India is a land of festivals. The diverse range of festivities associated with this nation bear semblance to the multicultural ethos of it. However, every five years, India wakes up to a festival of a different kind; the festival of democracy- the elections. It is that very parameter which substantiates India’s claim before the world as the world’s largest democracy.
In order to ensure that people come out and vote, state as well as independent initiatives are made. The ever increasing youth population is wooed in more innovative ways so that they give up their culture of apathy (temporarily although). That black mark upon the index finger is the latest fashion statement, we are told.
However, as the novelty of the whole process wears off, we realise that the elections in India aren’t just a repetitive ritual. (It would have been a much lesser evil if that would have been the case). Rather, it is a façade built upon the corrupt malpractices of money and muscle power.
Not only this, it also employs the policy of divide and rule, that ultimate theory of cultivating sectarian strife (so that the people can never put up a united and formidable challenge against the ruling class) that enabled our colonial masters to rule over us. This is something that our political class has successfully managed to bequeath from our erstwhile rulers in order to smoothen its road to power. The age of hyper nationalism, and the shrill rhetoric of patriotism of contemporary India has simply proved inadequate to counter this trend of divisive politics.
The 2014 General Elections shall be remembered as one of the most polarised and communally sensitive elections in recent history. It is being held in the backdrop of communal riots which have ripped across the states of Uttar Pradesh (it alone has had riots numbering over 100), Bihar, Rajasthan and their ilk. The situation has further been rendered miserable by the vitriolic, inciting speeches of the political leaders. Apart from the usual boggy of rubble rousers and xenophobes such as Praveen Togadia and leaders of the Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, we’ve had hate speeches being made by the leaders from the other side of the political spectrum.
Amit Shah, the BJP in- charge of Uttar Pradesh and the Deputy of Narendra Modi, BJP’s Prime Minister in waiting, said at an election rally in the riot torn, communally polarised Muzaffarnagar that this election was for ‘revenge’. Quick to retort was Imran Masood of the Congress who said, “If Modi tries to turn Uttar Pradesh into Gujarat, then I will chop him into tiny pieces”, and Azam Khan, leader of the Samajwadi Party- the self- proclaimed messiah of the Muslims, who said that the Kargil War of 1999 against Pakistan was won because of the Muslim soldiers and not their Hindu counterparts. Would someone bother to ask how was a leader of a regional party allowed access to a volatile war zone like Kargil so that he may classify the religion of the soldiers who were fighting for their nation?
Of course, if we were to look into the recent speech made by Giriraj Singh, BJP’s candidate from the Bhagalpur constituency, the previous remarks would seem redundant. This is what he said:-
“Those who oppose (Narendra) Modi are looking at Pakistan. Such people will have place in Pakistan, not in India.”
It would be very naïve to believe that such statements are made ‘accidentally’ in a feat of anger or passion. Rather they are extremely calculated remarks made for consolidating a particular vote bank. Writer and activist Arundhati Roy says that “such hate speeches are designed to create a majoritarian constituency which can differences of caste, which is actually impossible to do”.
This is also probably the first time that minority educational institutions are being targeted by the political parties. In this speech, Narendra Modi comes down heavily upon the Vice- Chancellor of New Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia for appointing lawyers to fight the cases of the students who have been accused on terrorism. The Aligarh Muslim University, another institution that has substantial number of students of the minority community always borne the brunt of BJP’s wrath in case of various administrative decisions and in general. This is probably the worst form of unethical politics where educational institutions are hung upon the pedestals of power.
Of course apologies have been provided for such remarks and we have been asked to forget those malicious utterances as mere slip of tongue which occurred due to over enthusiasm. The Election Commission has banned (and subsequently revoked it) the leaders in question from campaigning.
A news report of The Indian Express quotes the BJP workers being worried due to the campaign ban on Amit Shah, whose otherwise polarising presence would enable the party to garner more votes. This shows how much our election machinery needs to fuel the politics of hate in order to sustain itself.
What use then is this practice of democracy which brutalises the common people against each other on the basis of an insignificant denominator that they acquired merely on the basis of their birth? What kind of a Parliament, the supreme law formulating institution of a nation, are we going to elect- one that is smeared with the blood of the poorest people of the country? Will its foundations be laid upon the dead bodies of those who are a victim of terrible hate machinery that has been thrust upon them?
And what about the ever- increasing youth population of this country; that ultimate hope and panacea of the world’s emerging superpower? Of course by youth we mean the ones who appear on the pages and screens of popular culture, the forerunners of ‘India Shinning’, not the ones who don’t have access to Facebook and Twitter accounts to give vent to their anger against the state of affairs. Or those who are too uncouth to be invited to the glittering TV debates where they would have their adrenaline rush and exclaim “Young India doesn’t bother about temples and mosques, it only cares about development.”
The reason to ask these questions and to make those important assertions is not to suggest that we give up on democracy and fall back upon some old, discredited authoritarian model. It is essential we redefine the meaning of democracy in India which we have somehow reduced to shambolic and farcical elections.
As Dr. B. R. Ambedkar had put it so meticulously while speaking in the Constituent Assembly on 4 November 1948, “Democracy is a top- dressing on an Indian soil which is essentially undemocratic.” The situation can only be resolved by increasing people’s engagements at all levels which requires strengthening our commitment to civil liberties- the rights of students, the oppressed and the marginalized, the struggles to do away with the differences of caste and economic imbalances and their ilk.
There is a need to ask for more accountability which can only be possible with an increased political consciousness. There is an utmost and urgent need to counter such divisive and fascist brand of politics with politics of ideas and increased democratic engagements. I end with the lines of W. B. Yeats which aptly summarises the chaotic situation of contemporary India:-
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”