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The Way Forward


Indian democracy began with single- party dominance, that of the Congress party. Rajni Kothari articulated this in his formulation on the Congress “system.” With the results of the 2019 general elections, we have come full circle. We have, once again, entered the era of one-party dominance although this time that of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). However, the similarities end there. Over time, between these two occurrences, the quality of Indian democracy has undergone drastic deterioration. What began as a tolerant, plural democracy with mildly socialist and strongly secular values has, this time around, transformed into a majoritarian system. The drastic decline of the Congress party in recent elections is a testimony to this. However, more is at stake.

While secularism will remain the most serious concern in the coming times, federalism too remains an equally serious one. The previous National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime has seen tremendous centralisation and personalisation of power. No wonder, this time around, the elections were held as if they were a plebiscite on the policies and politics of one person, that is, Narendra Modi. Besides this, the BJP president has also made serious comments on the federal nature of Indian polity in the recent election campaigns. For example, on the annulling of Articles 370 and 35A regarding Jammu and Kashmir. These remarks, one hopes, will not be translated into reality. If so, they will only further alienate the people of the state.

The second concern regarding the election verdict is that the opposition emerged as a weak entity. For this, while some blame may go to the electoral process, much of the blame has to be borne by the opposition parties themselves. And they should introspect on this. In the campaign, personal vitriol often exceeded ideological debates. The BJP versus Congress campaigns were more personal vendettas. Many have observed that the overall discourse of the campaign was dismal and ugly.

Policies were hardly debated. In fact, policies on federalism and secularism barely came up in the discourse. Socialism, not even Fabian socialism of the Nehruvian variety was taken up, because both the leading campaign champions were neo-liberal marketeers. Yes, of course, populist doles by way of the Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY) were put forward, but none said they will reverse privatisation, liberalisation and globalisation. Federalism and federal issues were nobody’s concern; nor was decentralisation. The Congress happily forgot that the decentralisation policy introduced by it in the name of “power to the people” also requires a central push.

And now, after the landslide victory, the BJP has its avowed policies of promotion of nationalism and national security. These of course will remain core issues, what with the cow belt providing solid backing to BJP. What is more worrying is that this landslide victory will also provide fringe groups and front organisations of Hindutva with unbounded courage to unleash severe suppression of individual, democratic and minority rights.

Eternal vigilance, in such fragile democratic contexts, remains extremely necessary to protect democratic liberties. The place of the individual in Indian society as well as that of privacy is always tenuous. When such strongly communitarian and communal regimes come to power, the suppression of individual rights is likely to increase. Free expression of opinion, and religious plurality and freedoms will fall into jeopardy before the homogenising drive of a single dominant dispensation. Indeed these apprehensions regarding the unparalleled rise of the BJP are highly justified and time-tested. In the context of the above, we should hope that the new BJP government will heed to these concerns and rein in the fringe elements and front organisations of Hindutva, and will tolerate the plural, democratic fabric of our country. The second assurance we require from none other than the Prime Minister himself is that the landslide victory that has resulted in the single-party dominance of the BJP will not lead the party to the same mistakes that the Congress made in its era of single-party dominance. Many critics have called the phenomenon “authoritarian populism.” While we have to wait and see what Prime Minister Modi does with populism, we citizens certainly have the right to hope that the new BJP government will not turn into an authoritarian nightmare of centralisation and personalisation of power. The mandate that the people have provided to the BJP is massive; now the ball is in the BJP’s court to prove that it will neither fail the people nor Indian democracy.

Anil Kumar Vaddiraju


Updated On : 31st May, 2019


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