtured by a corporatized economy under the darkening shadow of communalism?

The Indian is a good individual. But Indians, as a collectivity, often portray a herd-instinct: a feudal submissiveness to leaders along caste/communal lines. Often their actions are at variance with their professed convictions. The average Indian?s attitude towards caste, religion and politics exhibits: resigned hypocricy and self-serving manipulativeness, because, for him, ultimately, politics is an extension of caste or religion. The result: stunted development fraught with the danger of further divisions.

How and why are we in such a sorry state? The authors suggest that this was reached as a consequence of ?the persistent failure? by the ruling elites ?to solve economic problems? (or the greater common worth) ?which severely exposes their claim to legitimacy.? When the elites realized that the economic problems could not be solved without endangering their own established interests, they resorted to the politicization of economic causes and took ?refuge in radical rhetoric to conceal their incapability or unwillingness to undertake drastic administrative and economic measures which might harm the established interests.? Indian socialism was a notion that was neither planned nor implemented with the required capacity or finesse. It was propagated for sometime before it became a byword for the hypocricy politicians. What has happened is that India remained socialist in intention, but remained capitalist by inertia and default. This closet capitalism instigated socio-structural changes on a large scale in an insidious manner, which has been animated and expressed by the neo-market forces, which has catalyzed the dichotomy of the existing pluralities, like Brahmin versus Non-Brahmin, Hindu versus Non-Hindu, Sikh versus Hindu, Rich versus Poor, North versus South and so on.� Insurgencies and terrorist movements are the symptoms of a society chafing to substantialize democracy and give every poor man a say in the common national destiny. This has the real potential of fragmenting the political system and in giving neo-fascist movements a legitimacy that they would otherwise lack. The singular success of secularism in religion-soaked India upto the 1990s was a miracle. This miracle is now giving way to religious exclusivism and pretensions. How do we restore this miracle: the answer given by the authors is?substantialization of democracy. Further, they also point out that a key cause for the present crisis of secularism is the fact that those who are convinced of its benefits write for each other and never for those who are not convinced. Silence in times of this communal sound and fury is imprudent.

The authors suggest that ?Substantialization of democracy? can be best achieved by strengthening the formal structures of procedural democracy which, over time, will enable the masses to improve the quality of their role in deciding matters. However, this will not be an easy task. The exhaustion of the democratic structures to accommodate the burgeoning interests of the� masses means that grass-roots and local movements are required. These local movements are always marginalized over time, although they may have their few minutes of fame, when headed by some middle-class activists. Nevertheless, the crisis of representation continues and is the single biggest danger at present: representative institutions no longer represent voters, who have been short-circuited and corrupted by an institutionalized system of bribery and chicanery that only renders them responsive to powerful interest groups like big business houses and extra-constitutional organizations like the Sangh Parivar. Neither the left nor the opposition parties nor the marginalized groups like tribals have been able to effectively mobilize the public against the BJP government and counter its communal and cultural archaism or its neo-market hegemony. The courts too have failed: they have shown that they are the handmaidens of economic or political power and are consistently vulnerable to, if not, deferential to the claims of cultural nationalism represented by RSS and its minions.

The ominous parallels of fascism are moving into place: a powerful Prime Minister?s Office functioning under the influence of a cabal, an inert opposition, a weakening Parliament, a legal-judicial system that is both� compliant (to the influence of the plutocrats or the power of the politicians or the influence of the self-appointed cultural czars) and repressive (to all those who are ideologically opposed), a party system in which one party, the BJP, whether in the opposition or in power, is bent upon reconfiguring the prevalent system so as to permanently favour a single religion, Hinduism, and a ruling class/caste of the wealthy/Brahmins and other well-connected corporatchiks, leaving the other minority-religions and the majority-poor, with a sense of helplessness and political despair. At the same time, the middle classes are kept dangling between a perpetual fear of unemployment on the one hand, and continual expectation of fantastic rewards once the new economy booms further on the other. These are dangerous times?the dead ghosts (religio-communalists) are burying the living (liberals) and the living are taking this lightly. The revelatory essays in this book can shake the liberals from their languor and lead towards a substantialization of democracy.