Jai Ho Democracy! Understanding India’s Dance of Freedom

Tiago André Lopes

 On 7 April, India embarked on general elections which will end on 12 May. The most populated democratic country in the world braces for a general election which will impact more than just internal politics. Umesh Mukhi, PhD candidate and Director of Sustainable Leadership, helps us understand how democracy works in India.

This Monday India started its general elections which will happen in nine phases ending in May. India is usually called world biggest democracy (due to the number of votes). But how well is the democratic health of the Southeast Asian democratic giant?

The question regarding the democratic health is always complicated, In India we call it “the dance of democracy” because you will see everything from Bollywood stars to politicians, from businessmen to social activists, and even those accused for past scandals in corruption. They have been granted tickets for contesting from respective constituencies. Whereas one can challenge the credibility of many profiles who are contending for election, it is still remarkable to see how India has retained and manages to deal with the notion of biggest democracy. Firstly the democratic health of the nation has drastically deteriorated; the track record of government in last 10 years is not that impressive. India has faced corruption scandals, inflation rates and economic regression.  Moreover government has not encouraged the participative form of democracy which could be seen from past protests (Anti-Corruption Protest & Quota Protest). The mass awareness amongst the population has increased but at the same time the level of intolerance has reduced against social injustice and corruption.

Dance of Democracy

Source : Hindustan Times

What is the general importance of these general elections to India?

The 2014 election plays a very important role both from the national and international perspective. India faces several pressing issues like economic empowerment, poverty alleviation, health care and literacy.  As said earlier the Congress led government has ruled the state for a long period of time and the results are not satisfying. On the other hand if BJP led government comes into picture they have to deal with the same issues, it will be the test of their efficiency and reflexivity to deal with these issues. Few days back I just read the news that some of the villagers blocked the roads of their village and prohibited the politicians to enter  in their constituency, thereby expressing their dissatisfaction that politicians had not lived up to their promises. So, couple of points could be highlighted in the context of importance such as:

First, the elections will highlight the current socio-political trend showcasing the attitude and opinion of Indians towards politics and democracy.

Second, it will test the performance and efficacy of the new government on how fast it can bring the reforms as per their promises.

Thirdly, it will also set the performance parameters for winning and losing parties, which will have implications on their leadership, candidate track record and national agenda.

Another distinctive point is that despite growth in many sectors like IT & Telecommunications, India is still an agricultural nation and it is facing vulnerable effects of climate change.  The elections and government shouldn’t compromise economic development by cannibalizing Agricultural Sector and Natural resources; on the contrary it should revitalize these sectors so that we don’t face problems like pollution problems in China due to excess manufacturing.

 What are the aspirations of the youth in India, knowing that they comprise an important percentage of the population?

India boasts the potential of the youth as it comprises the major portion of the population. The youth in India are more aware about the issues; a lot of them have joined social initiatives to contribute to the society. On the other hand we also find youth who are well educated and do have strong opinions but they don’t have the clear idea about the macro and micro level realities. And as educated youth don’t dare to enter the politics, this place is taken up by less competent people who join political parties through their might or influences.

However, in either case, I have witnessed the mass sensitization of young people in India and a growing affection towards contribution of the country. An Indian you strives for Efficient and fair Education system, Safety and Security, Talent Creation & development and finally creation of entrepreneurship and employment opportunities in every sector. They have strong ideals and they hope for bright future. We are yet far away from the utopia of how India should be? On the contrary the government should ensure to deliver reforms for sustainable future of youth to make India corruption free, a land of opportunity and solidarity.

India’s elections are taking place after the General Elections in Pakistan (May 2013) and after the (so far auspicious) Presidential elections in Afghanistan. In your opinion, what are the predictable outcomes and impacts of these elections in the region?

That’s an interesting point. India plays a key role in regional stability and itself suffers from the issues of terrorism and regional dispute.  The problem with these issues is that, they are equally important from national and international perspective, however both can’t be achieved at one point of time. For example, In an ideal situation Guarding National Interests for some political fronts would be  to take military action on Pakistan. However due to regional complexity, no party can afford to destabilize the region and therefore irrespective of national agenda government is obliged to find diplomatic solution. However I do believe that post elections India should play a key role in stabilizing the region, as it has been a close aide of Afghanistan, the territorial disputes with Pakistan needs to be settled where both ends need to speed up the efforts.

There would be no changes in India’s foreign policy if the current government retains its position; however in case the government changes at least one predictable outcome in this case could bitter the relationship with Pakistan and its allies. Again as I said it will be the test for governments’ foreign policy on how it is guarding national interests while modulating international scenario with its allies and enemies.

India’s political system is under criticism from several academics and experts who contend that the power flow in is India not fluid and easily subjected to blockages and to stalemates. Is it true? And if so, why is the system maintained this way (knowing that in the long-term incapacity to regenerate might need to political implosion)?

I totally reckon your point, from a management perspective the government and the form of democracy needs to evolve. Overall the whole democratic system needs to be revived. India faces some complex systemic issues from bureaucratic to grass root level. From my experience as a native citizen I always wondered who is an active change agent. We have national governments, state governments, city governments and city wards which could be represented by different political parties.  Due to this hierarchy, inter and intra level co-operation between stakeholders is complex and ultimately it is the people who suffer. The government is least bothered to change the system and of course if any systemic change is needed it needs to start by acknowledging the facts that we do need a participative form of democracy, we need to reinvent our political and bureaucratic system to streamline operations and build efficiency and finally we need to revive the candidate profile of politics which of utmost importance. The past governments has failed to do so, the present government  has hardly done anything and finally I wonder if future government including the one in power and opposition will collaborate to find out solutions through legal and just means.

Source : The Viewspaper

Another common criticism is the dynastyzation of Indian politics, with several families (the Gandhi’s being the most widely known) holding on to power. Is it possible to re-democratize access to political power in India? Or this is not just an India characteristic?

I think the dynastyzation can’t be the determinant alone until and unless some performance or track record is there. The rise of AAP party in India shows that these new movements can gain momentum where people can overthrow dynasties. On the other hand it is true that dynastyzation does play a role in holding power. It is obvious that certain families would like to have consistent control over the party, as we have seen with some major national and regional parties but that power is only limited to being a head of the party, they might even support the candidate but in long term if the candidate shows immaturity and lacks potential skills in its commitment towards developmental issues then it will be challenging to carry forward the dynastic nature of any political party. I think everyone in the politics is smart enough to realize the worth of the candidate so it really calls for a good decision making for national and regional parties considering the performance parameters of national interest.

In the last few years India has known an interesting economic growth and studies suggest that in 2025 India will surpass China as the most populated country in the planet. How do you think that demographic transformations and economic growth will affect India’s political system? Is that a concern of this election?

The demographic transformation presents a huge opportunity for the present election and forthcoming governments to tap on the labor and knowledge capital of the nation. The system will undergo changes either by itself or by external shocks, as it is undergoing now. We will witness more educated people participating in the elections, the challenge for this class will be to revive the system. Micro and macro level knowledge blended with social, political and business acumen will determine the performance of candidates.  Decentralization of power, empowering ideas, responsibility and accountability at individual and organizational level will determine the level of good governance. The economic growth will demand government to take staunch actions to revive internal economic growth which in turn would require innovative public policy schemes.

[This interview was conducted by Dr. Tiago Ferreira Lopes, Lecturer at the Department of International Relations at Kirikkale University, Turkey and Policy Columnist at Mindthis]