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Democracy on Trial

Does the electoral victory of the NDA strengthen the moral foundation of democracy?

 

The results of the 2019 Lok Sabha general elections have been seen by many as the victory of the “largest” democracy in the world. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and its supporters obviously have their own reasons to celebrate their electoral victory. These supporters may also assign to the success of the NDA an enormous political weightage under which it, for the time, sought to reduce the opposition to insignificance. The NDA might even claim that, through these elections, it has got the formal truth on its side. It may choose to define this formal truth in terms of the mandate that gave it a huge majority of seats. In fact, after its victory, some of the top NDA leaders have already started universalising their truth claim by now saying that this is a victory for India. Such victories might carry a numerically spectacular political significance that such parties seem to have acquired through the formal electoral process. However, what is much more important is to ask the following question: Was the victory of the NDA the result of its truthfulness and did it present an honest testimony about the fulfilment of the promises made in 2014?

This question becomes important for assessing not just the formal political victory of the coalition, but also, the very moral foundation of substantive democracy. Put differently, does this victory strengthen the moral foundation of democracy?

In a general sense, electoral or procedural democracy offers a fair opportunity, particularly to the incumbent party to use its positive performance for getting an electoral mandate. Similarly, it also offers the opposition a fair chance to seek a mandate promising a better future to the voters. Arguably, through the entire election campaign the NDA tried to duck the question about it being truthfully active in fulfilling the promises that it had made on the eve of the last election. The focus on the issue of promises and the resultant performance was completely absent in the NDA’s campaign. It did not have any visible record of its performance in at least providing an atmosphere within which, for example, Dalits and minorities could feel socially and emotionally safe. It cannot say that during its first five years it provided social security to Dalits and physical protection to the minorities who faced the constant danger of being discriminated against and lynched. The victorious NDA cannot claim to have offered effective relief to farmers and migrant labourers adversely affected by the rural distress. Similarly, it cannot claim that it provided job opportunities to the huge mass of the unemployed. To add to this, the government led by the NDA did not show the required urgency in controlling the troll troopers who, through social media, sought to harass and heckle legitimate voices of dissent.

The question that still remains to be answered is: Despite its failure to address these above concerns, how did the NDA manage to get voters to decisively vote in its favour? Among other things, what seems to have helped the NDA is its overuse of emotive issues such as militaristically aggressive nationalism and the idea of a strong personality to lead the country. These two rather abstract appeals seem to have moved the voters in question away from the immediate truth of lynchings, atrocities against Dalits and farmer suicides, just to name a few. The fallout of such a “nationalist” construction of people into deshbhakts (patriots) led many to insulate themselves first from understanding the nature of human pain, and then, the need to share the truth of such pain; pain resulting from the atrocities, farmer suicides, plight of sanitary workers, lynchings and the anxiety of the unemployment faced by their fellow citizens.

Arguably, on the way to the polling booths what was paramount in the minds, particularly of a large chunk of the Indian middle class and young voters, was the feeling that “India needs a strong person.” These voters while voting do not factor in the question of whether these sections have received any definite redemptive alternative from the government, including the one that they have recently revoted to power. They have voted for the NDA perhaps because this idea of a dominant nation that is there in the NDA supremo’s mind is also present in their minds. The new and young voters must have carried the same impression on their way to the voting booths, thanks to social media which has sustained this impression through its repetitive function.

A judgment of voting when driven by socially sensitive and human concerns does have a correcting impact on the erring government. It also offers an opportunity to those parties, whether in power or not, to create a condition within which such fusion of universal vision with voting judgment could be achieved. The recent victory that looks so spectacular to some, in fact, was achieved with the support of votes that were driven more by emotive and symbolic considerations rather than human concerns. It is in this sense that there is qualitative difference between formal electoral democracy and one that is based on substantive human values.

Such voters also need to keep foremost in their minds the fact that their vote has the power to add to the moral value of voters who vote for substantive democracy. Or, it can add to the weight of formal electoral democracy which will force other voters to exist in a democratic frame only by courtesy of/at the mercy of those who will be the incharge of such a democracy.

Put differently, skewed voting favouring the darling of the media is bound to create an asymmetrical relationship. In such a relationship, the right to vote, at least for the Dalits, minorities and Adivasis will cease to have any meaning as it will get malapportioned to the mammoth voting percentage acquired by the political parties. Such voters and their votes will never count as an effective medium which can impact the results of the elections.

These elections, therefore, are significant inasmuch as they seem to have given rise to two forms of democracy: the one which symbolically rides on the back of aggressive masculine nationalism that is expressed in the Hindi assertion ghar mein ghus ke mara (thrashed/killed the enemy in his house); and the other that is based on the promise to lead a social life free from lynching, atrocities, deep anxiety and growing uncertainty. The first form of electoral democracy is formal, vocal and dominant, and finds its latest expression in the electoral success of the NDA. The other, rather substantive, form of democracy tends to exist at the formative level where the aspiration is to become concerned, caring and mutually dependable voters. However, this latter form of democracy has received a setback thanks to those voters who did not see their role in addressing human concerns. The second kind of democracy is linked with freedom from anxiety and uncertainty, and social security from suicide and rural distress. The triumph of electoral democracy witnessed on 23 May 2019, however, will be celebrated only over the ruins of the democratic aspirations of those who are looking for the protection of their bare physical and dignified existence.

Taking our cue from the Mahabharata, one could then say that the truth that lies in social tragedy of caste atrocities and lynchings or sewer deaths may seem to have been worsted for now, but a wrong can never claim a final victory. However, bringing back the regime of righteous voters will not happen automatically. The parties that honestly share this human concern and the members of civil society will have to intensify their efforts to produce the solidarity of such voters. There have to be essentially two channels. Either the leaders of the party have to reinvent themselves so as to gain hold of the sensibilities of the people, or else the people themselves will have to take charge of guiding the political leadership.

Updated On : 25th May, 2019

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