Democratisation, 2014 Agenda and Regress in 2019: Back to the Origin
By Amar Yumnam
When elections first emerged it did not serve interests of the common population; these served the interests of the famous and important persons – the notables. The notables put their wealth and social standing to good private use to win elections. In this way, when elections evolved in Europe, there were two major outcomes. First, the social inequalities (read social hierarchies) got deepened. Second, instead of deepening and widening the benefits of democratisation process, there emerged an atmosphere of clientelism where the political leaders and decision-makers were the notables and the public just followers. The world has come a long way, particularly from the Enlightenment ideas of the Eighteenth Century, from this pure clientelism in the democratisation process. It is now generally agreed that “clientelism goes against the values contemporary democracies claim to uphold. It involves a discretionary usage of public resources, which contradicts the rule of law and the principle of bureaucratic impartiality. It is also based upon personalized exchanges and instruments that are antithetical to the ethics of political conviction and disinterested engagement that lie at the heart of the civic ideal. However, the opposition between clientelism and democratic politics is not as clear cut as it seems.” However, it refuses to die down and resurfaces in varied forms, but now seen “as a sign of malfunctioning democracy.”
This democratisation dynamics has gone through many struggles at both collective and individual levels. Fortunately, from “Out this complex intellectual and political history has emerged a commonly accepted and simple formula that is closely associated with democratization: universal franchise, or “one person, one vote.” Other aspects of democratization include the rise of a multiparty constitution, rights of expression and assembly, and mandated periodic elections. But democratization is not just a story of political change in “the West”; rather, it has become a key reference point in understanding political change throughout the world. Some of the most prominent questions discussed in global politics today rely on the purchase of democratization as a concept; for example, how globalization might be regulated, whether countries have achieved democratic consolidation, or whether democratization enhances the prospects for peace. In essence, democratization contains at its core two distinct but closely related aspects: a process by which political life changes, and a normative view of political life making statements about how political communities should behave”.
If not a strong robust, India too has been at least a weak robust participant in this evolution towards an increasingly healthier democratisation dynamics. The inherent generalised characteristics of this underlying process gave fuel to the firing of the imagination of the people by the BJP in 2014. Let us look back to this year. The beginning of the second decade of this millennium was seized with issues of crony capitalism in the democratic world in the plethora of analyses of the Global Financial Meltdown in the previous decade. This was a wonderful context for a political party to come up with new designs for enhancing the democratic experience of a country.
This is exactly what the BJP did in 2014 with new designs for a more meaningful democratisation experience. I would pick-up some significant ones. First, the BJP promised a kind of development whose benefits would be generalised. Second, the BJP also promised a benevolent nation-building process in which the appreciation of the diversity in all its dimensions would be both deepened and widened and add a new-found strength to the nation. Third, the BJP also talked of Cooperative Federalism.
Come 2019, and the periodic democratisation process is taking place. Since the 2014 agenda of the BJP were very significant for the evolution of the Indian Polity as a Robust Democratic Country, we necessarily have to evaluate five years down the line as to what have happed to those promises. My one line response would be that it has been worse in everything. Let me mention some very critical ones.
The BJP after winning the Elections in 2014 turned out to be very different from the party which had fought the general elections. First, once the helms of political power had come into their hands, the primary preoccupation became uprooting the foundations of any legacy the nation had cultivated over decades. Here there is a big meaning in the party’s patriarch LK Advani’s recent advising the current top functionaries of the party in government and outside on what constitutes a proper perspective in playing the game in the democratisation process. Second, while the country expected a move ahead towards a healthier democracy, it increasing became a regress into the abhorred clientelism. This regression has a strong relationship with the rich and wealthy and side-lining of the issues of the common people. A Member of the Niti Aayog making a public statement relating to elections and a Head of the People in a province characterising the Nation’s Army as personal force are strong indicators of worst clientelism.
Third, the driving principle of the party in power became dismantling any inherited institution rather than strengthening the strengths and addressing the weaknesses. This is where higher education has been almost stunted and put in a situation which would take long to recover. This is also where the various statutory and non-statutory bodies have been either demolished or made non-functional. Well, all these happened in the absence of any alternative functioning body being evolved. Fourth, the promised development and the generalised benefits of it have never happened. Instead, daily life struggles of the common people became much worse. Fifth, what has happened to the so-called Co-operative Federalism is left to anybody’s imagination. Sixth, the nation-building agendum has been replaced by an ONENESS agendum based on a singular perspective of a singular client group of a singular religious orientation in this diverse country.
Now it is in this context that the BJP comes up with the Chowkidar agendum. This degeneration is not surprising however. When the performance on all the core promises of 2014 has been negative, the party has to come up with something that may presumably catch the imagination of the common people. This is wrong on many counts and amounts to disrespecting the very democratisation process itself. Chowkidar is a very static one either as a concept or as a function. A Chowkidar would only be concerned with protecting what is there already and is never concerned with adding anything new. But the democratic function of elections is much more than this. Elections as a democratisation process should necessarily throw-up leaders who would fire the imagination of the people for enhanced productivity and would forever be engaged in doing something positively new. The winners of the electoral race are to lead the nation in the global competitive race among the comity of nations. No nation can afford to apply mind, energy and resources to select chowkidars through the core democratisation process.
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