The workings of the BJP in the last five years and the new stint it has begun have attempted to normalise travesty of reason. It is more than an irony that a Prime Minister who has spent most of his time strategising electoral campaigns and collapsed the distinction between campaign, electoral strategy and governance is now waxing eloquent about the urgency and need for less time spent on elections in order to find more energy for governance, development and progress.
A party which has made unaccountable foreign funding for political parties legal through a money bill is now concerned about resources spent on elections. A party that has spent more than any other party in the past on advertisements, publicity and electoral campaigns is now arguing about accountability about funds spent in elections. Again ironically, while Prime Minister Modi was at the forefront of laying emphasis on ‘co-operative federalism’, and now ‘sabka vishwas’, he now believes separate elections in the states as a hindrance to progress. A party that has engineered defections is now talking about stability. This speaks volumes about both the underlying idea of progress and democracy.
The idea is continuous and repeated elections are an inconvenience to the process of development. How exactly is progress and development hampered by elections, even if they are more frequent than one would want them to be? The answer that is being offered is ‘stability’ is necessary for progress. Stability here, perhaps, means continuity.
Prior to this, Modi had attempted in Gujarat to make not casting vote a legal and a criminal offence. India, unlike many other countries of Europe, is reflecting a trend of growing participation by the electorate. Many of the states had a turnout well over 70% in the recent General Election. The electorate is not wary of elections but those being elected are proposing many electoral reforms without the substance of any democratic content. Why not, instead, control and regulate financial funding by corporate bodies to political parties?
This is an old debate in studying post-colonial societies between democracy and development. Are they mutually helpful or is there a possibility of faster development without democracy? Singapore is often cited as a good example of centralised governance leading to faster economic progress. Amartya Sen, in contrast argued that democracy should be valued for itself. Democracy is a mode of representation that is also ‘a way of life’ in a nation’s life, and cannot be assessed merely by instrumental outcomes. It had become a glamorous thing in politics for some time now for chief ministers to refer to themselves as CEOs, and wanting to build cities that resemble Shanghai and Singapore, both of which belong to countries that subscribe to elections as impediment to development,
There is no doubt we need electoral reforms in India to allow the electorate to more robustly reflect their mandate and influence the policy frame. What the proposed change wishes to do is to insulate policy from the pulls and pressures of popular politics.
There is a crisis of representation across the globe that is reflected in a series of ‘uprisings’; Occupy Wall Street in the US, Arab Spring in the Middle East, Brazilian Spring in Latin America, demanding more, not less, representation. Mass mobilisations and electoral outcomes are failing to represent the popular demands of the electorate.
The real crisis today is how to make policies more reflective of popular demands. Will the proposal for ‘One poll one nation’ more effectively help or sabotage this process?
Exclusive debate on representation is itself a deviation from debating its links to growing inequalities. The current and many other suggested moves by the current government are a further deviation from questions that concern the most vulnerable of the population groups in India.
Will ‘One poll one nation’ arrest the growing farmer’s suicides in India? Will it help backward regions such as Bundelkhnad, Marthwada and the Northeast of India to grow faster? Will it help the abysmal educational, employment and health facilities in the Hindi Heartland?
Today, we are discussing electoral reforms without social issues. Democracy is a hindrance to development, representation is a hindrance to democracy, and social issues are a hindrance to representation. It is a kind of circular logic that is being built to generate a false consensus.
Jason Stanley in his recent book, How Fascism Works, argues that growing economic and material inequalities prepare the ground for undermining social dialogue and institutional changes of the kind we are debating only further reinforce the process. Stanley argues, “The myths that arise under conditions of dramatic material inequality legitimise ignoring the proper common referee for public discourse…to completely destroy reality, fascist politics replaces the liberal ideal of equality with its opposite: hierarchy”.
The BJP under Modi is attempting to institutionalise various kinds of hierarchies between religious groups, caste groups, between the Centre and the States, and finally between individuals. It, however, comes out of the myth that they will stay in power forever!! Fascists not only spread myths for others, but they themselves are also victims of myths!
(The author is Associate Professor, Centre for Political Studies, JNU )