Our democracy is in the throes of an institutional crisis, writes Sanjay Jha

I remember a wall hanging in my room (it was put up by my older brother) when I was still at school that said, “Cows can come and cows can leave but the bull in this place stays. forever “. There was an image of a bull, belligerent and rowdy, with smoke emanating from its shiny black nostrils, adopting a stubborn posture, as confident as an Eskimo in the midst of snow. The bull was not going anywhere. He was neither intimidated nor threatened by changing circumstances or the vicissitudes of life. Last week’s violent protests in Lakhimpur Kheri, Uttar Pradesh unwittingly brought that old imagery back to my memory cells. For a reason.

As India celebrates the 75th anniversary of its great independence of 1947 which captivated the world and fascinated small colonies in search of inspiration from European colonial rule, we must ask ourselves some simple truths. How is our democracy doing? Are we a truly bubbly society that encourages dialogue, deliberation and discussion or do we stifle dissent? Have we become so complacent that we believe that by simply voting in Lok Sabha, assembly, and municipal or local elections, we have fulfilled our obligations to India’s constitutional mandate of a free society that enshrines our citizens with fundamental rights?

Why does India rank so low on the Global Democracy Index (the right, unsurprisingly of course, sees it as a leftist conspiracy)? Can authors, intellectuals and creative thinkers really breathe or are they in a claustrophobic, asphyxiating cauldron? Does the independent mainstream media really fly high without being reminded frequently that a Big Brother is hovering dangerously overhead, watching their every move?

Instruments of intimidation

Are Indian law enforcement agencies (police, Enforcement Directorate, Income Tax, CBI, etc.) there to protect the interests of citizens or have they become instruments of merciless intimidation? Is state-sponsored oppression the new normal that India is gradually getting used to? Does the ordinary Indian trust our criminal justice system or has he even lost faith in the once revered justice system? These questions and several more flooded my mind after witnessing the bloody images of Lakhimpur’s bloodbath.

The boldness of Union BJP Minister Ajay Mishra was apparent in his provocative speech, where he said he would settle the farmers’ protest in his parliamentary constituency in just “two minutes” if he so wished. If this is not a blatant abuse of political power, what is it? It was an outright insult to ailing farmers besides being marinated with the pride of unchecked authoritarian predilections. What followed was the logical culmination of this shameless arrogance when the minister, in an act of shocking recklessness, actually showed farmers a thumbs down. On October 3, 2021, everything went downhill.

India’s battlefields

The videos were mind-numbing, reminiscent of the brutal tribal warfare in war-ravaged African republics in the 1970s. Savagely driven jeeps savagely crushed protesting farmers (allegedly stones were thrown at them). In a violent backlash, the farmers lynched four people to death, including a journalist. These were truly the battlefields of India. But it wasn’t Rwanda or Zaire, it was a G-20 member country with an economy of nearly $ 3 trillion US and foreign exchange reserves of $ 600 billion, boasting of the world’s billionaires. richest people in the world in the legendary Forbes club, the nerve center of the global tech back office and a supposedly emerging democratic vein.

The young leader of the ruling party, Varun Gandhi, warned him against turning the shameful massacre into an “immoral and false account” of a Hindu-Sikh conflict. He was quickly dumped from his party’s powerful decision-making body. But overnight, Lakhimpur became the epitome of India’s grave fault lines lost amid ruling party hyperbole, hyperventilating cheerleaders from a ruthless regime, glitzy advertisements from a ruthless regime. full page proclaiming fanciful exaggerations and a mostly nonchalant middle class. The truth invariably surfaces; inflammatory intent and visceral contempt are difficult to suppress for long. There are consequences. This brings me to my allegory “the bull in this place remains forever”.

Ersatz democracy

The reason the BJP (and in the past, other political parties) have the audacity to speak out about such palpable and gross transgressions is because they know they can. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely is the most relevant adage of our time in India. Political parties, therefore, at first imperceptibly (they test the ground) and later, brazenly impoverish our institutions. They like powerless buildings, manned by enslaved apparatchiks or committed ideologues. They fear no one for their actions. These are the lords and the masters. The whole “system” is courtesy of their autocratic favors. Thus, we have an ersatz democracy, corrupted on the inside. It is a sham.

But political parties are like cows in this maxim. They come and go (BJP could lose 2024 although I might be the only wolf to say so right now), but Indian institutions are eternal. We need strong, stable and sustainable institutions for a healthy democracy. Opposition parties will certainly push back dictatorial tyranny, but ultimately, it is up to civil society to be the bulwark of India’s vulnerable structures. The bull must stay. And he must demonstrate that fearless, optimistic confidence. Bring the sniffle.

The author is the former spokesperson for the Congress party

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Posted on: Wednesday, October 13, 2021, 2:30 a.m. IST

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