Vibrant! Is the expression often used to describe India’s democracy. There are countless videos celebrating the diversity of India and the way it is represented in the massive excercise called the General Election. The largest festival of democracy in the world. Some 61 crore Indians who voted in the 2019 general elections did not only fulfil their democratic responsibility but also celebrate it after doing so. As a patriotic and an unabashed nationalistic Indian, I feel proud of the images I see. The lengths to which we go so that every single person gets a say in the future of the country they live in is astounding. Election duty workers hike mountains, traverse dry deserts, cross rivers and other natural wonders that Mother India is endowed with to reach the tiniest of villages gives me a sense of undying hope in the system.
But my reservations emerge when the actual heavy lifting starts. The part called governance. I ask myself, what makes a democracy vibrant? There can be many answers to this question. But as an active participant and an enthusiastic reader I came to the conclusion that a democracy becomes vibrant and mature when it has an efficient feedback mechanism. That mechanism in a democracy is called as ‘The opposition’. We often limit the function of governance to the ruling disposition. But as any well functioning system needs feedback, the government requires a steady stream of effective feedback from the opposition even when it dons a political coat. But what happens when the opposition is not effective? It accentuates gains as well as losses as there are no checks or balances.
We in our vibrant democracy in India have not had an effective opposition for most of its post independent history. We have been a single dominant party system for a considerable amount of time. Post independence we developed a culture wherein any opposition was supposed to be crushed completely to maintain control. Thus any credible opposition was crushed using the state machinery at the ruler’s discretion. Fast forward to the nineties where we saw the rise of a formiable opposition power because of a combination of multiple sociopolitical events. The decade that followed was probably the only time that we had a powerful opposition that could keep the government on its toes. The era also ushered in the times of the coalitions, which lasted till 2014 after which we saw the rise of a single dominant party yet again.
What can be the reason behind this peculiar condition?
India political parties do not know how to be a good opposition. Lets take a look at the events post 2004.
The BJP very effectively took advantage of the political mess that was created in the country by virtue of countless scams and governance malpractices under the UPA. There was an uprising among the people who were sick and tired of the headlines they read every morning which culminated in a huge mass movement. The BJP saw the tide turning and was able to ride the ‘wave’ which decimated the UPA’s shaky foundations. The BJP did not just beat the UPA. The UPA was shamed out of office by the country. And that is how the UPA took it. Thus as we see today the opposition, instead of raising important and relavant questions is busy drumming up scams that probably never happened in order to do the same to this government what was done to them. The opposition is not behaving like an opposition should. They are behaving like an outsider waiting for the government to make a mistake so that they can snatch power again and rule the country. Many supporters of the government take pride in the oppostition going into obscurity. But this does more harm than good. As the feedback mechanism in a system becomes obsolete, it closes the doors for improvement or betterment which ultimately can lead to a disaster.
We need a good oppostition. We have a very well established standard for measuring the performance of the government. But how do we judge an opposition? We have to look at the issues they raise, the quality of questions they ask, their behaviour in the parliament sessions and outside. Are they behaving in the national interest or they are just power hungry predators. We as voters need to be cognizant of these facts as well. It is by doing this we will be able to hold the government and the opposition accountable to their respective responsibilities. The mindless bickering and politicisation of almost every societal aspect goes to show our political and democratic maturity. A democracy is not a natural way of things. It is a state of mind cemented by the hard work of the people like us who don’t shy away from the doing the heavylifting to push ourselves to gain intellectual maturity.
It is the only way we can make our democracy a truly vibrant one.