Indian Democracy: A One-Sided Process!

Fake encounters, with innocent Muslims usually being victims, prompts deliberation on the degree to which India can be viewed as a truly democratic country. Constitutionally, as per democratic norms, each Indian citizen is regarded as equal. The elected government is expected to be guided by the theory, democracy for the people, by the people and of the people. Certainly, these appear as golden words on paper, a far cry from reality in Indian politics.

The situation would be different if political responsibility of democratically elected leaders was lived up to in serving the people. True, the respected leaders and parties attach considerable importance to vote of Indian citizens. Yet, even votes of all Indians are not viewed from the same political lens. This is marked by vote-banks being weighed by regional, religious, caste, wealth and other factors.

While campaigning for votes, leaders don’t hesitate in addressing Muslims with folded hands, concerned expressions, assuring them of doing their best for their progress. The leaders tap on the democratic potential of electorate’s votes to satisfy their own political interests. Now, shouldn’t this be viewed as a one-sided democratic process?

In India, if any democratic right, including that of Muslims, is given the most importance, it is the citizens’ right to vote. Sadly, the same importance is not given to democratic responsibilities and duties, the leaders are expected to follow. Votes are important to ensure leaders an entry onto the political stage and thus establish their political identity. Votes can make as well as shatter political images of various parties and leaders. Once the electoral phase is over, the democratic value of Indian votes and voters is almost sidelined. And this raises the question on whether democratic role of Indian citizens, particularly Muslims, is confined to their votes? Is the democratic responsibility of leaders limited to acquiring their votes?  

Please note, during the electoral phase, increasing importance is given to reminding Indian voters of their democratic duty and responsibility to exercise their right to vote. Sadly, ordinary citizens are viewed as an important part of Indian democracy but only during the electoral season. Legally, each Indian citizen after a certain age can contest elections too. But in practice, this norm is hardly followed. The manner in which most political parties use (and abuse) this democratic right is hardly democratic. Recent political history is witness to parties indirectly supporting numerous persons as independent candidates primarily to cut into vote-banks of their rivals. Citizens’ right to contest is exploited by their being fielded literally as puppets. Division of votes among numerous candidates leads to the winner securing less than 50 percent of votes.  It is feared that such abuse of Indian democracy can weaken it.

Several other undemocratic practices are linked with “democratic” right to contest. One is the monetary value attached with acquiring (buying) “tickets” to contest elections and buying votes to win elections. Democratic importance of tickets is literally ignored when the same is made to bend by being valued monetarily. Genuine democracy is also sidelined when little importance is accorded to the “democratic” record of persons, with criminal background, being selected as party-candidates or being assured support as independent contestants. How can an economically-stricken Indian ever be expected to visualize the importance of his democratic role as a contestant and not just a voter? Similarly, increasing Muslims’ representation in Parliament and assemblies is not given the same importance as is accorded to appealing for their votes.

Yes, Indian democracy is also witness to democratic norms weakening against the importance given to money. Paradoxically, a rich Indian’s vote has the same electoral value as that of a poor Indian. Yet, the rich hold sway over the political stage with their money being given greater importance in selecting candidates. The poor are given greater importance primarily where their votes are concerned. In this context, the rich can complain that leaders do not appeal to them for their votes as passionately as they address poor voters. Statistically, the larger population of the poor accords their votes greater importance than that of the rich.

Democratically, what can be said about the emergence of numerous parties in India? Should they be viewed as a strength of Indian democracy or its weakness? From one angle, they symbolize strength. If the people of any Indian community or segment feel that their importance is being sidelined by major parties, they can assert their democratic identity by forming a party of their own. At the same time, it cannot be missed that most of these small parties’ reach is limited to either their region, religion, caste or  groups. There is no doubt that emergence of such parties is responsible for enhancing the democratic importance of the group they represent. Though they hold little importance on the national stage, they must be credited for succeeding in at least establishing their democratic identity.  

Tragically, cracks in the country’s democracy suggest that the voter continues to be perpetually ignored except during the election period. The Indian democratic process remains largely a one-sided affair for practically all ordinary citizens, with Muslims being major sufferers!

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 July 2013 on page no. 11

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