Perils of Complacency – Recent Indian experience of democracy

opposition protest rahul gandhi adani

Rahul Gandhi has become the rallying point of the democratic opposition parties not so much because of shared conviction of the enormity of the alleged links between PM and Adani,as because of the shockingly shoddy and brutally despotic way in which Rahul Gandhi has been deprived of his legitimate place in the house of the people and the right to raise there an issue of such national importance.

Certain sidelights of the issue, aired on social media and subject to verification, certainly strike one dumb.Is it a fact that the magistrate who pronounced the disputed verdict had been placed in the present post only the day before by shunting out his predecessor?Or did he observe inter alia among his observations that Rahul Gandhi had himself faked his surname and therefore could ill afford to vilify the Modi sub-caste?(Actually his father Feroze Gandhi,originally a scion of a wealthy Parsi family and pursuing higher education for a comfortable and distinguished career,had given up his worldly ambitions under the spell of Mahatma Gandhi and joined the freedom movement in 2025,had changed his surname to ‘Gandhi’ as a mark of his resolve to serve the country.He remained a man respected for his sharp brain,integrity and sacrifice as a socialist leader whose criticism in Parliament often nettled Nehru.) Reason enough for opposition parties to unite against the ominous campaign to extinguish democracy.So far so good.

But years of mistrust and hostility cannot be wished away so easily.The smaller parties continue to pursue their own divergent agendas and continue their efforts to unite has not been translated into serious and practical plans for bringing about firm unity.BJP is certainly rattled but it takes comfort from the opposition’s hesitation in shaking off their hesitation and sluggishness and their lack of a long-term plan of action.That alone should jolt the opposition into an awareness of a golden opportunity slipping from their grasp.The result of negligence may be disastrous not only for the country,but for themselves.

Rahul Gandhi issue could become a major electoral issue like Price Rise,but to spend more time in squeezing out its newsworthiness just wastes time better spent elsewhere.That is how common people jaded by such drama might feel about it. Actually the hesitation may well be traced to the lukewarmness of such parties to full-fledged democracy! Partly because the common people are not fully aware of and committed to the responsibility it asks from them and partly owing to their own reservations about its implications.

It is futile to expect from parties in India behaviour like demitting power if a major scandal hits the government or throwing off the trowel if the government loses the confidence of the house on a major policy.Such time-honored conventions of mature democracies are simply unthinkable here where the rule is to cling to power at any cost.Even in America today Presidents like Trump have shown scant regard for such democratic values.Naked power all over the world has come to shred the niceties and proprieties of decent democratic government.

But the memory of two centuries,the annals of grim struggle to lay the foundations of democracy and strengthen democracy in those countries are not easily erased.People carry its warmth in their bosom against the chill of tyranny and oppression.In Britain at every step there are established mechanisms to check and disarm the excesses of powerful politicians who offend against them,and many are swiftly punished.There are set limits to exercises of power which no.political party or figure can afford to ignore.That unfortunately is not the case in our country.’The mother of democracy’ seems strangely indifferent to care for its nurture and carePeople in power for more than two terms here tend blithely to chuck the institutional checks and restraints into the dustbin.Nor have the people themselves imbibed through long and grim struggle the values of democracy like willing acceptance of checks and balances of power by people holding power. Colonialism had been targeted as the only evil,forgetting that colonial power had held on through repression and unrestricted use of violence.

The Congress has not only the Emergency to explain still and the disgraceful manner in which its last government seemed to tweak rules and bend laws.But at the same time we must add that these had not reached such monstrous proportions as in current times.Even the Emergency had been an ad hoc improvisation botched by ludicrous mismanagement,and devised to be scrapped as soon as conditions permitted as records of those times reveal,not a well-planned,long-prepared irreversible project as seems to be the case today.The Communists have to explain to themselves and to the people how they have learnt to value the Constitution which they had once scorned as an instrument of class-tyranny.Have they come around to respecting dissent and tolerating difference? This in spite of their great achievements during certain periods of holding power in states like West Bengal and Kerala and Tripura.They too are not known for deep introspection on their failures.Though no one can deny their claim to unwavering loyalty to principles of secularism and people’s welfare today.

Smaller regional parties are yet to think out their national outlook and its implications.Migrant labour had felt insecure at different times in Punjab,Maharashtra and a couple of other states.What is the Congress outlook on such regional parties in changed circumstances?What about the medley of caste and community outfits?….The tally is long.The point is that thrown together by accident in an unprecedented crisis of democracy they seem unclear how far they are prepared go to bolster a democracy tottering under vicious subversions.Above all,does their vision of democracy clearly and forcefully lay down a practical programme to protect the working poor from relentless attack by the super-rich who hijack the State? What does the United opposition promise for the people in unambiguous and concrete terms?Good wages and pay,freedom from oppression of monopolistic business,lowering of prices of essential consumer goods and transport fares,end of contract labour,expansion of employment and a resolve to resist and control dictates of neo-liberal economy/economics?Without giving a forthright and clear convincing answer they cannot hope to see the people rally behind them.High time they seriously and sincerely worked it out.

Hiren Gohain is a political commentator

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