Democracy often witnesses unusual trends. Many elections have taken place in recent times, to mention, general elections of India 2014, general elections of United Kingdom 2015, and most recently, United States (US) Presidential elections 2016. One thing found common in this is the rise of the right wing and that results beyond the predictions of political analysts and beyond the expectations of the popular media. In 2014, while India pitched for development through ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas- collective efforts, inclusive growth with national interest’ as its priority, the sentiments of the Prime Ministerial candidate of the Bhartiya Janta Party were also echoed by the then Prime Ministerial Candidate of UK’s Labour party David Cameron.
Democracy is now on its new dimension and moving towards its basic structure. From the recently concluded US elections to India’s landmark elections of 2014, it has reflected on the fragility of this very fabric to hold the masses. No doubt, democracy- for the people, of the people, by the people- was one of the best ideas of the 20th century, in which peoples’ participation played a prominent role, to speak of their minds and shape their future. But it was sabotaged by the existing system and turned out quite on the contrary not only in the postcolonial democracies, but also in developed ones as well. 120 countries and 63% of the world’s population is currently living under the aegis of democracy. While the 20th century was successful in holding the democratic fabric intact, the 21st century is witnessing its setbacks as nominal establishments with autocratic and kleptocratic elements are largely ruining the institutions and systems.
In the recent past, India has witnessed the same hypocrisy via the existing political system. In the last 60 years, India was governed by a party with a family at the helm of its affairs. During this era, a particular school of thought was suppressed and efforts were made to eliminate that particular thought process through various means.
Recently, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) ideologues were invited to one of India’s most prestigious Literature Festival called “Jaipur Literature Festival 2017” to discuss “Saffron and the Sangh”: cultural aspects of the nation and its present context. Once again, it triggered a discussion on “social, academic untouchability” against a particular thought of school on social media platforms and academic world.
How the Congress has nurtured a group of intellectuals in 60 years of misrule, wherein they only wrote in favour of the then existing governments and were even conferred with awards. Now this very group is questioning the participation of the RSS ideologues in the Jaipur Literature Festival.
Same intolerance was seen during the general elections of 2014, when questions were raised on the candidature of the then Prime Ministerial candidate Shri Narendra Modi even when he was the then democratically elected Chief Minister of a state. Many such intellectuals had used their freedom of speech and had written opposing his visits to various international forums. But the same intellectuals have now narrowed down the impression of freedom of speech, when they run to tone down the particular school of thought.
Further, globally, the very idea of democracy has reoriented its approach and outlook. With growing political engagement and system dynamics of politics of rewards, it has emerged as a rewarding operation for the loyalists making the democratic political establishments more self-serving. For instance, in India previous democratic governments got into the habit of appropriating to meet the short term needs of the people while evading the long term investments required for improving the standard of living of the people at large . For sure, they are uncertain of the longevity of their position in power. This has transformed into a vicious cycle and resulted in the progress of the visible political loyalists, thus increasing the manifestations of concentration of power and wealth concentrated in the hands of few.
It is interesting to note that the share of political party memberships is on the decline across developed democracies. To note, in India there is an immense increase in ruling party membership. If one observed, the big debate during the general elections of 2014 in India was centered around economic development, inequalities and nationalism—the growing inequalities and the failures of the political system to hold democracy straight.
Recently, this trend was also observed in the US Presidential elections, where Republican candidate Donald Trump won in a landmark victory over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. As a result, democrats across nation, have now started a mass protest against a democratically elected President. In India, the same opposition was faced by the incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi after assuming office in 2014. Is this really the evolution of democracy? Our intellectual space has been silent for over a long period of dynastic rule, but is now afraid of democracy and democratic rights when people of various nations have started exercising the power of Universal Adult Franchise and elected governments against the predictions and expectations of the political scholars.
Is the silence of intellectuals for such a long period not questionable? Doesn’t such protests seem to be motivated through vested interests? Worldwide trends further reconfirm that more than half of the voters do not have trust in their intellectual space. An increasing number of youth participation into democratic system, will further ensure a strong and stable democratic government. The evolution of democracy has the potential to replace and deliver the strongest value based democracy.
(The author is a Senior Research Fellow at India Foundation. The views are expressed are strictly personal.)