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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 47 New Delhi, November 14, 2015

The Republic Strikes Back: Indian Democracy Breathes Again

Monday 16 November 2015, by Badri Raina

What Delhi inaugurated at the beginning of the year, Bihar has sealed at the end, namely, the revolt of reason against supervening gumption. Facts and arguments are once again to the fore, defeating bare-faced assertion and false appropriation. Little women and men together have turned back the swagger of the all-assuming colossus, deluded into insufferable hubris by consuming self-love and supercilious theatrics of personal power.

A year-and-a-half has proved too long a career for muscle, mayhem, chicanery. The Lilliputs of mass sanity have pinned to the ground the Gulliver of dominance. Abuse and denigration, canny and hurtful calumny, the clout of manufactured reputation and unsubstantiated ownership of good governance, and the flotsam of wordy development—all these have crumbled against the solid iceberg of cold appraisal and earthy repudiation. The price of pulses and of hate has brought down the colourful kites flown by the ruling establishment. The pinpricks of the questioning hoi polloi, sharp with acumen, honest accounting, and future need have burst the big balloon of menacing authority. Characteristically premature bursting of crackers has given way to glum resentment at the rebuke administered by the superbly politic people of one of India’s most consciously vanguard electorates.

The people of Bihar, held steady in rational self-confidence by one of India’s finest leaders, and bolstered by the unshakeable refusal of another to succumb ever to sectarian powers have punctured the myth that bandwagons once set rolling may not be stopped, recalling the time when a rampaging rath was likewise stopped in the heartland of Bihar when it had seemed unchallengeable—and by the very same antagonist. Salt on wound, the protagonist of so-called “jungle raj” comes out flying as the leader of the single largest party in the new Bihar Assembly, pushing the saffron back by some ten seats or more. All of this underscoring the political brilliance of the people of Bihar whom we salute and thank.

That the mother of all parties, the Indian National Congress, could so rethink its role and position as not only to play second fiddle but work selflessly to cement a breachless alliance, speaks greatly for what its leadership can achieve for the Republic if and when it sets aside its own solitary ambitions for the moment for the career of the secular Republic and the sound health of India’s multifaceted and pluralist democracy.

That the Prime Minister of India chose yet again to be the chief campaigner in a State election, ostensibly in the sure confidence that his stylised harangues could yet again inveigle the mass into mesmerised capitulation, and lost as badly as he did—somelthing that had not happened anywhere on the same scale in Delhi—ought to bear its own lessons. Had his party won, the victory would indubitably have been trumpeted as his; but now that he has lost, whose defeat may this be construed to be? What is certain is that in a similar circumstance, in an Australia, or Japan, or Korea, or Canada, or “Great Britain”, all friendly democracies, his counterparts would have put in their papers and asked to go for a fresh mandate. In not doing so, it is to be feared that India may now be saddled with its longest lame-duck government in post-independence history. Having tasted victory of such dimensions and such significance, it is hardly to be thought that India’s political Opposition will do anything but go for the jugular from here on, both inside and outside Parliament, and in State after State. To which we say just as well, with the experience of the bruisingly reactionary year and-a-half behind us.

The best agenda for the good health of the Republic may now indeed be to push back the social, cultural, economic forces that have sought to make of peace-loving and hard-working citizens canon fodder for rapacious profit-making and brutally medievalist assaults on dissent and difference. The first order of business for India’s Left and Centrist forces must be to halt the unmistakable fascisisation of state and polity—a red-necked experience that the citizens of India have confronted for the first time in seven decades of independent political existence. It is to be hoped that the lead that has come from Bihar will infuse other States due for elections in the coming year or two with a similar resolve to deny dividends to those who seek electoral victories on the bonfires of innocent lives and in defiance of constitutional and democratic sanctities.

To Nitish Kumar and Laloo Prasad, we say ‘thank you’ for being there and for what you have done. And to Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, our compliments for selfless sagacity.

The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His latest book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012.