Indian democracy is not more than a voting right

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by Dr. Rajkumar Singh 3 December 2019

Even after more than 70 years and 17 national general elections, India’s Parliament is nowhere close to being truly representative. Since the adoption of the Constitution, India has moved decisively towards a multi–party system, with laws such as the one to prevent defection restricting inner–party dissent even while curbing horse trading. Power is still concentrated in the hands of a few, with the role of the public limited to voting in governments every five years or so. While the strength of Indian democracy has withstood the decades of social, economic and political developments, there are numerous challenges to democratic governance. The social and economic progress achieved by the deepening of democracy in many societies has been shaped by their efforts to successfully protect the rule of law. Despite various attempts to enforce and institutionalise the rule of law in Indian society, the intended results have not been achieved. While the normative framework of constitutional governance is established through the Constitution of India and the various institutions established under it, deeply embedded values constitutionalism have not taken roots in the Indian society. In between the period huge social expectations have been generated by institutions that are responsible for checking abuse of power. But given that the capacity for dealing with abuse of power is disproportionate to the demands imposed upon them by the sheer size and magnitude of the country, there have been numberous unfulfilled promises. Urgent steps are needed to establish a rule of law society in India, without which our fundamental credentials as a democracy will seriously be undermined.

Election experiences

Even the national general elections held in 2004 and 2009 failed to make an impression quite different to the earlier, it however, registered a voting structural adjustments contrary to the decade of 1990s. The verdict of the 2004 Parliamentary elections showed that Indian democracy is not just the largest in the world, it is also becoming one of the most vibrant. The defeat of the BJP is not only a mark of the vibrancy of Indian democracy, it also removed a major paradox from politics. It brought a much closer correspondence between the social forces which took shape in the 1990s and political power. As such, this lends greater coherence to Indian politics, and in this there is an opportunity for democratic forces to strength the secular and pluralist foundations of Indian republic as cherished by the framers of Indian Constitution. In 2004 elections there was a subtle shift in the social profile of voters. By the late 1990s the Congress had become a party whose support base was a mirror image of its opponent in different parts of the country. The party did not have a vote of its own and was excessively dependent upon the residual support it got from the marginal sections of society. This time the Congress regained something of its famous rainbow coalition. It has improved its standing among the urban middle classes and educated voters. It has done so while retaining the bottom of the pyramid that constitutes its core voting bloc. In the last three elections the seat /vote multiplier for the congress has gone up from 0.74 in 1999 to 1.01 in 2004 and 1.34 in 2009 and every one per cent of the vote gave the congress 4 seats in 1999, 5.5 seats in 2004 and 7.2 seats in 2009. Though there was nothing like a national wave, strong or mild, there appeared to be a nationwide trend working to the Congress’ advantage.

Strategies of the BJP

On the other in both these elections the BJP posted its lowest vote share since it first exploded in 1989. This is the third successive election that its support base has shrunk since the high watermark of 1998. The BJP’s rise to power through the 1990s involved three kinds of expansions, all of which faced reversal in 2009 elections. First of all it involved extending the party’s support base to new states. The big strides that the party made in the South and East in the early 1990s soon came to a point of stagnation. Secondly, the BJP expanded its bandwidth on the political spectrum by acquiring new allies. The NDA of 1999-2004 represented the pinnacle of the BJP’s political expansion. Since then it has been downhill for the party. From the peak of 41.1 share of the national vote, the NDA slipped to 35.9 per cent in 2004 and has fallen to just 24.1 per cent in 2009. Thirdly, The BJP attracted new social groups during its phase of expansion. It expanded from urban to the rural areas. From being an upper caste party, it cultivated a major base among the lower OBC’s. It took major strides towards capturing the adivasi vote in middle India and started securing some vote among non–Hindus. In 2009 election, the BJP’s hitherto upward trend among adivasis and Muslim voters has been reversed and its expansion among the lower OBC’s halted.It suffered a negative swing in nearly every State. It needs to reflect not so much on the election campaign and strategies as on its overall political direction.

Marginalisation of masses

In totality the recent trends of election results and experiences show that the underprivileged and vulnerable people have displayed an unanticipated capacity to exercise their voting power against the privilegensia’s insensitiveness to their sufferings and misery.  These are the people who make the economy work and therefore feel they ought to have right to say that some investments should directly benefit them so that they come to possess some assets, get enhanced opportunity for credit, secure employment, and have access to education and health. The formation and consolidation of this section of society is not in haste, but ever since the anti–Emergency wave of 1977, people have learnt to mobilise themselves in terms of their experiences. It also appeared that in these elections emotional issues and primordial sentiments were set aside. The everyday life of ordinary people with their myriad small problems became foregrounded. The everyday life that is lived in different contexts is also a reflection and expression of the religious, cultural, social and regional diversities of Indian society. The vote, therefore, in essence, is also for the plural traditions and the secular way of life of Indian society. Separation of religion and politics is the means to make politics autonomous of substantive commitments and fulfil the unfulfilled desires of Indian republic.