Britain introduced modern democracy in India. Democracy worked well for the British and for India in the early years after Independence.
Democracy operates through a system that rests on procedure. If due procedures are observed the system in the natural course throws up decisions that reflect the majority view. That ensures stability. During the decades after Nehru and Shastri democratic procedures gradually eroded and have now almost disappeared. That is why today Indian democracy has become such a grotesque caricature of itself. Consider just a few facets of the current crisis.
Laloo Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav vehemently opposed the Women’s Reservation Bill because they claimed it was unjust to their constituents. They announced that they would move a no-trust motion against the government and meet the President to withdraw their support to it. Fair enough. But next day they changed. That very day the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) informed the Supreme Court that it favored Laloo Yadav in the Disproportionate Assets case lodged against him by the Bihar government. Immediately Laloo Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav somersaulted. They said they would not proceed with the no-trust motion because they lacked the numbers, and neither would they approach the President. Mulayam Singh Yadav also has a case of disproportionate assets filed against him. Media was quick to smell a bargain behind the scenes that led to the somersault by the Yadav duo. Media by and large took these developments in its stride and judged events in the light of tactical maneuvers.
Would it not be shocking if national leaders were actually corrupt and vulnerable to political blackmail? And would it not be equally shocking if the government were to use the ongoing cases for blackmail to coerce political opponents? Whatever the truth, people are drawing the worst conclusions about these events. If they are not shocked – and there is no evidence that they are – would that not be the most shocking symptom of our sick democracy?
The BJP leaders were preening themselves over supporting the Women’s Reservation Bill. Soon they faced a revolt from their OBC members. The party held a meeting of all the MPs to discuss the Bill. After the meeting Sushma Swaraj informed media that BJP was united and a whip for voting would be issued in Lok Sabha. She added that Marshals would not be tolerated in the House. So, if unacceptable disruption by some members necessitates their eviction by Marshals, could BJP vote differently? It remains to be seen how plans unfold. Both BJP and Congress may well be having second thoughts about the Bill. Their private faces could be different from their public masks. Even supporters of women’s reservation consider the Bill poorly conceived. To many the formula for women’s reservation proposed by Madhu Kishwar representing an NGO makes more sense.
Anyway, what kind of democratic party is BJP which discussed a Constitution Amendment Bill designed to alter the demographic contours of the Indian polity after taking a decision, and not before it? Trinamool Congress, an ally of the government, with its leader as a cabinet minister, opposed the government in the Rajya Sabha because it was not even consulted. What kind of democratic coalition is the UPA?
The uncertainty and confusion may not end soon. It may have just started. By hindsight it should become clear that the confusion was compounded by violation of basic democratic norms. Both the leaders of the Congress and the BJP arbitrarily took decisions without the consultation implicit in due procedure. Hopefully it will lead to a basic reappraisal among our politicians about how they ought to function. Events may force a change that leads to a genuine democracy. If governance in India has collapsed the fundamental reason for it is not corruption or social injustice or even incompetence. The fundamental reason is the contemptuous disregard for procedure that has destroyed governance, subverted justice, and rubbished law.
Somebody asked Mahatma Gandhi: “What is more important, means or the end?”
Mahatma Gandhi replied: “Means are the end.” That is what democracy is all about.