The turning tide of Democracy in India
Feudalism is defined as “dominant social system in medieval Europe, in which the nobility held lands from the Crown in exchange for military service, and vassals were in turn tenants of the nobles, while the peasants (villeins or serfs) were obliged to live on their lord’s land and give him homage, labour, and a share of the produce, notionally in exchange for military protection.”
And then came democracy, which in USA, was called ” Government by and of the people but also for the people”. But democracy is never considered most efficient way of governance but is chosed as it is least hostile to people.
But are we really there? I mean are we truly democratic? My guess is that democracy is a work in progress and there is always scope for improvement. Presently most countries are of indirect democracy which means that people select their representatives and it is presumed that actions of the representative is that of the people. The people can change the representative after a fixed term but can not interfere with the actions of representative before the end of term.
Often feudalism of a different kind resurface within the democracy and it does not happen in India alone. Recent elections in USA, affirmed it. Democracy means the Government on the basis of agenda. The elected representatives seek votes to be elected on the basis of promises which they undertake to deliver. At least that is how it is supposed to work in democracy. Thus the elections have to be issue based on “issues”.
Feudalism in democracy means seeking votes on the basis other than the issues. Feudalism is a kind of political alliance in which the governor promise the governed that he will act for their welfare. What the welfare means, is something which is never explained. In other cases the alliance is made for other factors like religion or race or something similarly statistical but practically useless.
Elections in India
For any person who is not from India, it is impossible to understand the process of garnering votes. Voting is through an electronic machine which is a simple process. But how political parties attract people to vote in their favour is complex. What Prime Minister Narendra Modi did in 2014 to win the elections illustrate it. His election campaign for the BJP had three layers. First the issue of corruption and promise of development, Second emotive appeal against appeasement of minorities and third was his personal charisma. Another advantage with BJP was a grass root level cadre which is developed and managed by RSS and NGOs which does not involve with politics and is engaged in social work across India viz. children’s schools etc. This grass root level support ensured that every voter reached the polling booth. It is not a small feat. Look at bye elections of 2017. In Gorakhpur where the election percentage in main election was 69% fell to 39% in bye election and BJP lost. Needless to say that RSS did not involve itself in this bye election as it does not involve in any bye election.
Charisma of the leader may be helpful but charisma alone can not win elections in a big country like India and a civilisation as diverse as India is. People need to be persuaded to come out of home and vote. This can be accomplished only by a volunteers supporting the party called cadre.
When India gained independence in 1947, Congress Party had a huge cadre. This was the accomplishment of Gandhi. This cadre continued for two decades after independence and untill Indira took over and started to side line regional leaders who had base in the masses. Her own charisma was enough to win three elections in nearly two decades. Indira was Prime Minister from 1967 to 1977 and 1980 to 1984.
India is a land of Paradox. Communist Party on India contests elections and untill last year was in Government in two states. A decade back it was ruling in three states and had major say in Central Government. It ruled these states for decades. About 7 years back Communists were displaced from power in West Bengal by a regional Party. Last year Communist Party was displaced from power in Tripura by BJP. Now communists have Government in Kerala only. Communists were the only cadre based party untill a few decades back.
The Rahtrya Swyam Sevak Sangh (RSS) is the parent organisation of BJP, the ruling party in New Delhi and in 19 states today. It had started working in North East in 1990s and now we see the result in Tripura. It took three decades but eventually it established a cadre and threw out Communist Party. Of course there were other factors also. But throwing out Communist Party is not easy. It never was.
Feudalism is back?
After being elected to office in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was claimed to be the leader of “Right Wing Hindu Nationalist Party” has done what no socialist Government could do in 4 years in anywhere else in the world. From Zero balance bank accounts (which have 800 million Rupee till few days back) to Social Security at a pittance, 100% electrification (up from 73%), Free Gas Stoves for poor (600 Millions), Free healthcare, promise of housing for all by 2022 and many more things. Of course urban middle class is disappointed. This has rattled all the parties in opposition. What to do?
Now what we are witnessing is a movement for revival of feudalism. Instead of pointing out deficiency in the schemes of Government or putting forth an agenda for development, the cadre less and charisma less leaders of the parties are seeking alliances on the basis of caste, religion, race or language or whatever they can think of.
Muslim plus 2 Vote bank politics.
MO Mathai, the secretary of Nehru had written a biography called Reminiscences of the Nehru Age which recalls Nehru. The above link to the text of that book does no justice. In the PDF version, at the end of book a note hand written by Nehru is annexed. In this note Nehru has mention something like:
1 Sikh, 1 Jew, 1 Muslim, …….
This is how Nehru would select his cabinet on the lines of religion to give equal opportunity to all. It may be a good thing but I can’t say that it is a universally good principle. But it led to following formulae to win elections.
The total percentage of vote actually cast is rising. Three decades back it was around 60% which has risen to 75% and more. At most places there are triangular contest. BJP, Congress and a regional party. Thus in a triangular contest the winning party had to garner about 30% votes. Now Muslims votes are about 18% or more in some places. They used to vote en mass to any party other than BJP. The winning combination was to woo muslims and two more large groups either on the basis of caste, language or any other basis and ensure to get 30% votes and win.To keep the vote bank intact, the so called leaders would call political shots. Of course these leaders were least concern with the welfare of the group they lead. It was simple.
After the demise of Indira (in 1984), regional parties which were more near to the ground used this very formula and kept Congress party out of power for half of the time. The ex President of India Pranav Mukherjee has called this era as “Coalition Era” in his biography about the last three decades. But now this vote bank is broken. People are not voting as a block. Muslim women are coming forward to support BJP. Shiya Muslims are open supporters of BJP. My guess is that young age of majority of voters and education too has something to do with it.
Major chunk of vote bank (18% Muslim) has now been divided. The parties which are thinking that by Caste politics they can garner 30% votes need to re-think. It did not work in Gujarat though they may have won a few seats more. It did not work in almost Christian majority State Manipur in North East.
For healthy democracy opposition parties need to criticize the schemes if need be or its implementation. The aforesaid feudal formula must be discarded. Lets hope they discard it when it cease to be useful. But presently nobody is bothered. No opposition party is ready to mobilise volunteers to create cadre. To listen the people to use their feed back.Democracy needs opposition. It needs a shadow Government. This shouting and yelling accusations without basis is not good for democracy. The implemention of all the schemes is far from perfect and their is a lot of scope of criticism but nobody cares.
Mean while the development works of Modi has created new vote banks (of extemely poor people). Would people return favour to him in 2019 by voting for him? Indians could be any thing but ingratitude is not one of them.
Let’s wait and see how it turns out in 2019.