India can only survive as a secular democracy

There are many in the western world and many in India who are expressing doubts about India continuing as a democracy

Brij Bhardwaj Mar 14, 2021

There are many in the western world and many in India who are expressing doubts about India continuing as a democracy. Such doubts were expressed in the past also. In the early days, the question was posed as what after first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. When former prime minister Indira Gandhi imposed emergency rule there were many who felt that it may be followed by a change of system. Democracy and free elections may not return but it was not the case.

Doubts are being expressed today also as the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), the ruling party in India, is becoming stronger every day, and the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing no challenge from within the party or from the opposition parties. His party enjoys a majority in both houses of parliament and can push through any legislation, including amendments in the constitution. There are many who predict that India may be declared a Hindu nation while doing away with the present preamble of a socialist, secular republic.

I for one do not agree with cynics or those who are making doomsday predictions. India has seen more powerful leaders and political parties who enjoyed even larger majorities. How many predicted that Indira Gandhi would be defeated when she removed the emergency and called for elections. Her comeback after a gap of few years was equally unexpected. Rise and fall of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was equally dramatic. BJP has also witnessed the defeat of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was confident enough to call for an early poll but lost.

Who could predict that a strong man like Lal Krishan Advani who transformed BJP into a formidable force leading the Ram Mandir movement would be side-lined in BJP and made a non-entity? So I suggest please hold your horses. In politics, things can change very fast. Indian democracy has deep roots, elections are well contested. Even under Modi rule, the BJP lost state assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Goa. In Gujarat, it won a smaller majority.

In West Bengal, the BJP is facing a tough challenge. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee campaigning in a wheelchair after injury may prove to be more dangerous like a wounded tiger unlike her usual style of running around and leading a campaign from the front. The BJP has a nominal presence in states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It is trying to get a piggy ride on the AIDMK, but there is no likelihood of a national party becoming a major player in Tamil Nadu. In Kerala, the BJP may open its account by winning a single seat.

In Assam, what was expected to be a walkover has become a contest. It should be kept in mind that BJP which has the best election machinery, ample resources has so far scored because Congress the main opposition party, has become rudderless and leaderless. In the majority of cases, space vacated by Congress has been occupied by BJP. The vote share of BJP is now almost equal to what Congress enjoyed in its heyday.

But every state poll poses a challenge to BJP. Instead of fighting election every five years after completing its term, it is in electoral mode permanently and its top leaders, including Prime Minister, are campaigning continuously. By opening so many fronts BJP has lost old allies like Akali Dal and Shiv Sena. I can predict with certainty that very soon challenge of regional parties will become strong and fighting alone will become difficult for BJP. India is too large and diverse a country to have one party and one leader to govern. It has not worked in the past and will not do so in the future.

At best a national party vote share remains around one-third and it will not improve. The attempts to polarise voters on religious lines have not worked so far. The caste divisions among the Hindu majority are strong and not easy to overcome. A conflict is also developing between the old guard of BJP and new converts mostly who have left Congress and joined BJP and it will grow in days to come.  Keep in mind Modi has to praise local icons while campaigning in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. As such a dream of one party, one leader, and one nation will remain a distant one.

Media at present is subdued, but for how long. Social media has started showing signs of revolt causing discomfort to the BJP. The quest for TRP will make it difficult for them to ignore movements like the farmer’s agitation or the plight of the young who are unable to get jobs. India is too large and diverse a country to opt for any other system except secularism and democracy. We have too many regions, too many languages in which a federal system alone can prosper and function.

We need the power to flow from local level to top and not centralisation. This is a lesson of history any concentration of power in one authority has not worked and the smaller the state more progress it has witnessed. The Congress has ruled for over half a century,; let us see how long the BJP will last as in a democracy it is the people who are the ultimate arbiter. 

(The writer is a veteran journalist. The views are personal)

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