We have just celebrated our 62nd Republic Day. In these 61 years, our democracy has withstood many challenges. That too at a time when almost all the countries in our immediate neighbourhood, which also got independence or real freedom around the same time, have “failed”. The worst example is that of Pakistan where religious fundamentalism has emerged as a major force, leading to fratricidal wars and ethnic cleansing within, not to speak of frequent military interference in the country’s governance. This issue of our magazine carries an essay on Pakistan and that is not exactly a comfortable reading.
This is not to suggest that challenges on the Indian Republic have been less formidable all these years. All told, the very fact that Indians are not able to hoist the national flag in some parts of the country even today means that there is some weakness somewhere. However, at the same time, it must be admitted that the democratic ethos of the Indians have been strong enough so far to withstand most of these challenges in the sense that India is not overawed by any. The questions now is: how long can the Republic fight them? There are two ways it can. One, it augments its strength. Two, the challenges are weakened. Ideally speaking, both the tasks are to be done simultaneously, closely inter-linked as these are.
In my humble opinion, the most difficult challenges to our Republic emanate essentially from two quarters, and both are domestic in nature. One quarter consists of rabid champions of vote-bank politics. The second is composed of essentially what the political scientists call power elites, elites who hate everything Indian but paradoxically enjoy and wield all the powers available in India. In order to explain them, let me enumerate some current developments.
The other day, the Supreme Court reminded us how some power elites had lost faith in the country’s judicial system by writing to the human rights organisations abroad to intervene and punish Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi for his alleged role in 2002 riots. It was also because of these very power elites that a delegation of the European Union virtually coerced the Indian State for entry into the premises of the Chhattisgarh High Court to “observe” the proceedings of the bail application of one Binayak Sen, convicted in the lower court of his involvement with the Maoists, who, to quote none other than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, constitutes the biggest threat to India’s internal unity and security.
The power elites give an impression that there are no human rights in India, that the poor are always exploited, that minorities are struggling for their survival and that Indian laws and justice system are most unjust. One does not need spend much time to expose the hypocrisy of these power elites. Only few examples will suffice. Despite all its inadequacies, and there are many, it is only in India that the likes of Mayawati, Lalu Yadav and Sharad Pawar, all from very humble origins, can become chief ministers and powerful central ministers. And it is only in a genuinely democratic India that in 2004 the world saw a Muslim Indian President, a Sikh Indian Prime Minister and a Christian chairperson of the ruling alliance. The situation has not changed much since then. Instead of a Muslim President, who completed his term, we have now a Muslim Vice-President.
Now my question is: will a similar thing happen in any of the Western democracies whose human rights activists doubt India’s credentials? We all are aware how US President Barack Obama labours hard to explain that he is a practising Christian and must not be judged by his Muslim father. Similarly, there may have been two governors of Indian origin (Boby Jindal in Louisiana and Namrata “Nikki” Randhawa Haley of South Carolina) in the United States, but the unmistakable fact is that both of them are now Christians. I think that none of the Western democracies will ever have a non-Christian as its head of the state or government in a foreseeable future. In that sense, India is light years ahead of them. And that is because of the inescapable truth that overwhelming majority of Indians, going by their very culture and Hindu religion, is essentially secular and can never dream in sectarian or communal terms. For them all religions are equals and different paths to reach the God, the ultimate reality.
Who are these power elites? These are the influential non-governmental organisations (most of whom are dependent on foreign donations for their survival), leading civil rights activists, intellectuals in the Left-dominated academia and senior media personnel, particularly those employed in and owning the English press (both print and television). Unambiguously, either they are educated in the West or their children and relatives live in the West. These are the people who abhor patriotism and nationalism as jingoism. These are the people who hardly go to electoral booths to cast their votes. These are the people who say that the caste-ridden Hinduism is the most exploitive religion in the world. These are the people who firmly believe that Muslim and Christian leaders can never be wrong, even if they incite the raw passion amongst their respective communities to pursue their selfish ends. These are the people who will browbeat the likes of broadminded Deoband Vice Chancellor Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi just because he says that Muslims are also benefiting because of the progress being made in Gujarat under Modi. These are the people who symathise with the Naxalites/Maoists, many of whose cadres happen to be Christian converts, who openly talk of ushering in an armed revolution by overthrowing democracy and all its accompanying rights as ensured by the Indian Constitution. And these are the people who find national song “Vande Mataram” as communally or politically motivated words and song!
Vote-bank politics constitutes the second-biggest threat to the Indian Republic. With the first- past- the post system determining our electoral outcomes, a numerically coherent community constituting less than even 15 per cent votes in a particular constituency, can make one win elections and that is precisely happening in the country these days, particularly since the late 1980s. This is exactly empowering our political leaders in dividing Indians in caste-based or community-based politics. The spirit of love for the country, respect to its countrymen and determination to lead the country to a better future is getting totally lost. The vote-bank politics aims at extracting something from the country; it is not geared towards giving something to the country.
A friend told me the other day that during a trip to Switzerland sometime back, he saw a prosperous looking old man collecting cigarette butts on a railway platform and putting them in a bag. When asked, he said: “Switzerland has given so much to me. I am rich and comfortable in life. I must give back something to my country. But then I see my country is prosperous in every thing. So I thought that cleaning the platform of the cigarette butts is a small way to do something constructive everyday for my country.”
I think the Swiss example provides us a good lesson. And that is, instead of finding faults with everything in the country, we must look at ourselves and ask what we are doing for the country. India is inherently good. It is time for us to be good Indians and make the power elites and vote-bank politics increasingly irrelevant.
By Prakash Nanda