Is Our Democracy At Stake In The 2019 Elections?

Democracy is a system of government by the whole population or by the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives. It first appeared in ancient Greek political and philosophical thought in the form of the city of Athens during classical antiquity. However, the question which arises in the present setup of Indian polity in regard to the country is whether our democracy is safe. Is the culture of debate and dissent still relevant?

Besides economic underdevelopment, India’s cultural and regional divides continue to pose challenges to Indian democracy. We have been receiving warnings that democracy in the world is facing its most serious crisis in decades. Political and civil rights have declined in 71 countries in 2017 while only 35 countries have witnessed some progress in these areas. “A total of 113 countries have experienced reverses in the last twelve years besides a net improvement in democratic transition is only gained by Sixty -two countries,” says Outlook.

Removal of corruption was one of the prime agendas behind the election of the BJP in the 2014 general elections. But now that we are just a year away from the 2019 general elections, corruption is still rampant in politics and business. The media, the fourth pillar of democracy, is being censored. There have been attacks against minorities – Muslims, Dalits and tribals and this poses a serious challenge to the democratic process. A report by Freedom House criticises the Modi government for not appointing the Jan-Lokpal and diluting the RTI Act, which could have improved transparency and exposed corruption.

The election over the years in India have been a matter of options rather than opinions, Ideology or actions. The 2019 election seems like a battle between the BJP and a combined opposition consisting of Congress and various regional parties.

“The present scenario reminds us of the 1977 general election when all the opposition parties united against the ruling Congress party,” says Sharad Pawar, the President of the Nationalist Congress Party. But 1977 cannot be compared to the present because the Emergency was the driving force behind the united opposition against the Congress government. Moreover, the indisciplined act of the suspension of the Indian Constitution can’t be compared to NDA -1’s reign. The general elections of 1967 and 1989 can be compared to the present scenario when the opposition united behind the slogan “Rajiv hatao.”

The united opposition, including the regional parties, will define the election of 2019. In Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party, under the leadership of Akhilesh Yadav, the former Chief Minister of the state, will fight the coming Lok Sabha election in alliance with the Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP). Recently, the Samajwadi Party came to an electoral understanding with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and tied up with local satraps which resulted in their victory in the Phulpur bypoll. This was considered important as Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, had contested and won from the Phulpur Lok Sabha constituency in the year 1952.

In Bihar, the RJD under the leadership of Lalu Prasad Yadav and a few other regional parties will unite against the NDA alliance.

Congress will act as the main opposition in states such as Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan and Gujarat. These states will fight in alliance with the Congress and small regional parties against the BJP.

West Bengal, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Thiruvanantpuram may also see coalitions as the vote share have large bifurcations. The small regional parties have also gained good momentum in getting a decent vote percentage. Therefore, Congress will have to join hands with so many regional parties to form the government. Moreover, the BJP’s performance is poor in these states so it will take time for them to influence the voters.

But amidst all of this, the question still remains – is democracy safe? The recent Karnataka state elections saw some pretty low standard politics. Despite making several (perhaps legitimate) allegations against the BJP, the Congress should also look into its own history. Other than the political environment, the academic environment has also suffered. Violent activities have taken place in university campuses by the student wings of the national parties and religious and cultural intimidations have adversely affected academic freedom in the country. The hostile environment has largely affected the liberty of the students.

The derecognisation of 11,000 NGOs has affected them from intervening in human rights and governance issues. Security forces fighting against insurgencies in the northeast and Maoist-affected areas are accused of being engaged in extra-judicial killings, rapes, torture, arbitrary detention. These sort of violent activities are the obstruction in the democratic progress of the country.

The foremost police investigative body of our country, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which is non-Constitutional and non-statutory, has also been questioned about its honesty. The same question is also raised to the Election Commission on its integrity.

In this political turmoil, the very essence of democracy is being lost. The sense of a government ‘for the people’ seems deceptive. Academic hooliganism and social hatred seem so rampant that the very democratic fabric of our nation is in danger. It questions whether we are rational people. The culture of dissent but of universal toleration as taught by Vivekananda seems missing. We must strive to bring about a revolution and make a India truly democratic, secular and the nation of Gandhi’s dream of ahimsa. A nation of equality – an egalitarian society where everyone enjoys their own role in the progression of this progressive democracy is what we must strive for.

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