Rights

The World’s Largest Democracy: Beyond Question

As India is already a “republic”, where is the need to show that we are one in daily practice?

If you have been watching the televised proceedings of the United States Congress’s House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees pertaining to the impeachment enquiry against President Donald Trump – “the world’s most powerful man”, in common political parlance – you might be wondering as to how an American institution can be so indifferent to damaging the “image” of their nation abroad.

Any Congressperson, it seems, may say anything, level any charge, and be allowed to do so for the whole world to see and hear. And without being hauled up for sedition.

Clearly, America may well be the world’s “oldest” democracy, but not the wisest, being, after all, a very young nation.

Americans in public service seem to think that democracy is about questioning, debate, accountability, whereas we know in this land of ancient wisdom that such is not the case. Democracy ought to be about “good governance”; and “good governance” must mean whatever the government of the day says it means.

Which is why the irresponsible demand of the opposition parties here in India that, for example, one of parliament’s senior-most elected members, namely Farooq Abdullah, (now in detention without charge) be allowed to attend the current session of the people’s house to be enabled to fulfil his democratic and constitutional obligation to represent his constituents in its deliberations is an immature and undemocratic demand.

Also Read: ‘Emergency in JNU’: Section 144 Imposed, Students Lathi-Charged, Detained

The government of the day must consider the dangerous circumstance that he may actually open his mouth. And, the opening of just about any mouth is patently averse to the spirit of democracy.

Many self-appointed advocates of democracy have also been raising that other imprudent question: look at the New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, and then such channels as CNN, NBC, CBS, to name but few, and there seems no hold on what they may say and write about the establishment, making the point that a free media can be seen to be a chief guarantor of American democracy. Perish the thought, such busybodies even go on to demand a legislation akin to the American First Amendment right to absolute freedom of expression if Indian democracy is to be secured from the danger of authoritarian rule and executive tyranny. The sad fact is that such maverick demands are once again pointers to a virus of anarchism that continues to infect many educated Indian minds. The blunder here is again to mistake democracy for freedom, whereas democracy ought to mean discipline and punishment in the larger interests of those who make the mare go.

And in the interest of always shoring up the image of India, whatever our realities.

US President Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

Right to protest 

A question asked by Indian intellectuals made dangerously anti-national by leftward ideologies is whether the right to free assembly and association, and the right to peaceful protest against government policies, is not a fundamental tenet of constitutional democracy.

How is it, they ask, that hundreds of thousands of people in countries like Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Hong Kong-China, Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, and many even in the Russian Federation should not only be allowed to gather in protest, but neither immediately fired upon nor jailed – and for months on end.

The answer is again a simple one. Bad examples, however multifarious, remain bad examples. Secondly, these countries, not being democracies in any full sense, need such practices of free expression and association, and mass protest in order to evolve further in their quest for democracy. None of that applies to India. Being already a “republic”, where is the need to show that we are one in daily practice?

As you can see, we have given the world proof that an efficient democracy can be run without such fanfare of freedoms. What better example of that than what we have achieved in Kashmir. By according to sundry political representatives there the comfort they deserve in well-fortified detention centres after long and tiring years of public participation, we have brought about revolutionary policy changes  without incurring needless public involvement; and without firing a shot, since there is no one to fire a shot at on the streets which, as you can see every day on TV channels, are neat and clean, and wholly  unencumbered with citizens out making a brouhaha of democracy.

This is a feat not even an America, or England, or Europe has achieved – something that also makes us the world’s most “developed” democracy.

Soon we will be holding elections with only right-minded protagonists in the fray, guaranteed to campaign positively in support of government policy.

And if the people do not like that, well we may go ahead and elect a new people as well through yet another ingenious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.

Also Read: Why the Proposed Citizenship Amendment Runs Foul of Constitutional Provisions

A good democracy is that which protects the people as much as possible from troubling their minds, especially about matters that concern them the most. Such things are best left to guardians whose mandate derives as much from divinity as it may from some proforma exercise of vote.

JNU students are baton charged by police during a protest march towards Parliament on November 11, 2019. Photo: PTI/Ravi Choudhary

Parliament and committees

For now, we do have a parliamentary system. But it is not as though we are oblivious to the ragged and ignominious history of parliaments. Here too, we may have to show the way. Think how well-equipped the word ‘president’  sounds next to a prime minister. Already you would have seen that our pace of conversion (of prime minister to president) has been impressive.

Once we achieve that full conversion, our democracy will have attained to a centralised force of immense possibilities, wherein  the chosen one will have far greater leeway to dictate policy at the drop of a mace any hour of day or night without being hemmed in by the ever contentious pandemonium of contrary voices that always have only their own small-time interests in mind. We can then ensure that committees are peopled by men and women who are of one mind with the numero uno, and expeditiously stamp edicts to the people’s benefit without loss of precious time and resources.

Kashmir 

To conclude: our experiment in Kashmir thus must be read in relation to a larger good, namely of setting an example of how deleterious covenants signed and sealed in the past must never hold us back from rearranging our promises and priorities , or any embarrassing facts on the ground, so that every diverse citizen and territory is made over into one loyal, undifferentiated citizen and one obedient territory – captured in a flag and a slogan that leave no need for any post-modernist proliferation of words, arguments, contentions, perspectives or demands.

Also Read: In Kashmir, Freedom at a Price: Go Back to Jail if You Speak or Comment on Article 370

Thus, if there was anything holding both Kashmir and India back it was not poverty, malnutrition, joblessness, disease, social oppression of women and minorities, unconscionable inequalities of opportunity and income, lack of  fearless  expression, suicidal farmers, stunted  children and anaemic  mothers, mob lynchings of the “other’, but Article 370. Thus, we said, let it be gone and it was gone. See how democracy now flourishes in Kashmir without a people’s assembly and just a government officer in charge.

A Kashmiri woman walks on a deserted road during restrictions, after scrapping of the special constitutional status, in Srinagar, August 25, 2019. Photo: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

We are told we should not have done what we have done to leaders who have stood by the accession. As we know, it is often the most loyal who have to continue to be loyal, however we alter our affections.  After all, we have detained them so far without formally annulling constitutional provisions which govern freedoms. As a strong government, we must make it clear, that if need be, we can further consolidate democratic peace in Kashmir by formally suspending Articles 19 (freedom of speech), 21 (right to life with dignity), 25 (right to practice and propagate religious faith) as henceforth non-applicable to Kashmir, finding a sub-clause to exclude the Jammu region. All that in the nationalist-democratic interest.

And what Kashmiri who is not merely Kashmiri is not charmed by the revolution we have effected in peace and tranquility.

Think how even a Donald Trump would dearly love to emulate our example, if only he could – the reason why he is not able to make America great again, even as we make India great again.

Badri Raina has taught at Delhi University.