Post -1990 Democratization of Indian Politics – The Paradoxes

Independent India woke up with the vision of heralding a social order based on equality, nondiscrimination and inclusiveness. Parliamentary democracy was chosen as a vehicle to achieve it .In the decade of 90s and thereafter, political milieu has seen a lot of churning. Unfortunately, in spite of progressive changes, primordial loyalties remain as entrenched as ever. Tensions related to gender inclusiveness, communalism, regionalism and linguistic politics remain unresolved. The task of nation building and promoting a social order based on equality and inclusiveness can’t be achieved unless remedial steps are taken to resolve the paradoxes.

Progressive legislations have brought major changes in social outlook since independence. Sati prohibition, widow remarriage, child marriage prohibition – once frowned upon- has emerged as high values one looks up to. The decade of 90s and thereafter saw its share of progressive legislation as well. Panchayati Raj Institutions(PRIs) and Urban local bodies(ULBs) got constitutional recognition ushering a new era of participatory governance. In pursuance to the directive principles of state policy, affirmative actions in the form of reservation to the marginalized sections in jobs and educational institutions were put in place. 

Progressive legislations were not without paradoxes. These paradoxes owe their origin to factors which include, inter alia, a patriarchal society, adherence to primordial norms of community, cast and language and deteriorating standards of public service.

Communalism raised its ugly head again, post-Babri Masjid demolition. Riots ensued. To see identity politics being played on grounds of religion to garner votes is distressing. It raised doubts about the promise of building a secular society, we made to ourselves in the preamble to our constitution.

The polarization of votes following Babri Masjid and Ram Mandir issue propelled BJP to power in the center. The last bastion of Congress at the center was stormed, propelled by the communalism. It heralded a new era of coalition politics at the center political parties professing different political ideologies sat together and formed a government. National Conference, for instance, was a constituent of NDA regime.

The co-operation and conflict between parties divided on communalsecular line is another paradox. The implementation of Mandal commission report, though controversial, aimed at achieving ends outlined in DPSP by way of affirmative action. Jobs and seats in educational institutions were granted to SCs, STs and OBCs to elevate their socio-economic standing in the country. Despite the reservations, political parties have done little to bring stricter laws to punish caste based discrimination in order to eliminate the scourge of casteism. Fast track courts have not been for speedier trial for atrocities committed on the, hitherto, marginalized and oppressed. This dichotomous policy is inexplicable.

PRIs and ULBs were accorded constitutional recognition by 91st and 92nd constitutional amendment. It aimed at promoting participatory governance and created the third tier of our governmental structure. Reservations were provided for SC/ST/Women. Women reservation of 33 per cent announced to propel women in leadership position at grass root level. This in turn, was seen, as a stepping stone to grant a larger role to women at the state and central level. Unfortunately, proposals for promoting women reservation in Parliament and State legislatu re was vehemently shot down on grounds of it being detrimental to the interests of marginalized women. This duplicity of stand on the issue of women reservation is an unresolved tension.

Criminalization of politics was another emerging factor in the politics of 90s. While political class was never ever completely blemish less in independent India, the decade of 90s and thereafter saw standards in political life stooping to a new low. Quantum of muscle power and money power became the determinants of political success. Bahubalis – a euphemism for Criminals and goons – tasted political success and engaged in opportunistic politics. The law and order condition, public confidence in public institutions and the rule of law was causality. In a nation deriving the freedom struggle’s inspiration on the moral grounds of non-violence and non-materialism, the rise of money and political power was a surprise. This trend was concomitant with increasing public restlessness about criminalization of politics. In spite of public outrage and anger, the fact that candidates with criminal antecedents are fielded by political parties, continue to surprise.

Public outrage over criminalization of politics also resulted in shunning up of political structures by electorate. Voting age was reduced from 21 years to 18 years by the force of 61st constitutional amendment. Despite the lowering of age, voting percentages plummeted to new lows in elections. It underscores the extent of delusion the youth have about political structures. Politics was shunned as a career on account of the shimmering discontent, dissatisfaction with way our political life was organized. Failure of political parties to attract youth in election – either as candidate or as a voter –remains their drawback. In a democratic nation, demographically predominantly young, this is unpardonable. 

The dynamic politics was also a factor in keeping away the motivated youth in joining elections. In various states and at the center, dynastic politics has taken root. This trend has accentuated in the decades of 90s and thereafter. Yadav families in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Badals in Punjab etc. have successfully entrenched themselves in the political life. Inner party democracy is missing in political functioning. Leaders are drawn on the basis of their ascribed quality like lineage rather than relying on achieved educational status or mass following. This reactionary trend of neo-monarchism in a nation based on democratic values of equality and inclusiveness remains a handicap in building important precedents for posterity.

Dynastic rule didn’t emerge in a vacuum. It was fueled by forces of regionalism. Independent India never saw formation of linguistic states as antithetical to national unity. This explains the linguistic reorganization of states in 1956. It was assumed that the formation of linguistic state is a sine qua non for holding a diverse country. Recent trends have portrayed a contrary picture. The emergence of son-of-the- soil doctrine in Maharashtra and political violence against north Indians serve as a grim reminder of the fragility of state institutions to protect constitutional guarantees. States have a central role in India whose political structure is based on federal polity. But, the violence manifested on citizens, on orders of political demagogues, strikes at the very root of national integration.

Caste emerged as a major plank for vote mobilization in the decade of 90s. Primordial identity like caste still continues to dominate polity, especially in state elections. Emergence of successful caste based political parties like BSP and SP in Uttar Pradesh; RJD in Bihar etc. has accentuated the trend of caste based politics. Such wide spread mobilization of people on caste line promotes division in a diverse society and prevents integration of people within the socio- political life of the country.

The unexplained paradoxes owe their origin to variegated factors of primordial loyalties, patriarchal values and can be only resolved by concerted action by a proactive legislature, assertive Judiciary and a vigilant media backed by an informed citizenry. Progressive legislation remains an active tool for social change; especially with regard to empowerment of marginalized and pruning the primordial instincts like caste, religion and language in people. Ideas which challenge and subvert national unity should be sternly countered with legislation.

Judiciary, as a vanguard of fundamental rights, remains as important as ever. Recent Allahabad High Court verdict banning caste based political rallies underscores the important role Judiciary can play in curbing the menace of casteism. Judiciary should play an active role in handling issues of communal rights or regional jingoism by firmly protecting people’s right and upholding constitutional values.

Media, described as fourth pillar of democracy, has no lesser role. It should highlight instances of injustice, inequality and moral turpitude so that the authoritative institutions of the state can step in to resolve issues.

The task of nation building in a diverse country based on democratic values is a herculean task.Variegated socio-political-economic factors raise different paradoxes in political milieu during their normal functioning. Our response to such aberrations should be guided by constitutional values of participatory democracy, fundamental rights framework, secularism and socialism to resolve such conflicts in an amicable manner. The vision of a harmonious social order marked by principles of egalitarianism, social cohesion, and democratic polity would remain a vision in the absence of remedial steps to resolve the dichotomous paradoxes thrown up in the normal course of functioning of a nation state.


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