These are high times for the turncoats to switch sides, for the short-sighted politicians not to see beyond their noses, and for the corrupt to make as much money as possible. Pre- and post-election days mean a special thing for special people in a democracy. Our politicians are often lampooned and criticised for being myopic, selfish and untrustworthy.
The above facts cannot be denied. But what needs to be understood in proper perspective is the real nature of democracy which, it seems, our experts, writers and public opinion-makers are not able to explain properly. When it comes to discuss democracy they will either cite the example of England, the United States or France as if democracy does not exists elsewhere in the world. In these countries there are only two or three parties in the political arena and the democracy has become quite matured. The truth is that while discussing democracy we often miss its unpleasant sides, which exist not only in the Third World countries but also in the much developed First World nations.
The latest caricature of democracy is being enacted in Israel, which came into existence just nine months after our independence, where you can never know which party will come to power the next day. Kadima, Likud, Labour and a host of smaller parties have dotted the political landscape of the country where securing absolute majority for a single party now seems to have become a thing of distant past. In Knesset of 120 a party securing just 27 or 28 seats – or may be even less – has all the possibility of running the country. So, as in India, all sorts of factors play their part. This has not just happened in the recently concluded election in that country, but has been happening for the last many years. In the recent past the formula of the national governments has also been experimented with little success. Israeli Presidents – yes it has figure-head Presidents too – and Prime Ministers have often been charged with corruption.
If a nation with just five million population and such a high literacy percentage can have permanent political uncertainty what is wrong if in such a huge country like India, having a population of over 115 crore (1.15 billion), a party with just over 100 MPs in Lok Sabha manoeuvres to come to power? Unlike the theocratic Zionist state, India is a multi-religious, multi-cultural melting pot.
When we talk of democracy we need to cite the examples of G-8 countries like Italy and Japan too––if not Russia, where it is just one and a half decade old. These countries are continuously plagued by political uncertainty, fall of successive governments, change of alliances etc. If Israel is facing the crisis at the top because of the presence of so many political parties, in Japan the Liberal Democratic Party has virtually been ruling the roost after the World War-II defeat at the hands of Americans. In spite of this, governments come and go at regular interval in that country – at the rate of one every year. Even in the democratic Singapore it is the one party, which has been calling the shots for the last over four decades of its existence. Several Japanese Prime Ministers and other politicians have been accused of corruption and embezzlement. Some of them have been to jail for their involvement in different scandals.
The western European countries of Spain and Portugal have been under the rule of ruthless dictators till mid-1970s and France, though one of the cradles of modern democracy, remained in political uncertainty till late 1960s. This in spite of prolonged rule of General De Gaulle.
Regarding democracies in the East European countries the less said the better. In Russia Vladimir Putin remained powerful as the President in the stipulated two terms. Then now he is as powerful as the Prime Minister of the same country with the President becoming a virtual figurehead. What type of democracy is in practice in that country. No it is not Pakistan where a couple of months back Asif Ali Zardari toyed with the idea of becoming the Prime Minister of that country rather than remain a President as the former enjoys more power. It is better if we do not talk of democracies in Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia etc.
Democracy is certainly better than other systems of governance yet it need not be too much romanticized. Yes we have every right to criticize our politicians, but in doing so we must just not equate the democracy in India with that of United States or United Kingdom. Even in those countries big money plays a bigger role, but in a much subtler way. In fact America is the best example of a plutocracy – the government by the richest people of the country.
Our critics should take into account the democracies functioning in other countries too before rating our own. There is no dearth of arguments criticising the multi-party system like in India. There are people who will say that the weakening of the two major national parties, the BJP and the Congress, within their respective alliances do not augur well. Yet it is also true that the one-party system of Congress winning all the election non-stop till 1977 too was not a very healthy development for democracy. We may be critical of the casteist, communal and fascist elements in our political system. Yet it is also true that India is passing through the process of empowering the weakest of the weak. Today a Dalit woman can also dream of becoming Prime Minister.
What appears to be different in the above-mentioned countries is the judiciary and permanent executive. They are intact and not as corrupt as in our case. But the tragedy is that our experts seldom point their fingers towards this direction. They go on heaping all the abuses on politicians. It is said that France had the fastest growth rate in the first 13 years after the World War-II when there was complete political uncertainty and the country had over a dozen governments in that period. To a great extent this was possible because the other pillars of democracy were in much better shape.
To get rid of the so-called much maligned image of khadi-clad politicians some parties, especially the BJP, have started giving tickets to the retired bureaucrats, police and army officers. In a couple of cases they have taken voluntary retirement just for the sake of contesting election. This happens in the militarist state of Israel in which most of the political parties are headed and completely dominated by the retired Generals, Lieutenant Generals, Major Generals, Admirals and Air Marshals. Can this be good for our democracy?