Every party that has formed the government as yet has always attempted to identify its supporters and make sure they were extended the largesse whether they deserved it or not. In the process, they have inevitably hurt those who they perceived were not inclined to support them – at times even violating the tenets of the Constitution. The Indian commitment to democratic principles remains firm and intact as yet but I would largely credit the judiciary rather than executive and legislature for this. Therefore, it was enormously reassuring to listen to Narendra Modi’s recent address after his spectacular successes in the recent provincial elections. He mentioned the basic tenet of democracy – that to run a country he would have to take along the entire country and that the government was for everyone irrespective of their politic policying’s. Here’s an erudite take on democracy, by Ashoka, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
A democratic setup can only function when all the stakeholders believe that they have a stake in its preservation. Governments may be periodically voted in or voted out but there has to be inbuilt belief that replacement of a sympathetic polity with a relatively less sympathetic polity would not signal disaster for the section that did not vote for it.
This elementary axiom has escaped many countries and nation states and one would have to ruefully admit India has not been immune to this malady. In our country, politics has always been driven by acquisitive instincts rather than a desire to serve. Different parties have ruled India and its different provinces but the instruments of governance reflect more commonality on this parameter.
I shall reflect on the many years I spent in London. Britain enables anyone who is a legal resident and a taxpayer to exercise franchise despite not being a citizen of the country. This provision, I must admit, came as a surprise to me. Once I moved into my new dwelling, I received a very nice letter from my local MP welcoming me and inviting me for a tête–à–tête.
Sir George Young was a quintessential English gent, an alumnus of the Eton College and Oxford University. A 6’8″ tall man, he always used to ride his bicycle to the Palace of Westminster -perhaps the only MP to do so. Soft-spoken unfailingly felicitous, he was a deep humanist at heart and it came out very clearly in the conversations that he had with me.
The only problem was that he was a junior minister in the Margaret Thatcher government and remained so for pretty much her entire tenure. I had been known to be strongly opposed to his boss and had penned several letters and articles to the effect. At that very moment, Thatcher was trying her very best to extend support to the evil apartheid regime of Pieter Botha. I had participated in several anti-apartheid marches and had almost developed a visceral dislike for her.
I wrote back to him thanking him for his graciousness and explaining that I had taken positions against his boss more than once and it was only fair that I apprised him of this fact. I would have forgotten about our interaction had it not been for a telephone call I received the following Saturday from his office asking me if I would like to join him for a coffee the very next day.
I made my way there and spent a delightful hour interacting with him. He initiated the conversation by stating that it was his policy never to discuss political inclinations of his constituents and he would never do so with me. He perceived his role as someone who was meant to represent me in the Parliament and he would be only too happy to do so for me whenever I needed.
And that is the way it was! Time and again he assisted me through bureaucratic problems writing strong letters of support to his colleagues after convincing himself. He helped me iron out the visa difficulties of two of my friends whom I had sponsored. On at least half a dozen occasions, he helped me organising passes for my guests, who wished to witness the parliamentary debates. And he did all that in full knowledge that I was not likely to vote for him! Even when I left the United Kingdom, I remember how he very kindly forwarded my recommendation for a state honour for one of my colleagues to the minister concerned. And every Christmas, I unfailingly received a card from him.
That I believe is the spirit of democracy and that is why the British system, despite all is flaws, functions so well. In the first past the post system, it is essential for everyone to believe that notwithstanding the outcome of the elections, his/her rights are going to be safeguarded and the representative would work for all the constituents instead of only those who voted for him/her!
Unfortunately, that has not yet happened in India. Every party that has formed the government as yet has always attempted to identify its supporters and make sure they were extended the largesse whether they deserved it or not. In the process, they have inevitably hurt those who they perceived were not inclined to support them – at times even violating the tenets of the Constitution. The Indian commitment to democratic principles remains firm and intact as yet but I would largely credit the judiciary rather than executive and legislature for this.
Therefore, it was enormously reassuring to listen to Narendra Modi’s recent address after his spectacular successes in the recent provincial elections. He mentioned the basic tenet of democracy – that to run a country he would have to take the entire country along and that the government was for everyone irrespective of their political leanings.
This was the first time I had heard an Indian politician make this pronouncement. And I must say I am hopeful that he would live up to. The first step I would like him to take is to discard the time honoured practice of having a party political spokesperson representing the government view. The preferred course would be to have a civil servant perform this function. Admittedly this has never happened before in India but continuing with this practice is not consonant with Modi’s stated objective. Manish Tewari and Singhvi used to do that for the earlier government and many found both of them deeply arrogant, supercilious and insufferable. I am advised that Manish is otherwise a very personable individual but that certainly did not come across in his performances. After all he was representing his party and hence was under no obligation to represent the government that supposedly is for the entire country. Cheap jibes that were frequently resorted to are not in sync with this stated objective. And one has to state, the spokespersons of the BJP are doing no better in terms of their arrogance quotient and superciliousness. Ditto for the other parties in power in the states.
It would also not be out of place to expect Modi taking a strong stand against those supposedly close to him who make divisive jibes that would defeat his stated purpose. Individuals like Sakshi, Adityanath and Gajraj, when seen close to the portals of power always give just as much room for trepidation as the presence of Owaisi’s, Azam’s and Bukhari’s and kleptocrats like Laloo did in the previous government.
I for one am looking for this radical change in our political mindsets.
©Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad
Photos from the internet.
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Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad is a physician /psychiatrist holding doctorates in pharmacology, history and philosophy plus a higher doctorate. He is also a qualified barrister and geneticist. He is a regular columnist in several newspapers, has published over 100 books and has been described by the Cambridge News as the ‘most educationally qualified in the world’.