Is Democracy merely rule by majority?

By Syed Khurshid Anwar

Democracy, despite its shortcomings, is the dominant political system in contemporary world. It has the ability, if it is inclusive, to address and reconcile the conflicting interests of different social, economic and political groups of a nation-state.

Democracy is not, as noted jurist and constitutional lawyer Seervai put it, merely government by majority. Instead, it is government with the broad consent or acquiescence of the people. A democracy without broad consent or acquiescence does not respect the legitimate political and economic aspirations of different social groups. Without such broad consent, it will be ‘ethnic democracy’ like that of Israel and Sri Lanka.

Our founding fathers did not accept the proposals right from the days of “Nehru Report” (1928) till Cabinet Mission to provide for a constitutional safeguard against any possible exclusion of minorities from sharing of power in the event majority manipulates democracy on communal lines. The argument in favour of rejection was that any such device, if incorporated in constitution, would be against the democratic principles. Nationalist Muslims agreed in principle and in practice as well. Even without any such safeguard, our constitution worked well in bringing about successive governments at the Centre by now with broad consent of the people.

In 1973 Supreme Court in Keshvanand Bharti case rendered a landmark judgment wherein it ruled that basic features of Constitution are not amenable to amendment by Parliament. Since democratic polity is a basic feature of constitution, a Government formed without due process of election cannot have constitutional mandate. Nor can an individual or social group be denied participation in the election process.

There can be no doubt from the perusal of the constitutional scheme that its goal is to establish a participative and inclusive democracy and not merely rule of majority. The scheme of constitution has been condensed in its Preamble which creates a secular, socialist and democratic republic. However, the socio-political ideology of Sangh Parivar struggles for the contrary. Eminent sociologist Christophe Jaffrelot says, “The core belief of the Hindu nationalist movement, whose key organisation, the Rashtriiya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), was founded in 1925, is that the Indian identity is embodied in Hinduism. Noted journalist Praful Bidwai in an article quotes Golwalkar, the RSS ideologue, as saying, “Hindus alone are the legal citizens of Bharat …….. and the non-Hindus …….. may stay in this country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment not even citizen’s rights.”

Sangh Parivar continues to work on its agenda since the inception of RSS in 1925. Jaffrelot observes, “For decades the RSS has worked at the level recruiting children who are taught to fight religions founded outside India and forming new fronts (that include student, labour and peasant groups) for this purpose.

Vicious propaganda of Sangh Parivar generated an ambience which led to the demolition of Babri Masjid despite Supreme Court’s restraint order and the presence of Supreme Court-appointed observer. Babri Masjid demolition was the first incident in independent India which visibly divided the society on communal lines.

In the wake of communal polarisation of votes, BJP captured power in Gujarat in 1995. In
2001, Narendra Modi was made Chief Minister of Gujarat. His own senior police officers have alleged that he is responsible for the horrible 2002 pogroms. Praful Bidwai notes, “The pattern of violence is inseparable from Hindutva’s core project of cleansing India of, and disenfranchising, non-Hindus”. Bidwai concludes that “Gujarat pogrom was no aberration -- it flowed from the BJP’s core politics.”

BJP has never fielded a Muslim in Gujarat since coming to power in 1995 despite the fact that Muslims comprise 9 per cent of Gujarat’s
60 million population, but when it comes to representation in the state legislature, only two of them were elected to the 182-seat assembly in 2012. BJP, in general, and Modi, in particular, successfully converted Gujarat into a laboratory of RSS ideology and perfected Gujarat Model which is based on the exclusion and marginalisation of Muslims. With this track record of performance, Modi hit the top rank in the list of RSS performers. RSS and its ilk find communalism personified in the frame of Modi. No other BJP leader captures the imagination of RSS-fed voters.

It is not a coincidence that RSS marginalised a leader like Advani who gave his prime of life to RSS-BJP from the age of 13 years tilll now when he is 87. Not only Advani, highly qualified, senior and experienced leaders like Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi, a professor of physics, Jaitly, Supreme Court advocate and former law minister, Sushma Swaraj, leader of opposition in Lok Sabha, have been made subservient to Modi. Jaswant Singh has been shown the door.

Modi does not even have ability to communicate in any  language other than Hindi and Gujarati. He has proven himself poor at Indian history. To him, Chandar Gupta Maurya was a king of Gupta dynasty. He does not know that Bhagat Singh was hanged in Lahore jail, not in Andman-Nicobar. Perhaps Modi is the least educated amongst all the present chief ministers of various states of India.

After independence, Dalit and other depressed classes got an opportunity in democratic India to register their adequate presence in various democratic institutions including parliament and state assemblies. Post-1977, they further consolidated their position in legislatures.

A variety of caste-based political outfits of Dalits and Hindu OBCs emerged regionally. In 1977, Janta Party was formed in the name of non-Congressism accommodating erstwhile Jan Sangh. With the collapse of  Janta Party within a short span of  two and a half years, Jan Sangh renamed itself to become BJP. Broadly, these caste-based political parties were opposing Hindu upper castes hegemony over Indian politics. In 1984, BSP was formed with the avowed policy of unsettling the existing political order by bringing Dalits, OBCs and Muslims in a commanding position. In public discourses, these parties were against the communal politics of RSS-BJP, yet at times one or other of them conjured up with BJP out of sheer opportunistic political tactic. Rank opportunism conferred respectability and legitimacy on BJP.

Let us remind ourselves of the NDA rule in which Nitish Kumar was Railway Minister while Modi in Gujarat was busy supervising the 2002 carnage. RSS ideology could not be isolated and insulated from the psyche of Dalits and Hindu OBCs because of greed for power of their leaders. They made direct or indirect political alliances with BJP to satisfy their lust for power.

Muslims have never voted as a religious group. They failed to conduct themselves at the hustings as a single political group and rejected communal politics electorally. Muslims either voted for Congress or for the parties of Dalits-Hindu OBCs. Their political behaviour has never been communal in independent India.

In the current general elections, RSS has been very cleverly using Modi, belonging to OBC, to confuse the caste orientation of Dalit-OBC voters. Dalits, OBCs and Muslims of India have little share in Indian economy. According to official figures, about 80 per cent Indian population survives on Rs. 20 per day per person. A majority of this unfortunate part of India comprises of Dalits, OBCs and Muslims. Their overwhelming majority is poor.

Modionomics, complied by BJP and released by Arun Jaitly in a function recently, shows that the BJP is practically no different from Congress when it comes to economics. Education, health and housing sectors have been handed over to corporates. They are free to make profit out of the basic needs of people. State is facilitating their business through public exchequer and offering them land of poor farmers on throwaway prices. Multitudes of educational institutions have made quality education and higher education inaccessible to the poor. OBCs are only a little ahead of others. India’s poor cannot step into 5-star and 7-star hospitals for treatment. They cannot even think of their own house in view of the galloping price of real estate. High inflation rate, price rise and corruption are natural ingredients of the present economic policies. Modi has implemented these economic policies in Gujarat rather ruthlessly. Crony capatilism in Gujarat has generated large-scale malnutrition in infants. Farmers have committed suicide. Big industrial houses have been extended with state largesse indiscriminately and with impunity.

Media in general and electronic media in particular has been shamelessly projecting Modi as Prime Minister without election and by implication supporting RSS agenda. Modi is being painted as if he would be able to remove all ills single-handedly as, according to media reports, he has done in Gujarat. Canards regarding Gujarat development are being circulated deliberately to cover up his role in the 2002 pogroms. There are allegations that media has been managed by corporates in favour of Modi. Another factor may be that mainstream media is overwhelmingly dominated by upper caste Hindus.

Anyway, the strategy is to de-link the Dalit-OBCs combine with Muslims in Indian politics so as to convert minority Hindu communal votes into a majority. If this experiment succeeds, Muslim votes may be rendered irrelevant in Indian democracy. It will also create a distrust between Dalits-OBCs and Muslims giving rise to  communalism on a comparatively large scale. Adolf Hitler, we are reminded, captured the seat of power through elections in Germany in 1933 because people wanted change of the situation generated by hyper inflation, price rises and rampant unemployment.

Assuming that Modi comes to power, can anybody think of betterment of OBCs and Dalits of India much less Muslims? Economic policies of the RSS cannot allow this to happen. The likely contradiction between RSS and Dalits OBCs could be contained by virulent communal politics which would essentially make Muslims scapegoats. This is Gujarat Model in real sense.

And the selfish Dalit and OBC leaders as well as veteran turncoat Muslim leaders having no or minimal following may facilitate BJP. The question is: if Modi succeeds to form Government after these elections, whether a Government rejected collectively by an entire community of 250 million people at the hustings can still be a legitimate democratic government? For, democracy is not a mere government by majority but government with broad consent of the people.

The writer is advocate in Allahabad High Court

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 May 2014 on page no. 11

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