Monday, March 20, 2017

Adityanath and Democracy: Some Thoughts

                Yogi Adityanath is the 21st Chief Minister of India’s most populous state (both in terms of voters and members of the Parliament), Uttar Pradesh. Having won 312 seats out of a total of 403 seats, the Bharatiya Janata Party was in a position to elect anyone as the next chief minister of UP.

                It took over a week and two deputy chief minister posts for the BJP and/ or its newly elected MLAs, to arrive at a consensus candidate in Yogi Adityanath. Because BJP had not announced any CM candidates before elections, the time taken for selecting one is not anything abnormal. However, if we juxtapose with what happened in Manipur and Goa where the single largest party (in both cases, Congress) lost the opportunity to present its legitimate claims to form governments as they could not elect their respective leaders in less than 24 hours from the announcement of the results, the delay of a week might itself have an underlying story of intra-party power struggle.

                The focus of this post is not how Adityanath won the chair, but on the reactions to his election. So many articles and social media posts have appeared on why BJP selected a highly controversial man to become the chief minister despite the favorable results. For a party that professes ‘Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vikas,’ there could not have been a worse choice. Some commentators blamed the RSS for forcing the hands of Narendra Modi. Some others saw this appointment as BJP shedding its pro-development agenda and embracing Hindutva (though I prefer the term Sangithva to indicate RSS ideology). Some others saw it as an indication of the failure of democracy that such a divisive personality has reached where he is today!

                All these commentators seem to have forgotten an important point. BJP is a tool in the hands of RSS. The ultimate objective of RSS is not development or Sab ka Saath, but the creation of a Hindu Rashtra. Development and such other slogans are mere steps on the ladder towards their main objective. Therefore, it is only natural that whenever and wherever they can do so, RSS will proceed with implementing the Sanghitva agenda.

                What about democracy? Can Adityanath’s ascension be considered as a failure of democracy? To answer this question, we need to understand the basic nature of our democratic system.  Democracy has never made any claims to be a perfect system for electing the ideal rulers. Winston Churchill had said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried.”  In the words of H. L. Mencken, “Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance." In my view, democracy has demonstrated both collective wisdom and collective folly, at different points in time.

                 Democracy as a system functions at two levels. The first level involves electing a government. The method adopted for electing the government is the majority approval. This majority takes different forms such as absolute majority, proportional representation, and first past the post. We have chosen the method of first past the post in which whoever manages to get the maximum number of votes is declared the winner, irrespective of the share in the total votes. As a result, a person garnering even 20 or 25% of the total votes can win in a multi-cornered election. Each method has its merits and demerits, and any change in the system cannot achieve any substantial difference in the quality of the elected. 

              When political, linguistic, religious, caste or such other lines divide society, the elections will always be affected by such divisions. Uttar Pradesh was not known, at least recently, for purely political choices. The caste and religion have played a critical role in deciding the fortunes of candidates in Uttar Pradesh elections. This affliction is not limited to Uttar Pradesh. In the upcoming bye-election for Malappuram constituency in Kerala (caused by the demise of Mr. E Ahmed), the Indian Union Muslim League candidate Mr. Kunhalikkutty will be elected for sure, and the voting will be on religious grounds. I have seen such tendencies even in local body polls in Kerala, which is supposed to be more of a politically conscious society. When the religion or caste comes into play, the political differences takes a back seat! Same for the recent increase in the electoral successes of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen party. So, there is no point in singling out BJP or Hindu voters in electing who they consider are their representatives. Democracy cannot prevent such divisive voting, but provides protection against the consequences of whims and fancies of the elected leaders, through its second level of functioning.

              Democracy’s second level functioning is through the rule of law. In the absence of the rule of law, the brute majority in a society can be misused to subjugate any minority. The winners, irrespective of their numbers or vote share, are expected to play within established rules of governance. In India, we have the Constitution including the fundamental rights and basic features that would protect us from the shenanigans of any elected leader. A divisive leader like Yogi Adityanath can speak anything in his party forums. As a chief minister or any other constitutional authority, every leader is expected to behave within the boundaries of the established norms and laws.

             What follows is that the focus should not be in protesting the appointment of controversial leaders like Modi or Adityanath, or to dislodge any duly elected government, but to ensure that such governments function within our constitutional and legal framework.  We have to accept the weaknesses of the democracy, simply for want of any better system.

             Authoritative governments might be more successful in influencing the bureaucracy and judiciary, and subverting institutions of governance. There will be attempts to push their divisive agenda and to subjugate their perceived enemies. Such governments might even try to sabotage electoral processes and seek elimination of their ideological opponents from electoral politics (Congress Mukt Bharat is a slogan that indicates the undemocratic mindset of BJP and RSS. Same mindset can be seen in BJP’s shameless acts of capturing power in Goa, Manipur, and elsewhere, through questionable methods, despite electoral losses. I am not saying BJP should not have formed Govts with the support of outsiders, but the hurry and crudeness of it all could have been avoided).

              In the event of a weak opposition, pliant bureaucracy, and committed judiciary, the rule of law might suffer. Damage to the rule of law is the danger we need to guard against, and not the election of Yogi Adityanaths and Narendra Modis. If the rule of law remains intact, the people have the option to kick out the same leaders and ideology, in just five years. If the rule of law is affected, then the very existence of democracy could be in danger. Even the allegations against EVMs should be looked at from this perspective. Whatever is left of the opposition (thankfully, this mass is still a majority in India) and civil society has to be on guard, at all times, against any attempt to weaken the rule of law. The fundamental rights of each and every citizen has to be protected from any highhandedness of any government.

              The Media is in a powerful position to report, and mobilize public opinion against any undesirable steps from any government. Unfortunately, Indian Media appears not up to this challenge, unlike the US Media which is standing up against each and every wrong policy of their President.  Indian Media appears to be in a state where they are willing to prostrate even before they are asked merely to bend! The Media is busy whitewashing the excesses and normalizing the aberrant behaviors of the so called fringe, which is taking control of the main stage! That, in my opinion, is the main challenge before India. The public vigilance and public opinion should force our Media to follow their fundamental duties. If they fail to heed, the civil society must raise their voice through social media and other available means. More and more people should be made aware of the dangers from majoritarianism and authoritarian rulers.  The Hindus must be educated about the difference between Hinduism and Sanghitva, and why it makes sense to prevent the ascension of the latter.

              Political parties currently occupying the opposition space should play a leading role in creating awareness. In democracy, the role of the opposition is as critical as that of the ruling party. This role does not end with a loss in the elections.  Guard the rule of law and public interests (there will be enough opportunities with mercurial leaders like Adityanath in power) with utmost seriousness so that whenever the next elections comes, people will know whom to vote.

            Danger to democracy will not be from Adityanath, but our collective failure, if any, in guarding the rule of law and fundamental rights of each and every Indian citizen! 

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