Distance lends charm. I can vouch for this having spent a week away from Delhi, its alarming morning headlines and hyper competitive television anchors.India with its growing economy, social pluralism and thriving democracy appears far more attractive in Cardiff than from Delhi.
I have not been accosted about our failing democracy or the rise of virulent communalism despite some erudite Indian commentators who have done so in the domestic media following BJP’s recent electoral success.
Clearly, foreigners observing India from afar and in the global context are helped by two attributes. First, they look at the bigger picture and are not weighed down by happenings in one province or city or sporadic ugly incidents that mar the daily life of an ordinary Indian. This helps them to focus on emerging and dominant trends.These trends and not the minutiae are perhaps the key to understanding the complex change simultaneously unfolding in India across several dimensions. Second, foreign commentators constantly compare India’s progress, or lack of it, with that in other emerging economies.This comparative assessment perhaps makes India’s achievements look far more impressive than when looked at only in a linear manner and in the context of the humdrum of daily mishaps and shortcomings.
Viewed from a distance, India’s democracy, with all its warts of communalism, casteism and use of money and muscle power, seems to be thriving better than elsewhere.The outcome of recent UP elections giving four-fifths majority to the BJP and the installation of Yogi Adityanath as the chief minister of this most populous state is seen as the maturing of Indian democracy.The Indian democracy is seen as emerging out of its elitist phase engendered and nurtured by the Nehruvian ethos that comprised of an elite political leadership imbued by western values and ideologies lording over the masses sans any accountability.
The elitist phase of Indian democracy, from which it is hopefully now extricating itself, was marked by a dualism between the ‘English speaking and westernised’ political leadership and the ‘vernacular speaking and locally culturally rooted’ masses over whom it ‘ruled.’There was minimal accountability. Political leaders, across the political spectrum, would make extravagant development promises only to get on with the ‘real business’ of illegally enriching themselves through a dominant nexus of netas, babus and dalals.This was the norm except for the short tenure of Lal Bahadur Shastri that was unfortunately cut short by his untimely demise.
Regional parties, rooted in provincial ground realities and reflecting local aspirations, were first to take on the Nehruvian juggernaut, but often with the open adoption of vicious forms of identity politics and recourse to ‘bahubaliraj.’This has now changed, hopefully forever. Indian voters will henceforth not be taken for granted.
However, both the Congress and dominant regional parties, admonished the majority from asserting its due rights as it would smack of ‘majoritarianism’, thereby damaging the so called ‘secular’ fabric of the Indian polity.The minority was asked to support their ‘rulers palpably to ensure its basic survival in the face of an overwhelming majority that was portrayed as threatening its vital interests.This false narrative would also be used to justify not only the rise of ‘dons’ and ‘goondas’ but also to give them active state support that assured them complete immunity from state action.
The worst was that in states like UP and others in the Hindi heartland, this dichotomous treatment of the common voter, provided the elite political leadership with a cast iron alibi for not fulfilling their promised development agenda.The people wallowing in their poverty and misery, were occasionally assured by their leaders that this was the best possible outcome in a situation marred by the deep divide between the majority and minorities.
Having given BJP an overwhelming mandate, voters from my home state have spoken very clearly and loudly that they want to overthrow the yoke of elite and divisive political leadership and give development and economic transition a real chance.To argue that the election of Yogi Adityanath reflects a counter democracy trend or foretells the demise of true democracy in India, is to question the voters’ and their duly elected representatives their constitutionally enshrined right in a democracy.
It is my hope and belief, that the BJP government in UP with Yogi at its helm, will go about addressing the three critical deficits of governance, education and infrastructure that have marred the state and taken it to the bottom of economic and human development indices in the country.That will benefit all population segments irrespective of their religious and caste affiliations. Yogi Adityanath’s task is sharply cut out and he has his ears close to the ground to realise that he has to pursue this single-mindedly over the next five years.
Rajiv Kumar, Founder Director, Pahle India Foundation.