India’s Democracy Challenged

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

By Badri Raina |ZNet, March 28, 2009

Badri Raina’s ZSpace Page



“WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens

JUSTICE, social, economic, political;

LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith, and worship;

EQUALITY of status and opportunity;

and to promote among them all

FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation,



It is once again Hustings time.

The fifteenth Lok Sabha (House of the People) is due to be elected, and the 16th of May, 2009—counting day—will tell us what it looks like.

Even as the Indian Republic as duly constituted justly takes some satisfaction at its continuance, transcending a plethora of adverse circumstance, some challenges there are that qualitatively spell more than an ordinary hiccup.

Let me allude to just three.

First, the good challenge:

This comes from none other than “we the people.”

And they make a simple but incontestable point: namely, that some sixty years to the good, it is clear that they have been at the receiving end of the bad old ruling class trick.

To wit, legitimize the Constitution in the name of “we the people” but ensure that the state thereof in truth serves the interests of the very few.

This is achieved by enshrining “Socialist” as the defining USP of the Constitution of India but merrily practicing Capitalism of the cronyist and crassest kind.

No wonder therefore that billionaires burgeon on one end, and paupers on the other; that the Republic breaks world records in the numbers of children who suffer malnutrition, preventable diseases, exploitation at home and in the labour market, and untold abuse everywhere; that women have next to no representation in the highest echelons of democratic policy and decision making, and remain unsafe both in the home, in the work place, and on the street; that unconscionable violence and humiliation is routinely meted out to India’s Dalits by social “superiors” and members of the state apparatus alike, and often in tandem; that just resistance to excesses of diverse description in vast parts of the Republic is put down by draconian laws, such as the Disturbed Areas Act and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act which empower the least man with an authorized gun to shoot to kill without any questions asked.

No wonder that the requirements of Capitalism this day yield a culture of perceptions which enjoins on us to think that those whose assets on the stock market climb down some notches are greater sufferers than those who eat grass or leather or carrion for want of food. Or, failing that as well, kill their families and then commit suicide.

And that the “growth” of the economy is crucial so that some 77% of “we the people” can spend at least 45 cents a day!

As to redress of the legal kind, tell me about it. Try going to court against a fatso adversary and soon you will wish you had rather gone to the burial ground.

So much—and indeed the very much more that can and needs to be said—for “socialism,” “liberty,” and “justice”—social, economic, and political.

Yet, as Indians in their millions in one place or another remind the custodians of the state of these facts, theirs must be considered a salutary and good challenge.

After all, they only wish the Constitution to be made a universal reality, rather than to be abrogated. And they say: remember, we are “we the people.”

And many still believe, or wish to, that the ruling interests can be pressed to do so through democratic means.

Not for long, though.


The bad challenge:

This comes from very sophisticated quarters who fervently hold that auctioning cricket players to the full regalia of prime-time media,– a spectacle far more engaging than the wretched business of Gandhi’s spectacles and the hullaballoo thereof, or of camels and bullocks in the famous event at Pushkar in Rajasthan–and conducting the Indian Premier League (of Cricket, that is) is of far greater consequence to the Republic than holding elections to the House of the People.

And, no more significant fact here than that wide sections of the elite media, often called the fourth estate of the Republic and its chief watchdog and guarantor, concur with these sophiscates to the hilt. As does the right-wing, Hindu party, the BJP, believing that not holding the tournament along with the elections only shows how “weak” the UPA government is against the possibility of terror attacks.

Thus, the government of the day is pilloried for its old-fashioned preference of ensuring free and fair elections to the Lok Sabha over supplying troupes to the IPL so that billions can be made and “we the people” entertained as a corollary.

And, just to remind you, the IPL is a private enterprise solely!

They ask in consternation: what has the Republic come to that it should seriously consider elections to the House of the People more important than cricket and the moneys thereof. After all, if the state cannot furnish food to “we the people” let them at least eat cricket. And if the government cannot govern the country, let it at least help the IPL honchos govern cricket. After all, what matters more—cricket or the legitimacy of the state?

To wit, this challenge to the republic comes from a new set of Indians who, having thoroughly milked its offers, now feel chagrined that its continuance should so obstruct the hedonisms that they have so earned through smart practices and sharp dealings.

These are chosen ones who pooh pooh the primitive formulations of the Preamble, namely that “liberty,” “equality,” or “justice” either can be or indeed ought to be made available to “we the people.”

They hold that human beings are not differently able or differently circumstanced but, plainly and simply, unequal and undeserving of equal consideration by the state.

The IPL patrons, wherever they be, simply believe that democracy is a nuisance, the Preamble a joke, and the state their handmaiden. And the electoral process a massive redundance that merely disrupts the smooth flow of money-making and other collateral pursuits. Far more exciting to have the IPL gladiators fight to the kill while they watch and smooch on the grapes.

Which is why they do not bother to dirty their finger nails with electoral ink: after all, when either tweedledum or tweedledee come to power, they only need to make that phone call to get the job done. Indeed, their idea of democracy is to have the same set of people in power, even if under differently-coloured fig leaves.


Now the ugly challenge:

This comes from a set of butchers who question the notion of “we the people” in the first place.

They hold that only some are “people” (namely, the Hindus) and the rest are “enemies” (chiefly the Muslims and Christians).

And they are everyday willing to kill for that belief.

A century and a half ago, an English poet wrote of the Lotus Land (where Odysseus’s mariners halted during their return home to Ithaca after the Trojan war) thus:

“in the afternoon they came unto a land

where it seemed always afternoon.”

And of the music there thus:

“music that gentlier on the spirit lies

than tired eyelids upon tired eyes.” (Tennyson, The Lotus Eaters).

Nothing so sleepy or gentle, though, about India’s Lotus valaas.

Here is what Varun Gandhi said of the matter the other day in Pilibhit:

“This is not the ‘hand’ (of the Congress party); this is the hand of the Lotus. It will cut the throat of Muslims after the elections.”

Ever knew the lotus to be so bloodthirsty?

And in saying that with crude directness, he only gave full voice to the teachings of the scions of the RSS.

Those teachings teach that Muslims are “incomplete, uncultured, demonic.” Further, they are scary like rakshasas (evil demons) and have no loyalty to India because they do not accept their kula dharma, (ancestral duty), towards Hinduism. They are outsiders who must be assimilated to the point where they no longer call themselves Ali, Hassan, John, or Thomas.

And if they will not, here is what needs to be done:

“Parshuram avenged his father’s humiliation by offering him libations of blood of those who had insulted him.” “Likewise, the only way to worship the motherland after she had been defiled” (that is to say by centuries of “Muslim” rule) would be “to wash it with the blood of those who dared commit such an act.”

(See Jyotirmaya Sharma, Terrifying Vision: M.S. Golwalkar, the RSS, and India; see also Siddharth Varadarajan’s “A Stench That is All Too Familiar,” The Hindu, March 24, 2009.)

This, then, continues to constitute a challenge to the Republic of a very different sort, albeit one which often conveniently overlaps with the class preferences of the challengers mentioned in the second canto of this write-up.

Put succinctly, these are people who wish to overthrow all the Preambular postulates of the Constitution of the Republic of India: in their scheme of things, only those who are both born in India and have their chief icons of worship in India (rather than in Mecca or Jerusalem) can be considered “citizens’; Indian democracy and the nation cannot be “secular” but one based on Hindu-racial principles, and “Socialism” as much an excrescence to them as to the IPL fraternity of India’s social, political, and economic elites.

And the bad and the ugly together remain opposed to the challengers in the first part who take the egalitarian provisions of the Preamble so much to heart, or seek to cause ruckus on their behalf and behest.

All said and done, not a pretty picture.

But one thing seems for sure: neither the IPL nor “cultural nationalism” of the ugly holds any promise of redress.

For all that, “we the people” will need to intensify their humanist struggles, and maybe look to Chavez and the rest of Latin America for inspiration. Not to speak first of Gandhi, Nehru, and the struggles of the Communists and Socialists within India.

If indeed the rational alone can be the right, then those struggles cannot but bear desirable fruit.

“It is patience I need,” said Lear.


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One Response to “India’s Democracy Challenged”

  1. mikecunningham Says:

    The first thing which should be achieved in India surely is to establish the fact of equality, and to banish all the innumerable examples of injustice which have been established under the simple phrase, ‘Untouchable’.

    Once that word, title and usage has been abolished, you might see a change in your governance, but until then, things will not change. A quarter of a Billion Indians are discriminated against, on the words and rulings of a religious sect which has lost all purpose apart from the desire to rule! Remove that, and you will see change!


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