political competition exists in India and all parties have
the freedom to put across their points of view to the people
and seek their mandate. Power always changes hands peacefully
after electoral verdicts. Winners do not punish or imprison
or behead the losers. Elected governments have real power
and are not accountable to the army or an oligarchy or a
coterie. These democratic practices fulfil the conditions
laid by Myron Weiner for a functioning democracy. We only
have to look across our borders on all sides to appreciate
how privileged we are to be free citizens in a democracy.
yet, there is a deep sense of discontent plaguing most people.
We find the political process, which ought to be the solution,
is the main problem itself. While electoral verdicts result
in change of players, the rules of the game remain unchanged.
In fact elections themselves are tainted with unaccounted
money power, criminalization of politics and rampant polling
irregularities. If a Ganghiji or Ambedkar were to contest
today, chances are they would lose hands down!
yet we are a truly functioning democracy. This paradox of
serious distortions in electoral process on the one hand,
and reasonably fair verdicts at macro level on the other
hand baffles us. This is possible largely because ours is
a system of compensatory errors. Most of the leading parties
and candidates are good at this game of manipulation, and
each neutralises the other! Mercifully the state is genuinely
neutral in our elections, and strong institutions like the
Election Commission ensure a fair degree of impartiality
a democracy which neither facilitates rapid economic growth
nor creates conditions for peace, harmony and rule of law
in many parts of the country does not satisfy us. While
democracy seems to be doing better, we feel worse! Even
the communal disturbances deliberately provoked by the political
class expose its bankruptcy. The only way parties feel assured
of vote mobilization is through crude appeal to primordial
loyalties. Politics of individuation are anathema to our
parties, and vote bank politics through caste and communal
polarazation are a sure recipe for political relevance.
of all, we have created political fiefdoms resembling ancient
monarchies or medieval Zamindaris. Little dynasties have
spawned all over the country and these oligarchies have
a vice-like grip over our legislatures. A careful analysis
of the nearly 5000 legislative offices in States and Lok
Sabha will reaveal that probably two-thirds of them are
controlled by about 10,000 well-connected political families.
No matter which party wins, power alternates between members
of these families. Politics has become big business. Big
investments are made in elections, and much bigger profits
are reaped once elected to office. A legislator is more
a disguised and unaccountable executive than a public representative.
too long we trotted out democracy as an excuse for our failures.
In reality, democracy is our strength, and all these and
other ills could be corrected genuinely democratic instruments,
backed by the consensus which only democracy fosters. And
yet, we deliberately distorted our democratic institutions
and practices, and blame everything on the failure of democracy.
The real problem is not a surfeit of liberty, but a deficit
of democracy. The ills of a democracy can be overcome only
by more and better democracy. Decentralization of power,
restoration of rule of law and speedy justice, comprehensive
electoral reforms to attract the best talent and reject
the professional parasites, and instruments of accountability
- these are needed to invigorate our democracy and promote
economic growth. There is much that we can be proud of in
our record of 50 years of parliament. There is also much
that has gone wrong. The political class owes it to the
nation to give up shibboleths for once, and provide clear,
honest direction. We need simple, uncomplicated national
goals, and specific, practical, effective institutional
reforms to achieve them. We have it in us to make lot of
difference in a short-while. The millions of jobless youngsters
are getting impatient. We need to act quickly.