Thursday, February 13, 2014

This is not Democracy

Feb. 13, 2014 will go down as one of the darkest days in the history of Indian Parliament, a clear sign if ever that Democracy, at least the top-down Nehruvian style in India, is dying. The use of pepper spray in the well of the Lok Sabha by MP L Rajgopal, a criminal act otherwise but protected under immunity given to MPs for actions inside the House, is a culmination of several factors that are threatening democracy in India.

The biggest factor is the crude, cynical manner in which the UPA is going ahead with the Andhra Pradesh Reorganization Bill. For the first time in post-Independence India, Parliament is going ahead with a Reorganization Bill after the State Assembly summarily rejected it. Instead of looking for ways to calm tempers on both sides - certainly not an easy proposition, but a necessary one - the Congress party, headed in Andhra Pradesh by the AICC representative Digvijay Singh, chose to effect a cold, political calculation to divide the state. And indeed, the Congress is in such dire straits that it is clear that it does not have the capacity to govern or lead anymore. In such a situation, to force the division of a state and reverse the very trend of federalism that has defined Indian polity in the last two decades without even trying to negotiate with both sides is a formula for doom. The Congress might be run as a dictatorship, but India cannot.

The second factor is general decline in the stature of Parliament itself. The Speaker has become a ceremonial post, mere symbolic. Bills are passed without a second's debate in the midst of din and protest. The sort of language used, the actions of MPs... these do not inspire anybody. If this is the idea of Parliament that young people are brought up with, then democracy is not going to last very long in India. Of course, another view, a valid one, is that a powerful, centralized Parliament does not enjoy credibility in an India that demands decentralized rule. It is simply not fair if leaders in Delhi can decide the fate of any part of the country irrespective of what the majority wants.

Finally, the fall in value of debate and discussion in India, more so in the middle class. In a middle class that considers Arnab Goswami-style 'debate' as the best, which wants a simplistic solution to everything and is quick to formulate opinions without knowing too much, how can democracy hope to flourish? In a country where the mere threat of violence can lay to waste the basic fundamental rights that our founding fathers fought for, how can we expect debate and discussion to create any meaningful change? What we see here is not democracy, it is the slow demise of democracy. 

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