A Culture of Missing Democracy

Rajvinder Singh | July 16, 2014 10:47 AM
Rajvinder Singh

By Rajvinder Singh* 

Whosoever has gained from the recent elections to the 16th Lok Sabha in India, it was certainly not the people of this wonderful country of the largest number of religions, largest number of languages, and largest number of races and ideologies on Earth residing side by side within the space of a single nation. However, the height of this tragic fact is that they themselves are ultimately to blame for it. At least, their exploiters can accuse them of it. 

Even this election has shown, yet again, that a layman in India is not only not informed of their democratic rights and duties, this fact rather makes him or her even more vulnerable to all sorts of fanaticism, on the one hand, and a manipulation by alcohol, drugs, cash, and by one time meagre awards of bicycles, laptops or televisions to get robbed of their democratic right of independently exercising their right to vote. Marx’s so true postulate as religion being opium for the people was proved yet again, rather literally, and was appended by another malice, that of votes being bought by the big money, be it paid directly to the poor voters or to the media for buying their favour.

Big media has its own business interests. So if the powerful media, forgetting conveniently its responsibility of exposing the nefarious designs of these “parties”, itself becomes party to it, the whole exercise becomes a farce of democracy.

Consequently, the long standing cultural hope of a real democracy finally taking roots in the socio-political soil of India at least now after sixty seven years of Independence has yet again been lost, and no cure for this recurring malice seems to be in sight as of now. 

Listening, in my childhood, to the Janam Sakhis, lullabies or folktales of the Punjab in the melodious voice of my mother had always been a wonderful treat every night, a tender kind of “bribe” for us siblings to bring us to sleep. She had a sea of stories ready on various subjects all the time in her repertoire, and if she could not find one on a topic we wished for, she would create one then and there. For me, the romantic punjabi tales thematising love, uprightness of human actions, sense of commitment and of belonging, but also of deceit, desire and greed were always the most fascinating treats. My particularly favourite story had been the one of Sohni and Mahiwal. And the specific scene that always made me unsure of how a person should determine one’s right action was, when Sohni in the wake of her well-wrought earthen pitcher being replaced by her sister-in-law with a raw pitcher has to decide her course of action. The question before Sohni for a moment must have been whether to mount on the raw pitcher to cross the river and keep her promise of seeing her lover even at the risk of drowning, as Mahiwal, like always, is waiting on the other side of the Chenab for her, or whether she should simply miss that night’s visit and change the pitcher the next day and swim over then. But Sohni was a steadfast lover, she didn’t want to disappoint her love, took the risk, keep her promise, and drowned. 

The country is galloping towards the same rawness… with the pitcher of our democracy becoming more and more raw and unwrought like that of Sohini… eroding away slowly, but we as polity are continuing to keep our promise. The notorious system of Indian elections must be complemented with people’s democratic education. But who will do it? From politicians one cannot expect this, as people’s “forced” ignorance is precisely used by the political class to stay in power. 

Much beyond the voting exercise, people need to be confronted with rights and duties involved in a democratic process. But passing through the seventh decade of independence our political leaders have failed to adopt any such agenda to promote democratic thinking among masses. On the contrary, it seems that such a consciousness-raising-drive is consciously avoided under the spell of fear that if people would begin to understand the extent of their rights, understand the real issues involved, they would not be easily controlled and befooled any further and cannot be bought for peanuts every five years anymore. Keeping the status-quo, i.e., depriving the polity of the due enlightenment is the guarantee they have for staying in power. How I miss great souls like Vinoda Bhave in these times! The lack of politics-led social change in Indian democracy is due to the lack of competence among many Indian politicians, whose motivation to enter politics has merely been to hold on to power rather than to bring about visionary changes in the society. 

Thus, the common political rhetoric, devoid of any concrete, substantial arguments, is kept alive consciously as it can help trigger intense nationalistic emotions on the one hand, and even the secular fervour on the other, for that matter, of a politically blind, misinformed polity, and so set aside reason to exploit them. In the face of a true democracy, nationalism is the last thing India would need in these times of globalisation.

Ironically enough, in functioning democracies (e.g. of Scandinavian countries) it's usually the political leaders who perform the duty of enlightening the citizens, informing them of their democratic rights, socio-political dos and don’ts. But the power holders in our country keep on depriving people from viewing the precise meanings and practices of a democracy. Why then would our politicians take the risk of awakening the masses? 

One would naturally expect the writers and intellectuals then to raise their voice against such unworthy treatment of the common people, but they are silenced by hook or crook. Yet Writers and intellectuals cannot be thought as separable from their ideas and deeds. The interrelationship of their thoughts and deeds forms the very basis of their lives devoted to the humanistic agenda of making people conscious of their lot, their rights and duties. They actually live in accordance with what they believe, like the incorruptible souls in Mahabharata adhering to their “Dharma”, as opposed to the ones indulging in “Adharma”.

But the general worry among the intelligentsia is often naively reduced to simplistic tendencies like the safranisation of Indian secularism. They often say: Now that the voice of many stalwarts in the BJP has been stifled by the vociferous RSS to submit to its thumb, being the RSS nominee, Mr Modi’s all actions would be subject to the RSS seal of approval. Does it smack of déja vu, something we have had seen before? Mr Manmohan Singh is now free from Mrs Sonia Gandhi, they would say, but the show must go on, now with Mr. Modi reporting to the RSS. I am more than sure that these people misjudge Mr Modi. (This topic is worth a full-fledge dispatch, which will follow soon). 

Would then the so called leftists, the self-acclaimed custodians of secularism take the onus of making the common people conscious? Though a democracy does not rest on the ground of secularism alone, it does form a vital ingredient to it. But unfortunately we have to concede that every political party, notwithstanding its secular or communal agenda, is primarily interested in power, not people who alone have the right to invest power in politicians. 

Will then the media take this responsibility? Notwithstanding the democratic right of every agency to act in the manner of press freedom, for whose independence I’ll fight without compromise, and for freedom of speech till I breathe my last, I must confess with shame for my fellow co-contesters that their fight has turned the tables, changed the sides, and forgotten the common people. Big media has its own business interests. So if the powerful media, forgetting conveniently its responsibility of exposing the nefarious designs of these “parties”, itself becomes party to it, the whole exercise becomes a farce of democracy.When after all the democratization of our democracy we so highly speak of will take place? 

(*Rajvinder Singh, a freelance writer, thinker and journalist shares his time between Berlin and Delhi. He has published extensively on international affairs.)


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