Paradox of a Democracy: Choosing Oppression Through Elections


Democracy has been described as a system ‘of the people, by the people and for the people’. India boasts itself to be the largest democracy in the world. It is pointed that it is the people’s choice which ultimately matters in a Democracy. It is true that India continues to have regular elections. People continue to make choices of their political leaders. India continues to be far ahead of many third world countries in this respect. But to call ourselves a great democracy needs to be questioned.

Given the quality of political leaders India seems to be producing, it is far from the ideal of exercise of people’s power. Democracy is not merely about having regular elections and making choices of leaders. It is also about democratizing the functioning of state and its institutions, establishing more egalitarian relationships with the people, democratizing social relationships among different sections of society irrespective of gender race caste religion. It is about initiating pro-poor policies and taking pro-poor decisions. However, India seems to be far behind in this respect.

Democracy is about being free from structures of oppression. However, the recent elections results only seem have turned out verdict in favor of choosing oppression. The election results go on to show the limitations of Indian democracy. In Uttar Pradesh, about 322 of 403 candidates who got elected as MLAs turned out to be Crorepatis. 143 of them were having criminal cases behind them including cases of murder. It is estimated that out of 4,853 persons who contested the elections, 1,455 were multi-millionaires. 860 had pending criminal cases behind them. In Manipur, out of the 168 candidates who contested the elections, about 11 had serious criminal charges and about 54 were Crorepatis.

In Uttar Pradesh, while efforts at creating communal ‘divide and rule’ should have been ideally rejected, it was accepted. Non-issues such as Shmasan-Kabrastan, talk of discrimination in electricity supply during religious festivals, Muzaffarpur, Dadri, Khairana which build the communal divide seems to have been welcomed. While anti-incumbency was welcome, but choices in favor of communalism is a worrying factor. In the communal divide that was created, even the Dalits – voted in favor of BJP. It is said that few Musahar villages voted for BJP as they too carried antagonism with the Muslims. Instances of BJP winning in Muslim dominant areas are also emerging. Given the choice to choose peace by accepting oppression and fighting oppression, the choices in favor of the former seem to have been the trend.

Manipur showed a similar pattern of acceptance of oppression in place of freedom. Irom Sharmila despite her 16 long years of fast to fight the imposition of Army rule under Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) ended up receiving a mere 90 votes. While she saw a possibility of taking up the cause through direct participation in mainstream politics, this was summarily rejected. The fact that none of the above (NOTA) had higher share than vote for Irom Sharmila makes it more worrisome.

The election results only show that given a choice to vote for oppression and freedom, the former is chosen. Hence the elections have turned out to be an exercise in choosing the oppressors. Is this a real Democracy? Can oppression and democracy co-exist?

T. Navin works with an NGO as a Researcher. He did his M.Phil from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU)


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