Millennium Post

Future of liberal democracy at stake

Is the liberal democracy project in danger in India? Have caste, religion and other primordial considerations overtaken the polity and our consciousness of modern nationhood? There is no linear explanation and answer to these questions but the way caste, religious and linguistic considerations have galvanised the polity in last two decades speaks of volume how we have lost the track on which we promised to walk along. A casteless and communalism free India seems to be a distant reality. Caste identity is not now kept hidden but prominently displayed. Almost all major castes have got their forum and are battling for their share in proportion to their numerical strength. The social categories which were supposed to melt away to give a new modern identity to all the citizens has furthered accentuated their boundaries, now more suspicious of and hostile to each other than ever before.

In sixties, when the debate on modernity was on premium in social sciences, every coming literature in comparative politics depicted India as a nation in making. While this was strongly refuted by the rightwing political formations, the left liberal intelligentsia accepted and justified such depiction. Those who refused to accept India as a nation had the logic that primordial loyalties still dominate the social structure and political behaviour of the people. In other words, people in India were yet to sacrifice their overriding primordial considerations such as caste, language, region and religion and think in terms of a larger cohesive political entity. The prescriptive argument was that India must overcome all these hurdles in order to emerge as a nation. Of course, all these arguments seemed valid given the caste conflicts pervading the societies, regional movements on linguistic counts and the communal conflicts in engulfing many cities across the country.

The debate in the policy making circles and among the political and intellectual class was how to achieve a casteless society, how to get rid of linguistic and regional narrowness and how to visualise a greater integrated India. It was expected that with time these considerations would lose their steam and modernity would give birth to a new scientific rational man for whom these considerations would be outdated and outmoded. Fifty years down the line we see just the opposite. The caste and linguistic affinity is coming out in more pronounced and more accentuated forms. The constitution negated the caste as governing ideology. It got echo in the fundamental rights with repeated reiteration that the state will not discriminate on the basis of caste, race, religion and sex. It aimed at social, gender and religious equality. But Mandal commission report changed the discourse.

What now is being aimed at is to revive and reinforce the polarisation on these counts. The logic is queer. It is argued that caste is a social malaise but it is also a reality. Hence, there is no harm in accepting the caste as a criterion to devise social and economic policy. It is just like thus: since the disease is there, let us accept it a reality and do not do what can provide cure but inject more germs of disease into body. The judgment of the Supreme Court on Mandal Commission was a political judgment which failed to visualise the fate of the nation. It was regressive in the sense that it legitimised the caste. Casteless society cannot be achieved through institutionalisation of caste. People have now started cherishing to caste. Thanks to the judgement.

This also questions the wisdom of the state and the political class which wants a non-discriminatory regime. What right do we have to oppose the dictates of Khap Panchayats or other such Panchayats which every day issue dictates which often run not just parallel but opposite to the law of the land. When a fatwa is unleashed to implement Shariat Law the centre maintains a stoic silence. Champions of freedom of speech fail to live up to their own commitments when extremists issue fatwas against Taslima Nasrin and Salman Rushdie. What else does it proof except the fact that when it comes to opposing the minority communalism the non-right wing political formations become highly ambiguous and amorphous in their response.

In last one decade the UPA government at the centre has promoted a sense and vision of communalism in subtle form. And it all started with the address of the prime minister from the rampart of the Red Fort that the Muslims have the first right on national resources. This created a major political ruckus in the country. But government kept pursuing this line for political harvest. Creation of special credit policy for minorities (read Muslims), creation of Sachar committee to conclude and suggest premeditated results, instigating debates for religion based reservation in government services, religion based headcounts in government offices, scores of other programmes suggest that the government has been taking the policy decisions to benefit a particular religious denomination.

Community centric policies create community centric responses also. Certainly, if one community is benefited from the social policy others would feel left out and discriminated. If majority dominance leads to a sense of isolation in the minds of minority, similarly, minority centric policy initiative also breeds a sense of deprivation among the majority.

Liberal democracy visualised a democracy in which everyone is supposed to vote as individual voter based on rational judgement of the policies. What is happening that instead of encouraging a policy without caste and religious tilt, we have been framing policies which accentuate the same. We want to eliminate caste by pursuing caste based policies.

We want a society where there is no communalism. But we encourage the policies which are religion based it is certain to polarise society on religious lines. If minority consolidates itself in name of minority, majority polarisation and consolidation is bound to come up.

The author teaches political science at Delhi University
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