Why India’s Largest Democracy Is In Critical Stage?

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by Er Sheikh Aaqib

India claims to be the world’s largest democracy for seven decades. Maybe it is the largest and most populous democracy, but it is a “flawed” one. India ranks 41st in Democracy Index 2018 and ranks even below Israel, Republic of China and South Africa.

Voters in queue at a polling booth. Kashmir

Voters in queue at a polling booth.

Let us face reality today; communalism in India has developed through a long and complex process bearing the burden of history and sectarian politics. British left the country but their policy of ‘divide and rule’ is still working. Partition, Kashmir dispute, Babri Masjid demolition, Gujarat riots, and anti-Sikh riots continue to haunt the minorities. How can a secular leader come to power when the majority of the population is communal and orthodox? Even so-called highly educated class cocoon their brains and never come out of the communal mindset. They are born with it and they die with the same, don’t know what they are taught at school, college, and university and what do they actually learn?

As per Amnesty International during the last two years religious minority groups, particularly Muslims, faced increasing demonization by hard-line Hindu groups, pro-government media, and some state officials.  Authorities were openly critical of human rights defenders and organizations, contributing to a climate of hostility against them. Mob violence intensified, including by vigilante cow protection groups.

In the 21st century, Allahabad has been renamed Prayagraj, the city of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan because a political party believes that 435-year-old name was given by a Muslim ruler. The iconic British-era train station Mughalsarai has been renamed to the ruling party ideologue, Deendayal Upadhyaya. Don’t know when and what Taj Mahal will change into. In spite of creating jobs and opportunities, the country is going back in the wrong direction to the 16th century where the concept of democracy hardly existed.

The caste system in India is the paradigmatic ethnographic example of caste. It is today the basis of educational and job reservations in India. Leading multinational companies from the world come for placements to elite educational institutes of the country, India keeps reserved and they take all the deserving.

B R Ambedkar didn’t believe that reservation of constituencies or jobs for Dalits would change the way Indian society looked at its lower castes. He reluctantly agreed to the reservation in the belief that it would be discontinued 10 years after the adoption of the Constitution. But 70 years later, reservation remains an issue in India.

Recommendation of government for a post like Vice-Chancellor of a university especially in some parts of south India is based on caste and sub-caste. In recent past, a serving VC of a reputed university which is likely to get ‘Institute of eminence’ tag, triggered a row by saying at the Indian Science Congress that Kauravas were born due to stem cell and test tube technologies and that India possessed knowledge about guided missiles thousands of years ago. Hiding merit and talent, prioritizing caste and religious favouritism results in such blunders.

The caste system has traditionally a significant influence over people’s access to power. The privileged upper caste groups benefit more by gaining substantially more economic and political power, while the lower caste groups have limited access to those powers. The caste system distributes to different castes different economic strengths. The upper caste groups can then manipulate the economic and political system to transfer economic strength into political power.  The caste that one belongs to serves as a strong determinant of his or her voting pattern. In India, different political parties represent the interests of different caste groups.

According to the World Values Survey, the second most racist country is India, where people from other states and countries are treated differently by some people, based both on skin colour and place of origin. Apart from north and south discrimination, North East is one of the biggest victims of racism as they are also discriminated like Kashmiris.

At a time when one per cent of the world’s population owns half its wealth, economic democracy may seem like a remote ideal. The main goal of economic democracy is to align market forces with the core aspiration of democracy — which Mahatma Gandhi aptly expressed through the term Sarvodaya — literally, the well-being of all.

A country in which citizens are murdered or attacked for being rational, for being critical, for raising a voice of dissent, for just being themselves, Muslim or Dalit. Intimidation, threats, hatred, lynching, is all sickening violence. Students and teachers given the choice between being leashed in thought and word, or being hounded as seditious. Institutions built over the years weakened. The economy and development turned into exercises that mock the needs and aspirations of most people. The secularism, the scientific temper and the rights promised in our Constitution subverted every day. Our democracy frayed.

Despite constant chatter about the massive and rising costs of the election campaigns in India, there is a dearth of credible data on the actual costs, the sources of support for candidates, and the implications of campaign costs on governance between elections. Payment for votes is neither a secret nor a new trend.

Er Sheikh Aaqib

Misuse of power is exercised and enjoyed in all parts of the country. Obnoxious laws like AFSPA, PSA and POTA are absolutely undemocratic and are widely misused. They act as a backbone of human rights violations.

India ranks 138th in World Press Freedom Index  Report 2018, reflecting how Article 19 of the Indian constitution doesn’t exist on the ground. Over the past few years, most of the leading news channels in the country are propagating an agenda. Either they are corrupted or they are pressurized by various means.

(The author is perusing  Post Graduation in Advanced Construction Management at National Institute of Construction Management and Research, Pune. Ideas expressed in this article are personal)

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