Friday, 5 August 2016

Has democracy in India become its own nemesis?

Politics has become the most lucrative business in India

‘Maharashtra for Marathi speaking people.’

‘Hinduism is in danger.’

‘Muslims are not safe in India.’

‘My caste/sub-caste must get reservation in government jobs.’

    Whenever I read any such call, I am reminded of a man from my ancestral village. 

    More than 20 years back, one day I received a postcard from a man who lived in my ancestral village. That man had written that large number of temples of Hindu deities in our village and in several other villages were in very bad shape and needed to be repaired urgently. To appeal to my religious sentiment – he must have believed that I had – he had written that it was the duty of every devout Hindu to contribute liberally for such a noble cause. He had asked me to contribute as much as I could every month. He had given his complete postal address at which money-orders should be sent.

I had no memory of the man. My last visit to the village was in 1955 when I was a small boy.  I did not remember to have seen him at my home town, Patna, where I lived up to 1965.  I am not a religious man but the letter created a minor problem for me. I thought, could be my elder brother, a deeply religious man who had kept his links with the village, had given my address to that man and advised him to write to me. To avoid any embarrassment to my brother I decided to ascertain the fact. When I rang up my brother he told me that the villager was a big fraud; by collecting money in the name of repair of temples, he was achieving two objectives: to make himself important in the area and to make a living; perhaps he was thinking of contesting election to the assembly; some people suspected that under the cover of repairs of temples, he was replacing old idols by fake ones and smuggling old idols out of the country.  My brother told me that the villager had come to him for my address but he (my brother) refused to give; perhaps he had procured address from someone. My brother advised me to ignore any letter from that man. I threw the letter in waste paper basket.

   That villager was a small man. He could never contest election. Perhaps he had to remain contented with being important in a small rural area. But his modus operandi was not very different from regional and national political ‘leaders’ – I have used inverted comas because such persons do not lead, actually  they mislead their followers – who launch agitations, form political parties, address public meetings and are sought after by the media for mutual benefit.

    As far as I know, Raj Thackeray, himself a product of an English medium school, sends his children to an English medium school. People like Sakshi Maharaj,  Sangeet Som, Owaisi and Azam Khan are thriving by exploiting religious sentiments of people. Hardik Patel, the latest to demand reservation and that too for an economically and politically highly empowered community, must be happy that at the young age of 22 he has become a national level leader. Like the fellow from my village who was collecting money for ‘repair of temples of Hindu deities’, each one of them is trying to achieve two objectives: to be important and to make a living. All these are in business of politics. Politics has become the most lucrative business. It gives money as well as importance and power without any educational qualification. 

    Scions of political dynasties – Nehru-Gandhi, Laloo Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Ramvilas Paswan, Karunanidhi, etc. – are lucky to have inherited wealth as well as vote bank to advance their political career. New aspirants have to identify dissatisfied sections of the society to garner support and enter the business. Laloo, Mulayam, Ramvilas Paswan, Mayawati, K. Chandrashekar Rao (Telangana Chief Minister) and likes of them did exactly that. Arvind Kejriwal, a highly educated person with political ambition and in tearing hurry to reach 7 Race Course Road, discovered that anti-corruption could be a platform which appealed to the common men  who were victims of corruption as well as the intelligentsia who discussed issue of corruption in air-conditioned rooms. Hardik Patel, who was doing a small business, discovered that he would be better off in business of politics under the banner of reservations for his caste. 

The cocktail of religion and politics has proved very profitable for politicians, very disastrous for the country though. Several politicians in Southern states exploited regional pride and Nitish Kumar is trying to exploit in Bihar today. Among over 127 crore Indians and the number is increasing every moment, we have all sorts of problems and all sorts of dissatisfied and agitated people. When the Constitution was framed, reservation was considered to be purely temporary provision but has come to stay, thanks to selfish politicians. There will always anti-social elements that will attack innocent persons. Such attacks can be on the members of own caste or community or on members of other caste or community. Opportunistic politicians are quick to exploit such situations for improving their political career, as they have done in Dadri in UP.  

As unscrupulous businessmen do not hesitate to sell spurious products, even poisonous foods and drinks for profit, unscrupulous politicians do not hesitate to poison people’s mind for political gain. Self-appointed protectors of cows are not bothered that ‘mother-like’ cows are eating plastics thrown in the streets, looking for some fodder in rotting heaps of garbage and that old cows are left uncared. Those beating their breasts for Muslims do not realise that by creating schism between two communities, they are doing more harm to Muslims. Muslims would be better off when there is social harmony.

In my opinion, the founders of India just hoped that once the British rulers had gone, everything would be alright, without bothering what could be done if things went wrong. Just read what Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, one of the front rank leaders of freedom movement and India’s first education Minister (15 August 1947 – 2 February 1958), had stated more than 69 years ago. In a statement issued on April 15, 1946 to strongly advise Indian Muslims against Pakistan, he had said: “When India attains her destiny, she will forget the present chapter of communal suspicion and conflict and face the problem of modern life from a modern point of view. Differences will no doubt persist, but they will be economic not communal. Opposition among political parties will continue, but they will be based, not on religion but on economic and political issues. Class and not community will be the basis of future alignments and policies will be shaped accordingly…” (India Wins Freedom, page 145.)

Asaduddin Owaisi may retort by quoting the later part of the above paragraph: “If it be argued that this is only a faith which events may not justify I would say that in any case the nine crores of Muslims constitute a factor which nobody can ignore and whatever the circumstances, there are strong enough to safeguard their own destiny.” (India Wins Freedom, page 145.)

 Surely, everyone has right to safeguard his/her own destiny but if it is done through mindless agitations, by spreading hatred and by violent means, there would be no democracy to give opportunity to anyone to safeguard his/her own destiny. That is the real danger in India today because politics has become such a lucrative business and is being practised on a mass scale by adopting all sorts of unscrupulous methods.

In India Wins Freedom (page 134) Maulana Azad writes that in 1946 when the people were agitated over the trial of the officers of the INA, he called a meeting of the Congress workers in Delhi and told them that ‘in all national movements, a stage is reached when the leader have to decide whether they should lead or follow. It seems that in India we have reached that stage.’

The present situation in India is different. There is need to restrain reckless ‘leaders’ from misleading the people. Can we have laws and regulations to stop exploitation of religion, caste and community? Theoretically, several things can be done:

·   Legal ban on reference to religion, caste or community for political purpose and in any public speech.
·   Legal ban practising politics as well as religion; one must choose between the two.
·   Legal ban on being a caste/community leader as well as a political leader; one must choose between the two.
·   Legal requirement that anyone who wants to be known as ‘protector of cows’ must take care of at least 10 old cows and get himself registered for that.
·   Legal ban on political activities of any sort on those who have been debarred from contesting elections.

But who will do all these things?  Rather, can any government do that?  After all, we are in a liberal democracy.

What to talk of legal bans on unscrupulous politicians, it is difficult even to advise them to behave in a civilised manner. Narendra Modi, the tallest leader not only of the BJP but also of the country, seems to be helpless before likes of Sakshi Maharaj and  Mulayam Singh Yadav cannot speak a word against Aazam Khan.  The top leaders of most of the political parties are themselves behaving so irresponsibly.

Modi's detractors are saying that at least that he can condemn incidents like Dadri killing. They are not wrong. Timely actions by the Prime Minister and Home Minister can prevent exploitation of such tragic situations. At least, damage being done by likes of Sakshi Maharaj,  Sangeet Som, Owaisi and Azam Khan can be minimised. Any attempt to exploit such situations, whatever the religion, caste or community of victims,  must be nipped in bud. A stitch in time saves nine.

The panchayat elections are going to be held in UP. A TV journalist asked one of the candidates, in a constituency that for women, what she proposed to do after getting elected. An illiterate woman, her reply was very candid: ‘What all others are doing.’ New entrants to politics have role many undesirable ‘role models’ to hasten the end of democracy.

It is high time that a leader like Narendra Modi acts as the role model. That honour should not be allowed to go to the likes of Sakshi Maharaj,  Sangeet Som, Owaisi and Azam Khan.

Has democracy in India become its biggest nemesis because politics has become the most flourishing business?

Devendra Narain

October 6, 2015