Indian democracy has in past been described—with good reason—as Dynastic Democracy. It also has inspired other epithets ranging from Illiberal Democracy to Functioning Anarchy. It seems time has come to look for a more apt coinage. Recent events in Parliament have prompted us to think that Adjourned Democracy may well vanquish all other contenders. Not that dynasties have withered away or that we have become a bit more liberal, but none can deny that the Houses of our Parliament when in session are repeatedly adjourned—often several times in a day—and governance is quite often by ordinance.
As students, we were taught about the ‘adjournment motion’; now adjournment is forced by members rushing into the well—the only motion that is visible is physical; nothing is sensibly audible. There was a time when portraits of eminent parliamentarians vied to find a place in the hall of fame. Today the mike-snatching, ‘bill’-tearing, pepper-spraying, fisticuff-exchanging performers have reduced it to a hall of shame. From state legislatures to the Parliament, democracy has truly been adjourned.
There are optimists who believe that after plumbing the depths, we can only rise. The people, who are wiser than their elected representatives, we are told, are fed up with ‘ruling’ elite and will surely ‘punish’ the delinquents in forthcoming elections. We, on our part, find it difficult to share this hope. Elections in the ‘largest democracy in the world’—conducted once again with a flourish and without distressing, disruptive violence—may reassure the gullible that we remain a democracy, but are not likely to get the country out of the adjournment morass. Not many seem to be concerned about the interregnum between the elections that is the true test of democracy.
In days to come as the campaign heats up, we will no doubt be bombarded with words like minority appeasement and majoritarian tyranny. Democracy, as any child knows, is a numbers game and it’s the majority that rules. The problem arises when the ‘majority’ is cobbled or conjured by patently unfair means vitiating presumably noble ends.
We have patiently—and most unwisely—waited for our self-seeking elected representatives to enact electoral reforms to exclude undesirable candidates from legislature and now are paying the price painfully. The debates focusing on ‘secularism versus communalism’ and ‘fascism versus democracy’ have only served to distract the electorate from real issues. The likelihood of a fractured mandate once again throwing up a hung House has kept analysts busy speculating about how the cookie will crumble and contending coalitions emerge a couple of months hence. Individuals tainted and discredited more than once like Lalu Prasad continue to straddle the stage with a swagger. Those charged with corruption and heinous crimes, out on bail—Kalmadis of the world—continue to leave us speechless with the plea that the courts have not yet convicted them, so they have every right to retain their place in list of candidates. It’s amazing how many potential PM candidates chasing the mirage are jostling to emerge suddenly at the finishing line as the winning dark horse. Jayalalithaa, Nitish Kumar, Mamata Banerjee are the ‘usual suspects’—some old war horses like Advani of the ‘acceptable’ saffron hue and like him the ‘never to be dismissed and always around to lead the third or fourth front’ Sharad Pawar have not given up hope.
As all eyes are glued on Modi’s juggernaut and AAP’s wisecracking side show, those manning the Congress war room make desperate attempts to shift gears and project Rahul’s image as the sobre, self-effacing saviour. The problem is that the white knight in ‘not so shining armour’ has accomplished such a brilliant job of effacing himself that not many at present can convince themselves that he is a serious or deserving contender for the ‘top job’. The ‘handlers’ and media managers who had imagined the strategy of keeping a safe distance from the venal and incompetent UPA government would protect him from hazards of anti-incumbency are now left gaping at the proverbial writing on the wall.
Never before since Independence has the nation approached elections under such overcast skies. The economy is in a mess, the foreign policy in a shambles. Judiciary overburdened and bureaucracy demoralised. Media is struggling to prove its independence and large parts of the country are in throes of violence. Law and order has all but broken down. Elections that should in the 65th year of republic have been a cause of celebration are beginning to look more and more like a ‘fixed match’ that can engross only the supremely gullible and keep the crooked bookies in perpetual glee.