Throttling democractic freedom?

Warning Signals

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

In recent days there have been voices of protest from a cross section of society against the policies of the present government. Even BJP veteran, L.K. Advani, who has been sidelined in the party, has talked of the need for freedom of expression and the controversy centreing around what is really Indian nationalism. As he aptly pointed out: “The party has been committed to freedom of choice of every citizen at the personal as well as political level”. Advani clearly stated that “we never regarded those who disagree with us politically as ‘anti national.
Before Advani’s post, theatre figures issued a joint statement in 12 languages which stated that the Constitution is under threat. “The institutions that have to nurture argument, debate and debate have been suffocated. To question, to call out lies, to speak the truth is branded ‘anti national’. The seeds of hatred have entered our food, prayers and festivals”. The statement regretted that the ways hatred has seeped into our daily fabric are ‘alarming’ and it has to stop. The appeal clearly urged the people to “vote bigotry, hatred and apathy out of power” and named the BJP and its allies,
Even a group of 150 scientists from top academic institutions recently observed the need to protect the most fundamental guarantees of the Constitution, including the rights of faith, personal liberty and freedom of expression. “To defend these rights, we must reject those who lunch or assault people, those who discriminate against people because of religion, caste, gender, language or region”. They further pointed out “we cannot endorse politics that divides us, creates fears, marginalises a large fraction of our society – women, dalits, adivasis, religious minorities, persons with disabilities or the poor”.
It may be pertinent here to mention that scientists from across the country had over the past three years or so expressed concern at what they viewed as poor governance of scientific institutions, lack of autonomy in these institutions and retreat from evidence based policies to growth of lumpen populism. In fact, some political leaders of the ruling party have referred to mythology to negate proven scientific achievements and substantiate India’s role in this regard. Though there has been no open criticism, the international scientific community has made a mockery of such claims.
Finally, some retired bureaucrats in 15 open letters have stated of attempts to weaken the constitutional framework and frequent departures from the rule of law. This collective that goes by the name of Constitutional Conduct first sent out an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in June 2017 articulating their deep discontent over religious intolerance, particularly targeting Muslims.
Elections have already started at such a critical and unprecedented situation. There are two clear indications of the present state of things – one, that every individual who matters and also every organization cannot retain its independence and has to toe the government line and second, the secular fabric of the country would not be allowed to continue. These clearly reflect strands of autocracy and fascism creeping into political fabric. In fact, the ‘State of Democracy in the World 2018’ titled Me Too? Political Participation, Protest and Democracy made news last year when India slipped 10 straight positions from 32 to 42, ranking below Latvia and South Africa.
The centralised manner in which the government has been functioning would thus continue if the party in power is re-elected. Moreover, even educational institutions run by the government would have very little or virtually no autonomy not to speak of institutions like the Reserve Bank of India, CBI etc. The control will be at the top in the hands of one or two persons who would dictate matters. Obviously this would not improve governance and efficiency which would mean the bottom segments of society would suffer.
The centralisation of power is manifest in most political parties. The decision making is centralised at the apex level amongst a very few leaders, may be two to four or even less. These leaders are the face of the party and are also involved in extensive campaigning. While these parties swear in the name of Mahatma Gandhi, whose 150th birth celebrations are under way, people’s power is completely absent in their functioning. How can decentralisation of political and economic power become a reality in the country, when the major political forces do not themselves practice this?
The other tricky problem of religious fanaticism, which has been ushered in by the ruling party, is to show how ardently they follow Hinduism. Only the illiterate or the half-educated believe in the so-called devotion of the party towards Hinduism; not the educated ones. Moreover, those from Bengal and most parts of South India, who are proponents of Swami Vivekananda’s school of thinking, believe in the unity of religions and not imposing one’s religion and religious practices on the other.
The ruling dispensation is interested in furthering its own interest in being in power at any cost. As their working clearly shows, they have very little regard for democratic values and cannot tolerate any form of dissent. This trend is dangerous for a country like India where diverse forms of interest persist and where there is a sizeable section of minorities.
In the economic front, the same strategy of controlling every institution like the NSSO has been amply manifest. The autocratic manner in which demonetization was announced not only affected small traders but had an overall a negative effect on the economy. There have been allegations of the government’s pro rich attitude and ignoring the interests of the poor, specially the rural impoverished and the farming community.
Delving into the problem, one finds that the government lacks an effective plan to generate employment and very little encouragement has been given to labour-intensive sectors. Also though much hype was generated on ‘Made in India’ programme, but due to various factors, manufacturing activities did not pick up. It needs to be mentioned here that there was need to give a boost to set up small and micro industries, specially in the rural and semi urban areas but this was not on the government’s agenda. The government’s focus was on modernizing airports, building expressways, starting bullet trains all of which did not benefit the common man nor generate jobs.
But though these may be failures that could be rectified, the social fabric suffered with the government encouraging division on the basis of religion, caste etc. Democratic values were being thrown to the winds and secular outlook that bind Indian society were getting loosened. Due to all of this apprehensions have been expressed about the threat to the Constitution and the government’s fascist tendencies which may get aggravated if voted to power once again.—INFA


Millennial brat pack bro!

Parties Invoke Dynastic Gods
By Poonam I Kaushish

In our electoral dance of democracy it’s raining pedigree. No, I am not talking about the canine variety, but our political lineage, specially the millennial brat pack. Wherein, our Parties are busy invoking the dynastic Gods to reap rich political dividends. A fool-proof way for India’s polity to go to the dogs!
If Indian democracy rests on the one-man-one vote principle, elections are all about one family and as many tickets as you can wangle norm. The Congress wins hands down offering Nehru-Gandhi’s Gen Next and other dynasts while the BJP sways to the lilting tune of Bhai, Bahen and Bandhu alongside the NaMo jaap.
The regional satraps Thackeray’s Shiv Sena, Chautala’s INLD, Badal’s Akali Dal, Abdullah’s NC, Lalu’s RJD, Mulayam’s Samajwadi, Patnaik’s BJD, Ajit Singh’s RLD, Mehbooba’s PDP and Paswan’s LJP believe in Patni and Putra-Putri Prem!A no-holds barred gharelu nautanki which has surpassed India’s Got Talent TRP rating. Indeed, India’s son’ is shining, and, how!
Undeniably, India has entered the era of oligarchy. Scandalously, 157 Lok Sabha MPs or 30% belong to political families. If this continues soon a time will come when most MPs would be by heredity alone. Welcome our neo-Maharajas. Think. Twenty eight beta-beti politicians have claimed “their birthright of carrying forward the family legacy.” Be it Congress, BJP, Samajwadi, BSP, Trinamool, NCP, NC, TDP, DMK, RJD and LJP. They hail from J&K to Tamil Nadu, Nagaland to Maharashtra and heartland UP, MP and Bihar.
Ironically, even as Congress President Rahul harps on democratising the Party yet patriarchy and familial ties continue to be the buzzword. Name any Chief Minister or PCC Chief and one will invariably find his aankhon ka tara son-daughter in politics. From MP Chief Minister Kamal Nath son who is in the poll fray from Chindwara to his predecessor Digvijaya and J&K Soz’s sons, Union Minister Santosh Mohan Dev’s beti et al.
Ditto ex-Finance Minister Chidambaram and former Assam and Haryana Chief Ministers Gogoi and Hooda’s sons, former Union Minister PM Sayeed sons to dynasty retainer Murli Deora, late Rajesh Pilot and Jitendra Prasad putras down Sunil Dutt’s daughter Priya Dutt and Punjab Raja Amrinder’s Rani.
Modi might scoff at Congress’s dynastic politics breeding “termites” but the BJP too stands “Congressised” and has its fair share of progenies. Of the BJP’s 75 new faces who made their electoral debut in Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh in the recent Assembly polls 33are sons or daughters of leaders who have crossed 75 years.
Besides the other Gandhis — Maneka-Varun, there is Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s son, deceased Goa and Delhi Chief Ministers Parrikar and Sahib Singh’s betas alongside erstwhile Union Minister Yashwant Sinha and Himachal Chief Minister Dhumal ladlas, late Promod Mahajan and Munde’s daughters and MP strongman Vijayvargiya son.
There’s dear Akhilesh Yadav who followed daddy Mulayam as UP Chief Minister and nominated wife-uncles-cousins as MPs and not-so-young but still in papa’s footsteps is Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray hailing his rising son Aditya. Ditto TDP’s Naidu’s and TRS Rao’s beta-beti, Mamata and Pawar’s bhatijas, Mayawati’s bhai and Omar Abdullah, who’s followed father Farooq and grandfather Sheikh and Mehbooba who took-over the baton from daddy dearest in Kashmir.
Lalu-Rabri family concern RJD has ladli Misa in Rajya Sabha, while her siblings Tej Pratap-Teshaswi fight for the family political spoils, Paswan is busy lighting the ‘chirag’ for son as is Ajit Singh, Punjab’s Akali father-son shop has Badal daughter-in-law as Union Minister and her brother as MLA. The entire Scindia family of Gwalior has smoothly transitioned from monarchy to politics: Congress has Madhav’s son Jyotrimayditya and BJP ex Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara’s ladla and bahen.
Besides, political legatees are getting younger, hungrier and meaner. Haryana, Tamil Nadu and Odisha are classic cases where dynasty rules the roost. You simply cannot aspire to achieve anything worthwhile in politics if you are not the son or daughter of a prominent leader. Besides Hooda, Rao Birendra Singh and Surjewala have their sons and daughter respectively in the poll fray. Erstwhile Chief Minister Bhajan Lal’s son and Devi Lal’s progeny have regional outfits. On one side Ajay Chautala’s son Dushyant is pitted against chacha Abay.
Down South there is DMK patriarch Karunanidhi’s son-daughter-nephew clan. Not to be left behind rival AIADMK has fielded Dy Chief Minister Panneerselvam and ex-Mayor’s sons. A never ending lineage whereby polls and Parties are one. In Odisha several political families are in the fray, some seeking re-election or crossing swords with their kin as Parties have fielded various family members from different constituencies.
In Sundergarh ex-Congress Chief Minister Biswal’s two daughters are in the fray, one BJD’s Lok Sabha candidate, the other Congress’s Assembly contender. In another constituency the Congress has given the father the responsibility to retain an Assembly seat and son to wrest a Lok Sabha seat from rival BJD. A BJD MP has transferred his baton to wife. Also in the fray is erstwhile Paralakhemundi King Gajapati’s great granddaughter.
All parroting the same hackneyed diatribe. Only our dynasty can provide a Government of the people, by the people and for the people. Sprinkled liberally with loads of balidaan and desh bhakti. Hoping that a billion plus vassals will be mesmerized by the dynastic Gods to shower their choicest blessing. What is material is not whether the candidates are deserving but that they are “made deserving”, by virtue of their hereditary factor.
If truth be told, we are still unabashedly feudal in our outlook and jo hukum thought process, notwithstanding that dynasty is an antithesis to democracy and electoral politics. Most elected leaders prefer to function in the style of old feudal lords. Party tickets are distributed not on the basis of merit, but feudal laws and connections. If a Minister dies, give his place to the wife, son or daughter.
This is today’s political culture: Of a shameless feudalistic India. Wherein families, even extended ones, invoke the dynastic Gods. Some see the netas bachhas invasion as leaders cloning themselves to fortify their empires. Under the fallacy that charisma and money rather than democratically choosing the best candidate serve the needs of the constituency and voters. Asserted a senior family patriarch: “Is it not normal for the offspring of mice to dig burrows? Children of political parents will know politics best”. Perhaps the best way to explain a rat race!
In a milieu where politics has transcended to business, a political family like a business house is busy leveraging its assets. Under the misconception it owns a constituency and has the right to pass it on to whomever it pleases, thereby reducing ‘worthy candidates’ into a farce. Sadly, deserving candidates and Party workers are dumped as principles are unceremoniously buried thereby, creating confusion, causing rifts and fist flights. Indeed, all Parties have their share of black eyes.
Resulting in sons, daughters and sons-in-law becoming an integral part of statecraft – leading to new rules, guidelines and extra-Constitutional centres of power. Bringing matters to such a pass that a neta’s clout is gauged by who and how many family members he has got accommodated as Party candidates.
What next? With top leaders making their ‘issues’ an election subject, ideology has been cast aside. Notwithstanding, in the long run short-term feudal gains will sound our polity’s death-knell. All busy hailing and serenading each other —— the new rajas and ranis and my feudal India.— INFA