Indian Democracy Agenda: 1947 to 2047

Dr.Rao VBJ Chelikani

            This year's Independence Day on August 15 2022, without any doubt, was a day to celebrate the achievement of independence from the Britishers by extraordinary means i.e. by non-violent means and by mobilising together people of very diverse origins. While celebrating, we should not let this occasion be a ritual and symbolic, as symbols often replace the substance and make us forget the purpose. Every time, we should recollect and reflect upon the events, as history has never been a plain mirror reflecting the whole truth. Even after 75 years, our democracy remains formal with the state remaining authoritarian and Power being exclusively enjoyed by a few Representatives for their benefit. How far can we rely upon the present system of Rule by the Representatives to keep political India together, to further democratise the society and let the economy grow? Have they the aptitude to lead to further economic, social and cultural democracy in society?

1. Where were we in development before Independence?

            Though we have a long and glorious past in terms of our cultures and civilisations that are well recognised and admired by the whole world, let us look at the last one thousand years, more closely, from the point of view of Human Development and Social Development, as we understand today. Apart from many positive things that occurred earlier, all foreign invaders who initially came to loot our fabulous riches or to trade for our rare products had decided to settle permanently; not only to settle but also to rule as Sultans, Emperors and colonial masters over the people, who mostly submitted themselves, rather than resisted the invaders, while a few local chieftains and kings resisted initially and sporadically. New and younger religions have found adherents by force and by favours. Material poverty for centuries had affected the physiological body and existential insecurity had afflicted the psyche, except for a minuscule elite. By and large, the life of the common people was short, precarious, passive and simple in terms of human aspirations. The fear of death and material deprivation any time and any way to oneself and one's kith and kin had ingrained permanent existential insecurity in the mind, almost genetically. 'Fatality' was the most commonly used word for whatever happened in those days. Kings and Gods were the only saviours. Thus, till independence, there was no scope for any individual to aspire and strive for personal development and social development goals, without which national development has been an empty political slogan.

2. The Making of Modern India:

            Though India has been a vast and extended cultural nation for five thousand years, it was Gandhi who, for the first time, had formed and mobilised a physically visible all-India political entity and claimed complete self-rule for the people. Gandhi's temperament that imbued the best of Indian cultural ethos matched and corresponded well with the British temperament of pragmatism, rule of law and respect for the individual, unlike other German, Spanish and French colonial masters who believed only in rule by the power of the gun to dominate.

            Our Constitution was drafted by the members of the Constituent Assembly, who, at least the prominent among them, had their education in English and thus, could see the evolving outside world, including the French, American and Russian revolutions that took place successively. They noticed the need to recognise individual human freedoms and to build a society for the welfare of all. Socialism as an ideology had posed a challenge to their moral conscience, just as it did to all intellectuals across the world. While eminent people like Tagore and Gandhi have apprehended modern life launched by industrialisation, a few, like Dadabai Navroji, Gokhale and Jamsedji Tata thought of planning for national economic growth. But taking the stock of the things as existed in India at that time, the Constitution of India has been a masterpiece of reconciliation, as it accommodated the temperamental preferences of the traditionalists, reformers and radicals and, above all, the interests of the princely kingdoms that lived in isolation, so far.

3. The Prevailing Political Culture:

            We are making very slow progress in political governance, though, in other fields, we are progressing very satisfactorily in trying to meet modern human aspirations. Our political system of 'Rule of the Representatives by Majority' has belied our expectations, as they are not eager to further democratise the system conceived in the nineteenth century. To be just, we should admit that it has been the case with many other developing countries in Africa and in Southern America. We are far from being a developed nation and a regional Power.

            After independence, soon after a decade, a new class of politicians emerged out of the society who enjoy Power and who group themselves into political parties. This is happening although the basic structure of the Indian Constitution had deliberately avoided giving any role to political parties, even though political parties were active in England and in India. Without exception, all these parties, whose internal organization is not at all democratic, nominate the candidates, and the voters are giving their consent to the party symbols, based on the promises and money and liqueur distributed on the night before the elections. In addition to all the corrupt practices, the party in power, particularly in the states, has been lavishly inventing freebies with the tax money, to ensure votes in its favour. They are even borrowing to spend unproductively and thereby throwing the burden of repayment upon future generations. So long as the current political culture encourages half of the population to remain beneficiaries and dependents, there can be no Human Development (HD); without HD there will be no Social Development (SD).

            Though we have adopted the British type of democracy which is a rule by the representatives wrapped up in a constitutional monarchy, in India, it evolved, at present, into a rule by political aristocrats under the guise of republican democracy, who attribute to themselves many prerogatives, privileges, immunities and advantages. Engaged for life full time, exercising no professional skills, most of them are cultivating a 'political culture' that degrades human relations by over-emphasising the role of the numerical majority and constantly indulging in corrupt practices, nepotism, groupism, caste divisions, quarrelling among themselves with abusive language and even violent acts. They crave centre-stage and do not allow any social leader with merit, skills and service to emerge, nor any civil organisation to be active in the society.

            As our Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi has admitted desperately, in his speech from the Red Fort on this Day in 2022, that corruption and nepotism have been bleeding away the vitality of the nation. Though he did not and could not name them from the position which he is holding, unmistakably, he meant the corruption by the government officers and corruption and nepotism by the politicians. Because the people's representatives have very short-term interests and limited knowledge about the matters to manage, there evolved a perfect nexus between the politicians and the bureaucracy, as our former Vice-President, Mr. Venkaiah Naidu has rightly diagnosed it, on the Civil Service Day of this year. As a consequence of which, the country is being ruled by 'Bureaucratic Authoritarianism' which is imposing itself on all our policies, both external as well as internal. The citizen is submerged under the sea of Rules, whose interpretation is again to be given by the bureaucrats. There is corruption because people need politicians' intervention to get things done. To set up enterprises and even to survive, they have to set aside about 20% for bribes or contributions. At this rate, inflation and unemployment cannot be controlled for long, and political parties would desperately offer more freebies to retain power. If it continues, the economy is bound to collapse and the country would be a 'failed state'. Before we reach that stage, the people who are disenchanted with the politicians would welcome, or at least would accept without protest any 'coup d'etat' or taking over absolute Power by any military or religious leader. Or any party leader in the majority might dare to declare an Emergency. Some Indian states might claim independence.

4. What to do now?  

            Still, there is another quarter to complete a century of independence. We have to fix yet another tryst with a better society with a $ 12 trillion economy. While we are quite likely to succeed, thanks to our vibrant private sector, we have to wage another battle to liberate Indian society from the prevailing culture of 'power politics.

i). Political parties and democracy are proved to be antithetical and incompatible i.e. directly opposed in their objectives. In the past, all revolutions like the Russian and Chinese revolutions that were spear-headed by political parties and their militants have radically deviated from their original objectives, while all revolutions animated by clubs, associations and civil movements like the French, English and American revolutions have been successful in democratising their societies. The latest example is the Communist Party of China. Therefore, we have to, by all means, try to reduce the importance of the political parties in governance; let's go for less-party democracy, if not for a completely partyless democracy.

ii). If all urban citizens vote, this will happen. Further, while voting, we should vote for independent and known candidates, who are human beings, rather than party symbols, and let them decide their affiliations with others while legislating.

iii). It is time that we should have a Universal Social Security System which covers all risks of ill-health, man-made and natural disasters, loss of property and unemployment as well as a permanent income or pension adjusted to the cost of living. Funding should come from the contributions of all working persons, employers and governments. All developed societies have it so that nobody depends upon the generosity of the politician. In the absence of it in India, the politicians will continue to humiliate people by announcing selective welfare schemes and freebies, with a personal touch.

iv). All citizens can and should participate in political governance, not only once in five years. Today, after 75 years of democratic practices, the Indian citizens (at least a majority of them) are capable of self-governing, i.e. to have swa-rajya and su-rajya. The citizen can and should give his or her opinions and suggest action on all matters, individually and collectively, whether authorised or not. One should resort to Non-Cooperation and Civil Disobedience, if necessary in the spirit in which Gandhi had trained us. Thanks to modern information and communication technologies, it is now possible for a citizen to act directly.

v) A 4th tier of governance at the level of the local Ward Committees consisting of the Resident Welfare Associations has to emerge to allow the direct participation of the citizens and the civil societies. Especially, the urban citizens should take effective steps to hold Ward Sabhas and Ward Committees, since the political representatives are reluctant to cooperate, despite constitutional obligation.

vi). The civil society movements in the country should be at the forefront to take up this new challenge for good governance, as they have already done during the first struggle for independence. In reality, our first struggle for freedom is carried out through a series of associations, movements and aashrams, and self-sacrificing individuals, rather than by political parties and civil services.

vii). Radical Administrative Reforms are needed to make it clean and lean and democratic. Representatives of various professions, including civil and military services, academic institutions, consumers and tax-payers associations should interfere in the day-to-day functioning of the state departments and Public Sector Undertakings and guide them. If necessary, they should re-vitalise CAG, RBI, Judiciary, etc.

viii). Multi-lateral inter-governmental bodies as well as international non-governmental organisations should have a definite say in all internal governance matters, as India is forced to live in a globalised world.

            By the turn of the century, there is a likelihood of the most advanced societies becoming self-governing without 'politics' and 'politicians', as we see them today. Most probably, we would be dispensing with the present diarchy of bureaucratic authorities and political authorities, and there might be a single operating agency.


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