Democracy is defined as the government of the people, by the people, for the people. It is considered as the best form of government. Well, it is the best as long as the ‘demos’ are good. Since it is a government form in which people are the masters of their own, the virtue of the people forms the very foundation of a democratic setup.
India has a long history of democratic politics. In the initial days when the first round of elections was about to be conducted by the then Chief Election Commissioner, Sukumar Sen, there were so many cynical remarks being made by many, particularly the European countries. Most parts of the world were suspicious about the success of the democratic electioneering of such a huge population. A meager 16% of educated people were going to decide the future of the country.
But, India proved others wrong, partially because the hard-earned independence was won by the plank of democracy. At the essence of the freedom movement, there was a democracy. The first-generation leaders of independent India also played their part in safeguarding the institution of democracy. A vivacious atmosphere of diverse politics has developed. There were debates, discussions, and deliberations in parliament that stand as the testimony of democratic culture. Leaders did not agree with one another on political matters, but they had mutual respect for each other. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was one of the fiercest critiques of the then Prime Minister, J L Nehru. However, Nehru always encouraged him; he even envisioned that the young Atal would one day become the Prime Minister of India.
The dream of the first generation leaders was to build a strong nation with unity in diversity, or rather diversity in unity. Many educated Indians have dropped their surnames at the call of Nehru in order to avoid the display of one’s caste. For example, Amitabh Bachchan dropped the surname Srivastav and adopted the mid-name of his father Bachchan as his last name. Similar, Shashi Tharoor, who belonged to Nair Community of Kerala, had dropped his surname. Such was the idealism that drove the Indian democracy in the initial days.
It is not true that there were no obstructive elements during those days. There were anti-social elements that disturbed the social equilibrium. Religious fundamentalism, forceful conversion, etc. had disturbed society. However, they could not flourish in the absence of a congenial atmosphere.
However, those days of democratic sanctity are no more. It is not about the present dispensation. However, the first onslaught on democracy happened in the mid-1970s when democratic institutions were demoralized. The herald was sounded by the declaration of emergency in 1975.
It is ironic that it was done by Indira Gandhi, daughter of J L Nehru.
Now, we have entered into a different phase altogether since 2014. If Yogendra Yadav called the 1960s and 1990s as a first and second democratic resurgence, then this decade should be called the third resurgence, but in a different way. A new resurgence of religious fundamentalism and Hindutva chauvinism have entered the dock. Now, we are on the verge of being carried away by the euphemism of Hindi, Hindu, Hindutva being patronized by an elected government and propagated by an overtly religious organization, on whose back the present political party rides and thrives.
It is particularly disturbing when the institutions are curbed of their autonomy and used as vehicles to push the propaganda of the ruling dispensation. Let us remind that the government is chosen for delivering the mandated agenda and not the all-around governance of individuals. Vendetta politics has taken so much worse shape that everybody who criticizes the government is hounded by the ED, IT and CBI.
Let us remind you that the nation does not parallel the government. Need not everybody who criticizes PM Modi be antinational. Need not the mobs infused with certain ideology be the moral police for all. Need not all Muslims to be treated as enemies, for they love the country equally. Need not all Dalits to be criminals.
Let us reclaim the very foundation of democracy envisaged by our founding fathers. Or else, we will lose in the long run. Institutional autonomy, secularism, pluralism, and tolerance, cardinal principles of democracy which were very dear to our founding fathers, are at stake. If we don’t reclaim them, we will fail to retrieve Indian democracy miserably.
The editorial is written by an anonymous writer who has not agreed to reveal his identity. Write at [email protected] if you wish to connect with the author.