‘Democracy’ is probably the most cherished ideal our founding fathers had on the idea of India. At the time of her inception, India was doomed to fail in the eyes of every other so-called ‘intellectual’ and ‘political analyst’. It was unfathomable for them that a nation as diverse as ours could survive, let alone flourish. But lo and behold! India did not just survive, but thrived and is well on course to regain her past glory. Contributing to our astounding success story is our vibrant democracy. Even the staunchest critics of our democratic system cannot help conceding this fact. Into the seventh decade of Independence, we have come a long way. Be it self-sufficiency in food production, development and mastery of cutting-edge technology in space, missile and nuclear field, or our economic success story, we are today recognised as an elite global power, a far cry from the global pariah, many believed that we were destined for. For an optimist, the world’s largest democracy is well on course to become one of the greatest and most powerful democracies in the world as well.
But for all the optimists, the vexed question about the rot that has set in our political system remains, rather it is looming large. Trust of the public in our polity has taken a severe beating as systematic corruption continues to cast its long shadow over the entire political spectrum. Corruption has spread like a cancer-in our entire system, condemning lofty ideals of our erstwhile leaders to a nadir. Public accountability and integrity of our political class and bureaucracy have sunk to abysmal lows. This Is not to outrighdy condemn the entire political class or bureaucracy, as there are still a great many number of fine men and women of unquestionable integrity and unwavering commitment towering over the horizon. But the fact remains that we are at crossroads. We are having a major crisis and it is paramount that we accept the hard truth rather than trying to brazen it out.
We have to keep in mind that corruption is universal in nature and not specific to our country. But the level of public corruption in India has reached gigantic proportions, shaking the very foundation of our great liberal democracy perception about our political class is probably at its lowest ebb since Independence. Massive scandals have indeed corroded people’s faith in democracy and probably for the first time, people are asking hard questions about the viability of democracy in India. Given the sober circumstances, one could be forgiven for thinking that the future of democracy is bleak in India.
But democracy is too great an institution to crumble very easily.
More so in the Indian context, as democratic ideals envisaged by our founding fathers are deeply engraved in our psyche and have grown strong roots, as evident in India remaining an oasis of stability amidst the failing nations around us.
Indian democracy has evolved a great deal since Independence. Political landscape of our nation has also changed beyond recognition. In this age of coalition politics, single-party governments appear to be a relic of the past. Coalition system has helped give regional parties a greater say in the governance of the country, effectively strengthening our federal structure. Also, they have helped curb the autocratic tendencies of leaders of large political parties. But in the absence of strong leaders, it has more often than not wreaked havoc on governance, resulting in policy paralysis and growth stagnation. Coalition compulsions are also considered as a major roadblock in ensuring integrity of the government. But as things stand now, coalition system seems to be the only way and will have a huge bearing on the future of Indian democracy.
In the recent past, we witnessed phenomenal movements against corruption led by the likes of Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal. Some of the activists of the movement went as far as outrightly condemning our Constitution and democratic system. But it is the strength of our democracy that they were able to organise such large-scale agitations against the Government which would be unthinkable in an autocracy. Even in this troubled times, this very fact gives us a lot of confidence in our political system. We have to accept that our democracy .has its own inherent flaws. But then no system is flawless and the past experiences across the globe show us that a liberal democratic system is our best bet in ensuring progress, good governance and freedom for the citizens to follow their own free will with some reasonable restrictions.
India has a very fertile soil for democracy to thrive in. Our institutions like the executive, judiciary, government and the armed forces work in perfect synergy more often than not. We do not have a hyper-assertive judiciary crossing Constitutional boundaries, trying to dictate terms to a democratically-elected government. Our armed forces’ loyalty has always been above reproach. I cannot see our military trying to sabotage the government either coverdy or overdy. Unless the nation plunges into total chaos and anarchy, it is a safe bet that military rule would not just happen here.
While considering the future of democracy in India, we cannot overlook Naxalite menace, described as the gravest single threat to our nation. Naxals have scant regard for our Constitution and democracy. Their objective is to overthrow the Indian state and seize power through the barrel of gun. And they do not mind slaughtering fellow citizens to fructify their Utopian dream. But in reality, Naxals do not stand a chance in an all out war against the might of Indian state. Put simply, they do not have it in them to overthrow our democratic system.
There is a growing chorus that the Indian democracy is at crossroads because of the disenchantment of the public with the system. But if we look into the matter, it will dawn upon us that disenchantment is with our leaders or political parties, rather than with the system as a whole. Democracy is our greatest strength. The right to vote and elect our government brings parity between the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor. Democracy is the cornerstone of the idea of India. So we can easily conclude that future of democracy as the mode of governance is safe. The question is about the duality of democracy. Will our political class be able to reinvent and redeem themselves in the eyes of the public ? There is no reason they should not be able to. There is a growing awareness among the public about the corruption and nepotism prevailing even amid the higher echelons of power and they are not forgiving any more. This will hopefully goad our leaders to take a tough stand on corruption and deliver good governance.
Growing influx of the youth into politics is another thing that bodes well for our democracy. We need young men and women of quality, integrity and commitment to resuscitate our ailing system. Today, we are recognised as a benign responsible power whose ascendancy as a global elite is welcomed by most in the comity of nations. This has more to do with our vibrant liberal democratic system than anything else. As India continues its rise as a leader of global commons, it is imperative that our leadership has the desired quality to discharge our growing responsibilities and to safeguard our core interests. Hopefully our time-tested democratic system will once again churn out great leaders as it did with Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Vajpayee, and many more. Future of democracy is safe in India. But the quality of democracy we can sustain will have, a major impact in determining India’s course to fulfil her destiny as the world warms up to India’s new standing as a great power.