DEMOCRACY IS NOT MERE RECYCLING
- The recent election turnouts have generated debates. Some, old wine in new bottles and some new. The old debates affirm faith in electoral wisdom and choices and discuss outcomes of popular discontent. Regardless of the wide disparities in economic, social and political conditions and religious and other diversities, the swing fromfavouring one party to another, is itself seen as electoral wisdom and mature democratic choice. While this assumption is open to debate, it is importantto notice that there is a growing inclination towards the relevance of the ballot box and the electoral process. The Chhattisgarh voter turnout is an example. Despite the spread of disillusionment about the ethical or moral features and accountabilitydebit cards of political parties, people and in particular the new generation of voters, have resoundingly used the electoral process. Perhaps the inadequacies or deficiencies of the electoral process continue to disable people from exercising their choices effectively or on better deliberations. This aspect of radically enhancing the quality of the electoral process is itself deeply relevant to democracy and real people’s rule. The Maoist challenge to the voice of the vote still needs to be adequately addressed.
- The new debates arise out of the emergence of a new face in the Delhi elections, the Aam Aadmi Party.ArvindKejriwal and his upbeat comrades have marched beyond predictions. They are a welcome addition to the much needed political changes. They show that who ushers in changes is irrelevant to democracy. It is important to debunk the myth that only well anointed centers of established political parties or hereditary priests of assumed political wisdoms, can and are well positioned to contemplate and propound changes. But what the nation needs is not mere numerical additions to the visitors’ book of democracy. The people’s momentum which has perceived the existence and articulation of multiple power centres in the society and their capacity to shape democracy and governance is itself part of the new debate.
- In the midst of affirmance by BJP of its overwhelming reception in Delhi and other States as the only party capable of delivering or as a vehicle of change, one very important message or something fundamental to democracy is lost sight of . That is that Indian Democracy is no longer mere recycling of political parties and that people will look for new voices, new forms of protest and expression, and demand relevant forms and articulations of rule of law, equality, fairness and accountability. In other words, cynicism and arrogance have been responded to and will continue to be responded. No political party has realistically contributed to this change, while they readily reap the outcomes.
- Every political party, regional or national, which has emerged as a voice of the people, (sometimes even including the minorities within the States) at a relevant time, has assumed that their emergence is the final word on the relevance of their existence. The failure to constantly critique and revisit their roles and practice of constitutional political dharmas, shows the prolonged adolescence of their understanding of themselves.The emergence or exit of S.P or B.S.P or D.M.K or A.I.A.D.M.K in successive polls is not to be counted as unconditional certificates of political or democratic fitness.Something more deep and fundamental is in process.However the perennial need for enhancing and safeguarding democracy and its quality, and the need to ensure against contemporary forms of coercions and violence (often speaking the language of law, public interest etc.) threatening the fragility of the individual and her/his autonomy ,property and faith are real concerns. We still cling for instance to clan issues (say Tamil vs Sanskrit or Hindi or Biharis in Maharashtra ) and feed by them.
- The major national political parties – including cross sections of leftists some of whom still belong to the stone, bronze or copper ages of Marxism – think that they need to learn no lessons (likeFrancis Fukuyama who thought liberal western Democracy is the end of History). Doubtless large number of mature, wise and learned women and men populate them. Many of them have contributed to several measures and ideas of importance, in the midst of economic and social challenges both domestic and inmernational.To a considerable extent, national integrity and diversity have been safeguarded. Learned and articulate Ministers have opened up channels of governance to crying issues of the deprived sections of the community. But very often, they are done in earnest commitment to party loyalties and identities or to promote them. In this context, yet another new debate is, that the obligation of good governance is no longer mere party manifestos, rhetorical flourishes or freebies and cannot be reduced to mere market politicalism. The democratic process is lounging forward towards freedom from mere competitive processes and must be so.
- Another major cause of concern – gone unperceived – is the new political talk of projection of a person as the prime ministerial candidate. This has virtually converted our system of governance as a Presidential form. While very political party may need, driving forces and inspirations as animating centers, it is hazardous to gather and sink (or to reverentially vest) all power and glory in the hands of an individual. The democratic strength and appeal of a political party cannot be the same as that of an articulate or even extra-ordinary individual. Democracy like religions is not a Messiaiah driven institution. We need no Cicero but more of Platos,perhaps every elected representative as constitutional pundits abhorring Swiss Bank vaults and Mercedes benzes as new symbols of old forms of inequalities.
- Democracy is a move towards multiple repositories of power and with room for multiple or plural interpretative authorities. The vote in favour of AamAadmi Party, deeply reflects this emerging trend of multiple and plural repositories of power. It also reflects a civil societies’ response to certain intolerable situations. It further reflects the demand for accommodation and not merereluctant toleration of criticism. Noam Chomsky in his ‘Deterring Democracy’ makes his forceful observation :-
“Whether the instinct for freedom is real or not, we do not know. If it is, history teaches that it can be dulled, but has yet to be killed. The courage and dedication of people struggling for freedom, their willingness to confront extreme state terror and violence, are often remarkable. There has been a slow growth of consciousness over many years, and goals have been achievedthat were considered utopian or scarcely contemplated in earlier eras. …………… By denying the instinct for freedom we will only prove that humans are a lethal mutation, a evolutionary dead end; by nurturing it, if it is real, we may find ways to deal with dreadful human tragedies and problems that are awesome in scale.”
- It is only from ceasing to believe only in the importance of individuals but believing in the importance of institution and constitutional disciplines and by complete surrender to constitutional disciplines, when the decision making process in public policy or otherwise would be a wise blend of individual genius and initiatives and institutional processes that democracy can be really delivered. It is from this point of view that it can be said that political parties will be living in the past if they think that every cycle of election will,in the ultimate analysis, be a mere recycling of political parties regardless of what they are at a given point of time. Every time, the same party which was voted out of office previously, is sought to be preferred by the people again, it is not recycling process. It is a questioning and cleansing process. Many party people live in fragile glass houses wrongly convinced about their invincibility or titanic status.
- Important contributions to the electoral process have come from declarations by the Supreme Court, rather than by bold initiatives through the political process. The recent view of the Supreme Court on electoral disqualification has come and been received with admirable lack of tact and relevance, even while the Law Commission is actively engaged with the agenda of far reaching electoral reforms.
- Even while we talk of the new debates within the democratic process, the larger issues concerning socio-economic structures, public policies, choices, new forms of fulfillment of equality demand etc.call for engagement by and with the people in more participatory ways.EricHobsbawm while talking about ‘How to Change the World’ says, “And yet something has changes for the better. We have rediscovered that capitalism is not the answer but the question …. a systematic alternative system may not be on the horizon, but the possibility of a dis-integration, even a collapse of the existing system, is no longer to be ruled out”.Our political party structuresand level of engagement with the people are still not tuned to deal with these challengeson a systemic basis.If we need to assert that we have rediscovered through fifty years of electoral process that democracy is the answer and not the question, we can do so only by asking inconvenient and irreverent questions and not smugly resting with the certainty that people will run afterknown parties even if they do not go beyond recycling viewsor indulge in inane idolatry of some people howsoever important they may be otherwise as everlasting avatars.Even while this is being written, it is possible that the AamAadmi Party may commit its first mistake. The media debate is still focused on peripheral obsessions. If people do matter their choices be not taken for granted.
(The author is Senior Advocate, Supreme Court
and Member, Law Commission of India)