The parliamentary election of 2019 isn’t about who will become the prime minister, or which political party will come to power. It isn’t about the economy, growth, development, or jobs. It isn’t about the future of the poor, farmers and middle class or the emergence of new social order. It isn’t about India emerging as a new global superpower in this century, or how this will become the Asian Century with India and China dictating to the world. And, it also isn’t about nationalism, secularism, regionalism, or similar isms. In essence, it is not about whatever you see, hear and read.
The ongoing election, spread over 38 days, is about the immense centralisation of power at the national and the states’ levels, growing erosion of democratic institutions, lack of governance, and the muting of people’s voices. Over seven decades since we got our independence, we have witnessed leaders, even charismatic and popular ones, appropriate powers. Sadly, this trend now seems to be in the last stages, so that the centralisation of power may become the rule, rather than the exception. Be it at the Centre or the states, those in power will increasingly show authoritarian trends, rather than represent the people who vote for them.
Democratic institutions, which we thought were built slowly but surely and strongly, have lost, or are losing, their relevance. The media crawls, even when it is asked to merely bow, and is nakedly biased, even as it sings virtues of objectivity. Autonomous, or independent, bodies, like the Reserve Bank of India, are turning into extended arms of whosoever is in power. According to some legal experts, the judiciary, the last bastion of democracy, reportedly protects the interests of the elite and dominant classes. The less that is said about the legislative, the better it is. Three of the four pillars of a mature democracy seem to have forsaken their roles and responsibilities.
Governance, in the minds of the executive and civil servants, has shunned the theoretical realm of idealism, and the practical arena of the art of the possible. Its actions reflect the desires and objectives of the political-ruler, the prime minister and chief ministers, whose main goal is to remain in power, and win the next election. Most civil servants are frustrated that they have to follow a broken and distorted chain of command. The traditional hierarchy of a two-way flow of ideas and policies – from the bottom to the top, or vice versa – through well-set layers, has degenerated into a one-way direct command from the very top to the designated officer, who is forced to follow it.
With the four pillars subservient to a single leader, in varying forms of course, the citizen has become largely irrelevant. In the new scheme of things, she needs to be manipulated, through whatever means including falsehood and half-truths, to vote for a certain leader, not a specific party, ideology, policies, and ideas. The leaders, who vie for power, prance around the country, donning different avatars and performing different roles, as the occasion demands, to woo the voters. This is especially true in the case of first-time voters and those under 25 years, since they can be swayed by theatrics.
If India has to free herself from these dangerous tentacles, the people need to find their voice. The voters have to exercise their electoral rights, and force their will on to the politicians, especially the leaders. We, the people, have to act in an evolved manner to change the system so that the governments, whatever may be their chains of command, act for us. In most nations, where governance serves the public interest, whatever may be the form of the government, the change emanates, and is dictated, from below.