Is India a confused democracy?

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These days there are increasing comments on both mainstream media and social media comparing “The Dynasty” (Gandhi parivar) vis-à-vis the need for “Modi-fication”. People talk and comment on who will make a better prime minister – NaMo (Narendra Modi) or RaGa (Rahul Gandhi). Little do we Indians think of breaking our ‘medieval’ mindset and go beyond.

Democracy vs Kingship

Despite being a democracy for more than 65+ years, we do not know the difference between democracy and kingship. We still believe in receiving hand outs (in the form of ration or subsidy) from the ‘mai-baaps’ (political leaders and bureaucrats). These political leaders and bureaucrats encourage this behavior from general population since it caters to their need for security and sense of self worth. Just so the aam-aadmi (mindless idiots from their point of view) believes them, they call themselves servants of the nation and without batting an eyelid grant themselves even more symbols of ‘raja-hood’ – bungalows in best of localities, never ending convoys of vehicles, security upgrades, exemption from toll on highways and searches at airports, etc.

Presidential vs Parliamentary Democracy

Despite being a democracy for more than 65+ years, we have yet to remember our civics lessons that teach us that we have adopted a Westminster style of democracy. In ancient times the law maker, administrator and judge was all rolled into one person called the king/ raja/ maharaja. After the declaration and adoption of the Indian constitution these three functions were split into Parliament + Executive + Judiciary so that NO ONE PILLAR OF DEMOCRACY COULD EVER OVER-RIDE OR TAKE PRECEDENCE. The parliament make laws, the majority party in power runs the government and the job of the Judiciary is to ensure that justice is delivered. Of course there are some who believe that media forms the fourth pillar and to an extent it does since it has played a major role in ensuring the much needed checks and balances.

But how easily we forget these three pillars of Indian Democracy in our anger and go marching the streets and hold candle light vigils when some girls are raped and killed demanding justice – not from the courts but from the Executive. As if it is the role of the Executive to fast-track justice. Our Judiciary has also not shown themselves as upright by kowtowing to the political party in power by refusing to impeach patently corrupt judges, allowing cases to be delayed for petty gains, etc. and looking forward to plum posts after retirement.

Governance vs Rulership

Despite being a democracy for more than 65+ years, political parties, media and people have not understood the meaning of governance. Minority parties have yet to understand that their job is not just to oppose but to ensure good governance by the majority party. Political parties of all spectrums have aided and abetted with the party in power to subvert governance just to ensure that people continue to treat them like lords while remaining ignorant about their ‘subservient status’. So often we heard the usage of term “ruler” in the media as in ‘so and so’ party/ minister rules India/ state and not once protested its usage. Is that how other democratic nations (like UK, France, USA, Denmark, etc) view their parties/ leaders/ heads of state doing – ruling their respective countries?

It is sad that we do not really know the difference between governance and ruler-ship. As adult Indians when will we remember that we have adopted the Westminster model of democratic system? There is no ruler (king/ raja) to be elected. We should stop saying that so-and-so party is ruling over us. No they are not ruling over us. We have only given them trusteeship of governing us. Hence the only thing winning parties in power can and should do is to govern the country. And they do it along with winning parties who are in the minority. Those elected who are in the minority are not ‘opposition’ but are part of the elect whose job is to ensure check & balance so that the majority party in power does not wield absolute power.

Like in UK, the minority parties could also create an “Opposition Shadow Cabinet” (or simply the ‘Shadow Cabinet’) who would scrutinize their corresponding ministers in the Government, develop alternative policies, and hold the Government to account for its actions and responses.

Democratic vs Traditional Values

Despite being a democracy for more than 65+ years, we Indians are still steeped in traditional mindsets that are an anti-thesis to democratic value systems. Even though Indians have recognized good men like Guru Nanak, Gautama Buddha, various Jain Tirtankaras and various Hindu Acharya (like Adi Shankara etc.) we have remained essentially shackled to superstitions/ religious dogma and unable to cast off dysfunctional customs & traditions. It is kind of ingrained in us – like we have been brainwashed – to do things without thinking or questioning. One example is that of touching the feet of elders. We do this without a sense of shame even as we acknowledge loss to our self-respect from the one who is the recipient of this demeaning gesture. Is the one to whom we genuflect bigger, better, more than equal to us? Is he a supreme god who can cure our aches, pains, social problems with just a boon? If the colour of his blood no different than ours, if he is going to die and become dust like us, if he has no ability to cure our illness – whether physical or social then why treat him like a god or even a king? Surely we can show complete respect by folding our hands in a “Namaskar” without having to bend our knees and prostrate at his feet.

Secular vs Non-Secular

Despite being a democracy for more than 65+ years, we have confused the meaning of secular in our constitution. The word secular was inserted in 1976 into the preamble by the 42nd Amendment. It implies equality of all religions and religious tolerance & respect. India therefore does not have an official state religion.

In India, secularism is not synonymous with the western concept, which demands strong separation of religion and the matters of state. India’s secularism does not require exclusion of religion from the public sphere. Quite contrarily it implies recognition of all religions by the state. This philosophy of inclusivity finds expression in one article of the Constitution by which all religious communities may set up schools that are eligible for state subsidies. Therefore we willingly permit religion to be mixed with politics and allow use of religious symbolisms in everyday secular matters of life – like religious function prior to inauguration of a building.

Probably being an extremely multicultural society we are unable to distinguish between religion and culture. This is not at all surprising since the Persian term “Hindu” (introduced in 13 century to distinguish the ‘Vedic People’ from Yavanas (Greeks) and Mlecchas (barbarian/ non-vedic people – i.e. those outside the caste system). Over the centuries Hindu has moved from denoting citizenship to denoting religion. The politically correct term to denote an Indian citizen would now be “Bharatiya” since the constitution of India translates Republic of India as “Bharat Ganarajya” and not “Hindu”.

By confusing secularism as ‘equal treatment to all religions’ instead of ‘separation of religion from matter of state’ we have been subject to Indian Government introducing laws which continue to perpetuate differences in treatment of citizens due to religion in matters involving marriage, property, inheritance, adoption and divorce. We have moved from ‘equality’ to ‘differentiated treatment’ purely to accommodate personal belief. The exception to this rule is in the state of Goa, where a uniform civil code is in place, in which all religions have a common law regarding marriages, divorces, and adoption.

Thankfully we still have a common civil code is on matters related to crime. Would it come as a surprise if one day even the Code of Criminal Procedure will be amended to accommodate the demands of religious bigots? Already there are demands to recognize jurisdiction of khap panchayats and sharia courts on matters of crime also.

In the end…

It is not that we do not recognize that which is beneficial; it’s just that we are unable to accept what we know to be true. This is a clear sign of massive brainwashing that Indian minds have been through over many centuries and we continue to teach them to our children with a sense of pride over our dysfunctional traditions.

It is no wonder why educated, rational, thinking adult Indians still have a very childlike medieval mindset still believing that some fairy godmother/ godfather, a superhero, a king or supreme god will come to solve all our problems for us. Is it a wonder we still encourage dynastic politics, vote by way of caste/ regional/ religious banks and do everything that goes against democratic values of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity? As long as we hate to challenge and change our mindsets we can continue to wallow in the misery of own making.

When will my beloved country awake and break away shackles of outdated customs and dogma and reach out to freedom from blind and meaningless subservience?

Written by JP Sundharam >>

J P Sundharam is traditional but a non-conformist (may be even viewed as an iconoclast) who strongly believes the power history, religion and culture play in our lives.
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Indian Exponent: Is India a confused democracy?
Is India a confused democracy?
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