The Curse of Democracy?

Boris and Uddhav may or may not learn the lesson, but believers in Democracy certainly can.

Democracy, in theory and practice, is a melting pot that is churning non-stop. Democracy does not believe in putting heavy lids on unpleasant truths, nor does it believe in sweeping those under the carpet! This is expected to sublimate differences and contradictions within a society and help to build harmony and tolerance.

Politics makes strange bed-fellows, we know and they generally belong to one society/country/international community. But the politics of two distant regions — the United Kingdom(UK) and the Indian state of Maharashtra(MH) — have proved that wrong and thrown the UK PM and MH CM together as both lost their ‘herds’ and were reduced to the sorry state of generals whose armies had deserted! While both looked shell-shocked, Boris Johnson contrived to continue as caretaker PM despite his ‘devil take care’ reign and Uddhav resigned, left the CM quarters and quit state assembly overnight- showing some dignity after becoming CM some three years back by shameless political machinations.

Johnson is watching the tussle between Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak and Uddhav has moved the Supreme Court (SC) for disqualification of ‘deserters’ who claim to be the real Shiv Sena — a party of the lawless lumpen launched by his father in early 1960’s. This is the Devil quoting the Bible! The SS founder was an open admirer of Hitler and trusted the ‘argument of force’ than the ‘force of argument’-attracting all the unemployed, unlawful Marathi speakers on a platform that hated non-Maharashtrians like Hitler’s SS hated the Jews. No wonder SS also denoted Shiv Sena! Initially this SS thrived on ‘protection money’ extracted from non-Marathi businesses; later, as the land prices in Bombay and other metros sky-rocketed, no development deal could be sanctioned and implemented unless the SS was paid its (un)-due commission. Therefore ‘rags to riches’ stories abound in SS. Shinde, the present CM, once was an auto-rickshaw driver; just like PM NaMo was a chaywala. Consequently, a large number of SS big-wigs are under the ED microscope at present.

But the SS is neither unique nor alone in this. A quick look at world events should place SS at global level in the daily travesty of Democracy: Abe Shinto shot dead, Trump supporters going berserk, unruly mobs vandalizing the president’s quarters in Sri Lanka, Imran Khan the cricketer who once believed in ‘fair play’ thrown out for not adhering to it, Putin defying all western democracies in Ukraine and Johnson calling his partymen a herd…the sad list goes on.

Trying times for Democracy? 

The second half of the 20th century was rightly described as ‘the Springtime of Freedom’ by William Mc’Cord and the phrase enjoyed instant acceptance as country after country unshackled itself and embraced Democracy. Gone was the yoke of feudalism and the scare of dictators. While economic disparities remained in both the international community and within individual nations, at least notionally the 150 plus members of the UN were equal as political entities. This notional equality fell flat when the World Trade Organisation was set up during the advent of ‘Glibralisation’ in the last decade of the 20th century: the US man-power in the WTO was 300 plus; the EU had the second place; China, the third largest economy had only 30; India had a poor 9 and poor countries grouped themselves to have at least one member in the apex body of WTO!

An eye opener that fails to open eyes ever since the talk of the world as one community began! Economic disparity and poverty continue to plague mankind and push it towards collision incessantly. The lesson that without an egalitarian world community the notional equality of nations will remain hollow is read but rarely learnt. The farmers’ champion Sharad Joshi put this bluntly- ‘men do not think from the heart but they think from the pocket (wallet/purse)’, he said. Same holds for members of WTO!

Had Ukraine not been exporting oil, coal, petroleum products machinery, chemicals and food grains would Russia bother to keep it under her thumb or would the NATO countries oppose and condemn Russia? If Africa had not been enviably rich in natural resources, would the First World have bothered to civilize the ‘Dark Continent’? While writing this I stumbled on an article by economist Laveesh Bhandari expressing concern over Congo going the European way by opening its oil to the rich west without addressing the abject poverty of the majority of her people.

The problem is double headed. Firstly, the world continues to be split between rich nations and poor nations. Secondly, the poor nations are internally split between rich citizens and poor citizens. Since the WTO is a democratic set up only lip service is paid to eradication of world poverty and poor countries are lured into trade agreements with enormous amounts of the ‘small print’. Moreover, they are expected to follow strict environmental and humanitarian ideals while the US and Australia openly defy Kyoto protocol’ threat of sanctions looms large over the poor countries. Only huge, non-democratic, semi-poor economies like China can afford to trade on their own terms.

The poor countries which also proudly boast of Democracy show a different expertise in that poverty and disparity are encouraged- to play populist politics. We witness this in our own motherland. ‘Garibi Hatao’ is now in its golden jubilee as a successful election slogan. To add to political irony those who thrived by opposing its originator — Indira Gandhi — twice grabbed power on the same plank. Mass unemployment continues, income disparity has reached extreme levels, even the so-called better off are finding it difficult as costs of housing, education, travel and medical treatment (basic needs) are rising unbearably. Urbanisation has the ugliest possible face as skyscrapers and slums neighbour one another. 28 percent of urban population writhe in slums. Huge state funds are squandered in development of infrastructure projects which displace the poor and to add insult to injury bring corruption and scams in their tow and never get finished at the appointed time. All these state initiated measures create more poverty while those in power — whatever their party — continue to talk of poverty eradication as their one and only purpose for power.

हेही वाचा : वॉर विदाऊट विनर्स : सगळेच हरले! - विनय हर्डीकर

Poverty leads to frustration which can be subsided only by finding hate targets — we are poor because they are rich — non-Marathi speakers for the SS gangs. SS leaders have encashed the frustration of the poor and unemployed for over 60 years and the party exists solely on its nuisance value: you don’t know what to do with it; you don’t know how to do without it! It’s a crying shame that such a mobster syndicate has hijacked both the Marathi and the Hindu cause. 

This is the curse of democracy - The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity (words of Yeats). When E.M. Forster said that Democracy deserved two cheers and not three almost a century ago, he observed that though Democracy was not the ‘Beloved Republic’, it was less hateful than any other form of government and deserved our support. He visualized Democracy as a civilized debate on different ideas of achieving ‘common good’. But currently we find hatred is the basic motive in democratic societies and the political debate in these societies is degenerating into personal vendetta. Both winners and losers have lost their bearing. Biden supporters and Trump villain worshippers in US, Johnson cronies and baiters in UK, NaMo with his gang and Rahul-Sonia with theirs at national level, BJP and SS locally.

Democracy, in theory and practice, is a melting pot that is churning non-stop. Democracy does not believe in putting heavy lids on unpleasant truths, nor does it believe in sweeping those under the carpet! This is expected to sublimate differences and contradictions within a society and help to build harmony and tolerance.

Elections are like storms and cyclones in Democracy and like the high tide does for the ocean, elections bring out the rot and the muck from the depths of the sea and toss it on the shore. The next thing to expect would naturally be that cleansed of its rot the ocean assumes normalcy and allows traffic to resume like before the storm. One would also expect that the muck and rot would be of manageable quantity.

This is the most worrying development in democracies all over the world. Economic disparities are on the rise. ‘Have nots’ don’t want revolutions but aid packages. The lumpen do not stand by the roadside and ask for alms but they organize themselves into political parties, hijack elections and come to power like SS - in Hitler’s Germany in 1930’s and Maharashtra in 2019.

But even losers serve some purpose in Democracy. No country can allow the lumpenisation of its masses by neglecting progressive economic agenda. The lumpen need not be punished or pitied; they should be decently accommodated in productive jobs.

Boris and Uddhav may or may not learn the lesson, but believers in Democracy certainly can.

- Vinay Hardikar  

(The writer has been working in the public sphere of Maharashtra for the last five decades. His versatile personality has several dimensions, but the primary ones remain to be that of an established writer, journalist, editor, critic, activist, and teacher.)

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Anil Zankar

Well articulated. Defines the global situation and shows the relevant links to the home situation. He reference to disparity reminds me of Mehboob ul Haq's famous statement - "...the consequences of poverty travel without passport" .

Atul almeida

Excellent analysis of about democracy locally & globally.

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