A Democracy In Distress

One Pound Capitalism, a Pinch of Democracy, and Misfortune Stuffed Chapatis./ By Priti Gulati Cox

Even as I write, a new twitter trend #boycottSurfexcel is soaring. Depicting Hindu-Muslim unity-ish feeling the ad is now being trashed for its subservient Hindu sentiments as compared to those of Muslims; for promoting love-jihaad and being Hindu phobic. Coming in the backdrop of on-going strategic war with Pakistan, it is an understatement to say feelings of nationalism have touched a new high.

Where the country’s youth is more and more getting involved in mobile war games, to the point of it becoming unhealthy. And the country’s nationalists (netizens, media houses, politicians and all those too scared to be clubbed with anti-nationalists) want to avenge the Pulwama attacks by annihilating Pakistan, driven mostly by fake news. Where a survey[1] indicates that young people are hardly concerned if their rights to freedom of speech are still available to them, (as long as they have access to Facebook and Whatsapp to re-tweet what governments wants them to believe) because “governance and welfare trump individual freedoms when it comes to imagining democracy”. Nation-states ensure their survival by intermittent use of the war-patriotism logic. And rabble-rousing patriots secure their citizenship by calling for war and sacrifice from their respective drawing-rooms. The individual must be sacrificed at the altar of national interests and rationality must give way to mob-mentality.

A democracy where caste plays a key-role in re-affirming the need for the political party in power. Instead of addressing the lack of political will in ensuring jobs in the market, castes of all stripes are invested in securing for themselves a slice of the pie. The latest to do so are the upper castes, economically backward. The governments criterion of economically backward is dubious at best – one being, those earning less that 66000 per month! The reason why some have moved ahead and some have not despite no social hindrance like caste oppression is a consequence of the failure of a (magnanimous) liberal logic of the trickle-down effect. If anyone believed in the virtues of a free market and fair playing field, must now look at the pathetic condition of some upper caste folks only to understand that capitalism breeds on hoarding and exploitation of the working class and the vulnerable.  To now ask for a quota to make up for lack of the trickle-down is another state-capital logic to keep each other alive/holding the reigns. Caste politics is now in the DNA of Indian democracy. Once every five years the caste question is addressed by political parties each trying to out-do the other with promises. The more we depend on political parties for alms the stronger we make it.

Or maybe some of us know that things will not change and whatever has to be gained it is in the election year. What is a democracy that has lost faith in its own power to be relevant in four of every five years? A democracy where citizens will get their way once in five years IF they are important enough vote-wise.

On the other hand perhaps some of us still hold on to hope. At the end of five years is not an assessment of the party but a wishful thinking on the part of citizens, that the future will be different through the vote. How healthy is a democracy that lives in the future? A future of prosperity, of social status, of a glorious victory over Pakistan, of India becoming a super-power, of making the cow the global symbol of peace and love and so on. A golden future that harks back to a glorious past of the Vedic era (but never, never must we be allowed to dwell on the present).

In all reckoning these are signs of a democracy in distress.

Debjanee Ganguly is a political commentator

[1] Palshikar. S, (2019, Jan) “Republic of Unfreedom”. Indian Express.  https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/democracy-maoists-terrorism-civil-rights-debate-nationalism-national-security-army-republic-of-unfreedom-5555566/



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