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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 24, June 7, 2014

The Strength of Indian Democracy

Monday 9 June 2014, by D. Bandyopadhyay

The election of Shri Narendrabhai Modi to the post of the Prime Minister of India and that of Smt Mayawati as the Chief Minister of UP earlier reinforce my faith in the inner strength of our democracy. Almost every democratic country does have its “blue-blooded” families who always aspire for the high elected posts through their wealth and family and business social network. Bushes and Kennedys of the US could be one illustration. Britain has its “ruling” families in a more camouflaged way both in the Labour and Tory parties. We have very openly the Nehru-Gandhi family to be the presumptive rulers of India. In fact any dominant member of that family has the feeling that the highest elected office of the country is just waiting for him or her to grab. The family has its loyal media, both print and electronic, to propagate their case as the national heirs to the gaddi of India. This is totally inimical to the genuine concept of democracy having “one-person-one-vote” as its basic electoral principle.

I do not mean any disrespect, but the stark fact is that Panditji was not averse to the idea of dynasty. Of course Indiraji did not succeed immediately after Nehru’s demise but later once Shastriji died suddenly abroad—though this happened with the backing of the former strong man of the Tamil Nadu Congress, K. Kamaraj. So Indira Gandhi became the Prime Minister with only a few months’ experience as the I&B Minister. Thereafter, we all know that Rajivji, with the experience of flying IA planes, took up the country’s stewardship following Indira Gandhi’s gruesome assassination. Thus we had three generations of the Nehru-Gandhi family members ruling us within the span of twenty odd years, whether we like it or not.

But Narendra Modiji had never had any connection with that “royal” family. He is a self-made person who has risen from what is popularly called chaiwalla in a railway station. The fact is that his father had a tea-stall in a railway station and as a young person Modiji helped his father in his business. The magic of Indian democracy is that his previous occupation not only did not hinder his political rise but in a way helped him in his phenomenal ascendancy in the Indian political scene. The common people feel that he is one of them, which on its own creates a wide support-base that is so vital for any political leader.

A large number of print and electronic media are working overtime to project him as the maker of “new” Gujarat. There is no doubt that apparently there has been industrial growth in that State, which was already a fairly industria-lised region. Modi’s contribution had been to allow capitalist development without the drag of any “socialist” baggage. So far so good. But the darker side is that in human development issues the State lags behind many other States. Kerala’s case is well known and does not bear repetition here. But its (Kerala‘s) State domestic product is much lower than that of Gujarat. The market does not help human development matters except through the old exploded trickle-down theory. Human development does not happen auto-matically through the market forces. The market does not recognise anything except money-Social development does not happen on its own with GDP growth. It has to be induced through state intervention and through expenditure on human development matters. The philosophy of the free market does not recognise such issues. These do not spin money or profit immediately, though in the long run these would have some positive impact through increase in education, skill development and greater general market awareness.

According to the Preamble of our Consti-tution, India is a “Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic”. Thus sovereignty, socialism, secularism, democracy are the main features of our Constitution. The free market does not promote any socialist policy or programme. In fact the free market is an antithesis of any socialist policy and programme.

Modiji’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), does not have any socialist pretence. This is in a sense good. It is good in the sense that they would not deceive the Indian masses pretending to be socialist or socialistic, while in fact promoting free-market policies and progra-mmes. That’s where the previous regimes faulted; they pretended to be socialist or socialistic but in fact supported and encouraged market economic policies and programmes. As a result they had to resort to “double-speak”. The people were cheated and deceived. That was unfair. Let me make it clear that, personally, I am not a “free-marketeer”. But that has no relevance here as we are talking of the policies and programmes of a political party.

The first and formidable assault of the new regime is likely to be on the concept of socialism. The basic class character of the original BJP was that it represented the trading community. No one says that “trading” is not an important economic activity. Without trading the goods produced would not reach the markets and consumers. It is an important factor to move the wheels of economic activities. The motive behind trading is to make profit by selling goods. Thus there is the urge to buy cheaply and sell dearly. The difference would be the profit. More the difference, the higher would be the profit. Thus control of prices could never be on the party’s agenda.

The BJP openly professes Hindutva. In fact that RSS wants to establish a Hindu Rashtra—a Hindu state. India ia a multireligious, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic state. It is through the “tolerance” of various faiths, creeds and cultures that India survived through the ages. The phenomena of broadmindedness and permissi-veness are essential to keep the country together. Muslims constitute a significant minority, though Hindus form the overwhelming majority. It is hoped that being a responsible party in charge of a multi-lingual and multireligious country, the ruling party would not disturb the fine balance of tolerance to another’s faiths which enabled the country to survive through centuries. Moreover, one has to look into some of the other material factors. India has to import more than 70 per cent of its oil requriements mainly from two countries—one of which is Shia Muslim-dominated and the other is Sunni Muslim-dominated. Any large-scale maltreat-ment of this significant minority community would have advese reaction in these two countries which might affect the oil supply thereby crippling the economy. Thus on cultural and, more solidly, economic grounds the minority communities have to be treated equally with the majority community. Tolerance and permissiveness are the two basic attributes which kept the country together for centuries and cannot in anyway be jeopardised. So on this issue, there may be some unfavourable verbal comments which, it is hoped, will not upset the balance that allowed its survival through history.

It is through the democratic process that this party has come to power; so one would expect that they would not do anything to subvert the system. One might argue that all the dictators of Europe between the two World Wars came to power through the democratic process and yet in no time the parties in power destroyed the democratic processes and established dictatorships. But the social, economic and political situations prevailing in Europe in those days were quite different from the political setting of India today. Vast masses here tasted the fruits of democracy. They changed govern-ments both at the Centre and in the different States many times earlier. They have a vested interest in the system. Unless all the groups and entities are fairly represented in the system, no one group or party can hold the country together.

And lastly, it should be remembered that elections in India, as perhaps elsewhere, are costly ventures. The money has to come through “black” sources or from the corporate sector or both. It is said—and I believe it is not untrue—that the corporate sector played a significant part through the provision of huge resources to get Shri Modi elevated to the position of the Prime Minister. The apprehension is that they spent this big amount as an investment. Investments must give “appropriate” returns. Otherwise, hardheaded businessmen would not spend that lavishly. The question arises: will this regime become a prisoner in the hands of the corporate sector? If so, that would have a deleterious effect on Indian democracy. We can now only hope for the best.

The author is one of the foremost administrators of the country (now retired). He was Secretary, Revenue and Secretary, Rural Development, Government of India. During his tenure as an administrator in West Bengal, he was the architect of ‘Operation Barga’, the most significant achievement of the Left Front Government’s 34-year rule in the State (1977-2011). He is currently a Member of the Rajya Sabha from West Bengal representing the Trinamul Congress.