D. N. Bezboruah
In India, we are very fond of rituals. And rituals are most readily resorted to whenever we are bewildered and do not know what constitutes a ratiol course of action. This happens most frequently in the realm of politics where people who understand less and less of what they need to do (usually due to a lack of education) rely almost completely on empty rituals that they have seen their predecessors perform to hide their almost complete ignorance of what democracy is and what it is supposed to be doing to protects the rights of people. That most people in the world’s largest democracy are uware of what democracy is all about is evident from the fact that almost no one in India is anxious to be seen as a democrat. A favourite me for new-born progeny and hotels or restaurants is Samrat. The morchic preference is also evident from the fondness for the words royal and regal—words that people should have been ashamed to use 69 years after Independence if they honestly believed in democracy.
The real irony is that most people are not even aware of what a democrat is like in any true democracy. If he is a person who is content to wait his turn at a shop or be law-abiding at all times—among other things—very few people in India would want to be democrats, regardless of the fact that they are so fond of talking about their country being the world’s largest democracy. What amuses me no end is that people who have no faith in democracy have to play the game of being in power with the rules of democracy. After all, democracy is not a very efficient political system. Great thinkers and philosophers including Plato have said this long before any of us were born. After all, how can a political system that has to wait for the will of the people (no matter how it is ascertained) be a speedy or efficient system? In a morchy, the king or queen merely has to express a wish. There is a long line of underlings eager to ensure that the royal wish is fulfilled instantly. There is no need to talk about rules and codes of conduct as one does in a democracy. What many ambitious but uneducated politicians tend to forget is that in the 21st century there are few ways of attaining political power except through traditiolly accepted democratic means. After all, there are very few morchies left, and the morchs are not about to invite people outside the royal family to share political power with them. So what does the political adventurer in a hurry to seize power do? Resorting to a coup calls for the willing cooperation of a sizeable section of the armed forces. This is unlikely to happen in India. When Indira Gandhi realized that she had committed a blunder by imposing Emergency, she called the chiefs of the armed forces and requested them to take over power. They flatly refused. And thereby they created a very healthy and safe precedent for the tion. Adventurist politicians now know that they cannot bank on any wing of the armed forces to help them in their foolhardy political adventures that depend on coups. They also appreciate the fact that their access to political power has perforce to be through democratic means—through elections. They also realize that democracy is a sort of one-way street. Once a tion has opted for democracy, there is no way of going back to any other form of government. There is no way of saying that morchy or oligarchy or even crude dictatorship is preferable, and we should opt for one of these forms of governce. The tion, with its two Houses of Parliament would never allow a return to any other form of governce.
So, what does the ambitious political adventurist do? He does what comes so turally to Indians. He pretends. He also takes care to cover up his pretence as neatly as possible. First of all, he indulges in his tural, undemocratic urge to create a dysty after a few years in politics. He knows that as long as dystic rule is foisted on the tion with the rules of the game called democracy, no one will object. After all, has the Nehru-Gandhi family not given the country three prime ministers already? And is not another one waiting in the wings for his turn. Having just 44 MPs of his party in the Lok Sabha was a disaster in 2014, but one lives with one’s hopes of better days to come. So what is already beginning to happen in India is that politicians have begun to spawn dysties in all the States of the Union. Major politician (and many minor ones as well) have perfected the art of at least getting the family to feed on the generous Legislature that provides great creature comforts for those in power and a lifelong pension for those who have won an election and spent even one term as a lawmaker. What more could anyone ask for progeny that will neither study nor work but who insist on having easy money and the loaves and fishes of office? So dysties get created not because politician parents are looking for opportunities of service to the country for their progeny, but rather because they are looking for avenues of income that do not call for study or work, but electoral victories for just a term.
When people resort to pretence solely for persol gain and even stoop to distorting a system for such persol gains, everything gets reduced to mere rituals. No one is really aware of why certain things are done, but when public opinion (often built with the help of newspaper articles) decides that certain things are appropriate for democracies, everyone feels under pressure to play the democracy game right. One has to be thinking of women’s empowerment, upholding minority rights, making education a fundamental right and a hundred other priorities that are appropriate for democracy. So we try to throw the first requirement of democracy—majority rule—out of the window by trying to lampoon the principle of majority rule by coining ugly words like ‘majoritarianism’. We earmark a percentage of seats in Parliament and the legislative assemblies for women and seek to create the myth that empowerment of women has been achieved. Quite often this ritual achieves the objective of creating proxy rulers. Politicians like Lalu Prasad Yadav become de facto rulers without accountability when their wives become chief ministers. We make a farce out of making education a fundamental right when we do this without specifying the quality of education. In this way we end up observing a hundred different rituals in the me of upholding democracy while at least four of the most important essentials of democracy are thrown out of the window: majority rule; respect for the rule of law; transparency and accountability; and the right to dissent.
I can think of a score of other ways in which democracy has been reduced to a farce by turning major democratic principles into rituals. But let me get to where I was trying to go: to establish how by turning vital democratic principles into rituals, we create shortcuts to ba republics. What a ba republic shares in common with the kind of democracy we have in India is that it generally has all the visible appurtences of democracy like elections and a legislature and so on, but those who come to power by using the rituals of democracy have no intentions of running a democracy. They generally become dictators and actually hijack democracy. Such states are the very opposites of the constitutiol morchies of Europe like Sweden and Norway that are actually some of the finest democracies in the world without claiming to be so. Ba republics, on the other hand, claim to be democracies, while turning out to be some of the worst dictatorships. There are many of them in Africa. By continually subverting universally accepted democratic principles or turning them into rituals, we are actually creating a shortcut to a ba republic without intending to do so. And we are making the process ever so much easier by giving a free hand to corruption. When corrupt practices are encouraged and accountability is thrown out of the window, we have the kind of crony capitalism like what we saw in Kartaka some years ago when mines were handed over to people who were out to loot the State. Nearer home, we have the kind of loot that we witness in government departments where sums as huge as Rs 12,000 crore remain uccounted for. Such a system benefits only the privileged parasites accustomed to easy money looted from the exchequer without any work. In Assam, we already have a mini ba republic where the crime rate is very high matching the high unemployment rate and where accountability and a ratiol approach to things are totally missing. These are familiar characteristics of a ba republic that we are already beginning to see in our own State. If we do not take the necessary steps to reverse such trends, we may well succeed in creating a shortcut to our small ba republic.