India lacks democratic temperament

Constitutional authorities like Governors, investigating agencies and other arms of the Government are often misused to harass parties in opposition. Use of law and order machinery which is under the control of State Governments is often used to harass leaders of opposition parties. With every change of Government at Centre or in State the cases pending in judicial courts also change complexion with witnesses going hostile or agencies losing their will to do their duty.

India has been a democracy for a long time and it seems to be working as we hold elections every five years. The change over of political parties in power also happens smoothly. Our army is non-political and institutions like judiciary, Election Commission, civil service and media active arms of a democratic system have been functioning independently. There have been instances where attempts have been made to put pressure on them to serve the dictates of party in power, but they have not worked.

By and large it has been conceded by all that a large country like India with diversity of languages, culture and other features can only function as a democracy where unique features of every region are adequately represented and taken care of. But what is lacking is a democratic temperament. For instance, in a matured democracy, political parties can argue about differences of policy, goals and models of progress. But what they would not try or attempt is destroying each other. As ruling party and some in opposition are essential part of democratic form of Government.

For instance, in our country Constitutional authorities like Governors, investigating agencies and other arms of the Government are often misused to harass parties in opposition. Use of law and order machinery which is under the control of State Governments is often used to harass leaders of opposition parties. With every change of Government at Centre or in State the cases pending in judicial courts also change complexion with witnesses going hostile or agencies losing their will to do their duty.

The State Governors are changed with every change of political party in power at Centre and they generally look to political masters for direction instead of working independently. Attempts are also made to influence Speakers of Lok Sabha and State Assemblies, though they are expected to function independently and act as custodians of the House to protect the rights of all members of the House. There is strong debate going on who has tried to do more damage.

It is accepted by all that imposition of emergency by Indira Gandhi was one such instance where attempt was made to tame the press and try to influence the judiciary. But, the scenario changed with holding of fresh poll in which party opposed to her came to power and they were able to undo the damage. There is, however, another fear that in present times there is attempt to influence the constitutional offices, media and judiciary without imposition of emergency officially. The tussle between the Government and top Court of the country on appointment of judges, by-passing Rajya Sabha by declaring some official bills as money bills, prosecution of some opposition leaders and use of Aadhar card for keeping a watch on citizens and selective use of investigating agencies to harass some are often cited as instances of misuse of power. Even media is not exempt as some channels are also facing difficulties while those following official line are prospering. Of late even senior most, judges of the Supreme Court of India have voiced concern over discrimination in allotment of work. In such a situation one cannot help but go back to the original theme that India is a working democracy but lacks democratic temperament.

In a matured democracy charges like declaring one national party as anti-national and other as communal would have no place. In a democracy it will be impossible for a political party to ignore a sizable minority like Muslims by denying them any representation in the Government. BJP has not fielded any Muslim candidate. Strange thing is that a party which claims to be working for unity of all and development of all does not make minority a part of it. The other dividing forces are like allowing free run to cow Vigilante groups, Love Jihad and going slow in punishing those who indulge in violent acts like murder of innocents.

But even BJP cannot but be influenced by diversity of the country. For instance, it allows slaughter as well as sale of beef in North East and in States like Goa. It also goes slow on its policy of enforcing Hindi in Southern States. One can predict with certainty that despite attempts to divide country on communal lines, it is heading for coalition politics in days to come. It will be difficult for BJP to repeat what it achieved in 2014 in Hindi States. The politics in South has undergone a drastic change with Tamil Nadu heading for a change with the death of Jayalalitha, State Chief Minister.

Even political parties like Shiv Sena, oldest partner of BJP is talking in different tone. The poll in Gujarat has shown that Congress may have lost 2014 poll, but will remain a player in days to come. Punjab is another proof of the fact that there will be no walk over, even though Prime Minister Narendra Modi remains the most popular leader and a vote puller for BJP. But he alone will not be able to fight the impact of incumbency in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand.

The interesting fact is that BJP while working for Congress Mukt Bharat continues to admit Congress men in its fold and moulding its policies to suit different regions. The ruling party may be committed to Hindutva, but pure political compulsions will force them to modify their policies to win votes in new regions like North East and South. Let us hope compulsions of democracy may help in building a democratic temperament in days to come.

(Brij Bhardwaj is a veteran journalist and commentator)

—[IFS]