Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Finally, it has taken a man of honour, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to openly speak about the ills of the multi-party democracy which have almost castrated the nation and rendered effective governance impossible.

Shedding his characteristic ‘soft’ stance on most issues, Dr Manmohan Singh, on November 5, 2007, candidly questioned whether “a multi-party model where parties with varying national reach and many with a limited sub-national reach is capable of providing the unity of purpose that nation states often have to demonstrate”. Elaborating, he said “Sometimes the resolution of problems acquires an excessively political hue, and narrow political considerations, based on regional or sectional loyalties and ideologies can distort the national vision and sense of collective purpose”. He even went to the extent of wondering whether a single party system would be better for the country.

There is so much that Dr Manmohan Singh has said in those few words that is sufficient for us to question our resigned apathy and acceptance of the state that the country finds itself in due to our so-called leaders who have been democratically elected by us. Politically and administratively, India is clearly far worse than the ‘functioning anarchy’ that it has often been called.

That this damning criticism of our democracy has come from the Prime Minister himself, is a serious indictment of not only the political class as a whole, but also of the analysts and commentators hogging prime media space and singing praises of what is increasingly appearing to be a sham democracy. While politicians may have forgotten the real purpose of democratic politics in the muck they have created, others have no justifiable reason to feign such amnesia and blindness.

What does democracy really mean to those who talk adoringly about it the most?

To an illustrated analyst and owner of a TV channel, the stock exchange is a symbol of democracy! It does not strike him that by that yardstick, China and Pakistan are much better democracies, since their stocks have outperformed Indian stocks in the last five years! To one analyst, the almost juvenile understanding of democracy is that it is something which elevates us above the grandiose power of China! To some others it means saying, writing, doing and showing what they feel like, without any restraint whatsoever.

To others, it means turning the Parliament into a joke, nay, a national shame, telecast live to the world. To some more it means total freedom to loot this country by forming a fearless and shameless politician-bureaucrat-criminal-media nexus that can thrive only in our brand of democracy.

Ironically, to the poor voter, the real 'sovereign', this democracy means little more than the freedom to cast a vote once in five years; sometimes even that small freedom of choice is usurped by his 'leaders'.

The Prime Minister has limited his criticism of our multi-party democracy to its failure to be the instrument of national vision and interest. What he has, for obvious reasons, left unsaid is that the only thing that really energizes our politicians are gutter fights for the petty political power they are desperate to physically experience and enjoy as individuals and parties, just as spoils of war are in a foreign land. There are also a powerful few who are so stuck with failed ideologies discarded everywhere in the world that they actually appear to have the national interest of our adversaries in their heart.

Morality is not even a factor any more as politicians of all parties willingly rip apart every single norm of civilized behavior in their unbridled greed and lust for perverse, personal political power. Hypocrisy, corruption and falsehoods have become so pervasive that they are not issues that disturb any longer or discussed any more except when politicians are throwing blame at each other or scoring pathetic political points in TV studios. Regional and sectional ideologies and aspirations are often convenient tools exploited without a care for the larger societal and national consequences, just for the sake of getting power in the next elections.

Our founding fathers had adopted the Parliamentary form of democracy of England, where this system suited for governing a tiny island had evolved over a number of centuries. Many of India’s states are larger than that Atlantic island, and the diversities are enormous. Little did our founding fathers realize then that in this country comprising of many ‘Englands’, democracy would not develop into the comfortable two-party avatar that they had seen there.

With numerous regional, sectarian and ideological strains at work, governance has become incidental, an unpleasant chore that has per force to be performed as the byproduct of power, getting which is increasingly becoming unpredictable and slippery. Ironically, in this multi party democracy, a party or a group does not even need to get the mandate of the country to come to power. Even when the nation collectively finds none of them fit to rule, like in the last elections, a hobbling arrangement is cobbled up with quite disgraceful methods and compromises to run a virtually non-functional government, blackmailed at every breath.

It is really disgusting to see some leading opinion makers and intellectuals asking the Prime Minister to back off from the Nuclear Deal just to enable some politicians to enjoy political power for some more time. What can be more shocking than hearing these people say that the main objective in politics is to get power and keep it for as long as one can. Ram Jethmalani, in his trademark blunt manner has rightly called this viewpoint a propagation of ‘political immorality of the worst kind’.

The way things appear now, it is unlikely that even a future election will give a clear mandate to anyone. Which means we will see even more sordid political dramas and immoral justifications from people who live in comfortable cocoons, personally untouched by the damage that is hollowing the nation.

Democracy is nothing more than a system of governance, a means to take a nation and its people forward. It is not an end in itself, as many romantically believe, to be placed above national interest, which they don’t understand. It can, and should be, discarded for a better system, if it does not remain responsive to the ever changing internal and external dynamics that nations have to deal with.

The Prime Minister himself has sounded the bugle to warn the nation about the multi-dimensional failure of our multi-party democracy. It has taken a man of spotless integrity, standing tall in the midst of muck, to do so. He has given the first call for a bringing about a drastic change in the political system which has failed to deliver what is expected by a country aspiring to be a global leader.

How we respond to this call will determine how posterity will judge this generation in the march of India to its tryst with destiny.

Readers may also read:
2.Ends and means: killing the mahatma
3. Gandhi and India's Janus-faced leaders