Indian state is democratic, but what about the society?

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Updated: Thursday, December 13, 2012, 13:16 [IST]

It's turning more and more shocking with each passing day. Gujarat Congress MP Vitthal Radadiya brandished a gun at a toll plaza after the attendant sought his ID, an SP minister in UP Vinod Singh got a government official kidnapped for the latter had refused to accommodate his nominees, a former BJP chief minister of MP, Babulal Gaur, threatened a priestess for protesting while in Haryana, a top Congress leader Dharamvir Goyat made a very insensitive observation on the continuing instances of rape. He said 90 per cent of the rape victims invite trouble for themselves. All the four incidents occurred over the last two days.

After worshipping democracy for 65 years, this is where we have reached today. Why the situation is turning worse with each passing day and despite all hopes and claims, why is our democracy creating more bad impressions than actually good? We are regularly electing people of our likes, our media are strong, we have a relatively stable civil society, a functional judiciary, but despite all that, we are failing ourselves and reaching new lows everyday.

A post-colonial problem

The problem that has plagued Indian polity today is a deep-rooted one and perhaps was inevitable. No matter how much we praise our political system as the world's largest democracy, at the end of the day, Indian democracy is just another post-colonial political system.

Indian society not democratic

The capacity of the state is an important factor to be kept in mind while dealing with a post-colonial system. By the state capacity, we not only mean the economic resources that are available to it but also the relations that evolve between the state and the society. If the state does not find a smooth interaction with diverse social and interest groups and struggle to control them, it is bound to remain a weak entity.

The paradox with a post-colonial democratic state is that during its initial years, it can prevail over the challenging groups which are at a nascent stage, but gradually these groups turn stronger with the help of democracy and come up with a stiffer challenge for the state. An undemocratic society, when empowered under an imported democratic state system, remains a hybrid model and there are enough chances that it will be influenced by a crisis of governability. And when we have the new force of liberalisation added to the domestic crisis situation, more problems will add to the state's woes.

Blindly imposing a foreign model doesn't help

This has precisely what happened to the Indian political system. Our democracy is precisely concerned with a democratic form of state where a majoritarian formula is the ultimate condition. But when this democratic state, modelled on a more homogenous western system, is blindly applied on the Indian social system, it does not fit in properly. The reason is simple: The Indian society is an undemocratic set-up where one can not afford to apply objective principles like 'integrity', 'accountability', 'non-corrupt' when it comes to choose people to feed the democratic state at the top. The question of community mobilisation eclipses that factor.

Unruly MPs: Individuals not the problem

We say a corrupt, uncivilised MP should be locked up for brandishing his gun. That is a natural reaction. But when we see it from the angle of the democratic politics, it looks a difficult task.

This MP, irrespective of his ill-training in public conduct, is a vote-puller of his party and in a system where getting the majority is the final concern, no party can afford to ignore the vote-bank by alienating its MP and his loyalists. He might lead an influential section of the society and no party will risk annoying that section. Objective political decision quite naturally gets overshadowed by subjective necessity. What can we do apart from just creating a roar in the media?

The elite section of the country's population and the media, which are also largely elitist-driven, may feel being let down by these incidents but how do they expect an extremely heterogeneous and non-democratic system capped with a foreign democratic-model will function just like a western system? We target individuals but forget that individuals don't matter in India's community-oriented socio-political culture.

Haryana rapes: Chatting about and slamming minister won't resolve issue

The Haryana rape horror is another problem of the post-colonial state in an era of liberalisation. As said earlier, the Indian society is largely an undemocratic set-up. Those of us who live in the cities and work together with modern women colleagues, may fail to understand what community thinking and assertion means in a remote village of this country. There is no point in slamming a Khap panchayat as a medieval entity for it really is. We can not just wish away those embedded institutions of the Indian society just through addressing from the top.

In the northern belts of the country where social relations (including gender) are largely conditioned by power-relations, it is quite natural that women are seen as objects and rape is just another oppressive social language being spoken to undermine the 'objects'. No matter how many laws does the Parliament make to eradicate rape, the menace is not easy to fight.

And when liberalisation suddenly touches the closed society and tries to forcefully open it up, crimes like rape undoubtedly escalates. Reason: The society has not learnt to see women as an asset but only a liable object which can be easily exploited. And when western information starts constantly bombarding the 'unprepared' minds of the perpetrators of social crimes about apparently open sexual relations, they begin to imbibe a new culture, albeit in a perverted manner.

Rape in Haryana is not a law and order crime. It is a problem that arises because a huge section of the Indian society still sees women as an object and an object does not have rights and dignity to be violated. The democratic Indian state, which is dependent on the undemocratic society for its survival, again feels helpless to effect a change for social issues can only be addressed with a non-political determination. Sacking a minister will just satisfy the elitist critics but won't address the issues on ground.

Will this situation not change?

The situation is difficult to change, if not impossible. Two steps can be taken, although they are not easy: One, a fresh upheaval at the grassroots level aiming to effect basic change in outlooks and thoughts. Raja Rammohan Roy had initiated social reforms and he succeeded because he was backed by Lord Bentick who had a vision of non-political social welfare. Had the British government depended on votes, then perhaps Bentick would have never backed Roy. We need a repetition of history.

And two, we need to make politics a comprehensive and productive discipline and shun it as a dirty affair. We must attract new talents and committed individuals who will work for the betterment of both the society and state, and not just focus on vote politics. Before economic and other reforms, it is important that we stress reforms in human resources. Politics has been grossly ignored and left to rot today. There is no point in ruing the fact since we have not taken adequate initiative ourselves to address the issue.

 

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