MAGIC OF DEMOCRACY IN A PLURALIST SOCIETY : Muscle or Gandhigiri? – Aloke B Lal

Pluralist democracy

“India is a pluralist society that creates magic with democracy, rule of law and individual freedom, community relations and [cultural] diversity. What a place to be an intellectual! ……..I wouldn’t mind being born ten times to rediscover India,” is what Robert Blackwell, departing US Ambassador, said in 2003.

The question of a democratic polity’s survival hinges on some fundamental requirements, the essence of which is a unity of purpose to carry on the business of being one country, identified as a collection of citizens who have their personal outlook, who may even have diverse personal and political agendas, yet swear by the unity of the ethos of being one. There is, in such a setting, respect for varying viewpoints. The multiplicity of cultures is a cause for pride and there is conscious effort that these cultures enjoy the freedom necessary for them to not just survive, but prosper and enrich. The colourful palette that India offers to an observer is so interesting and rich only because all the colours together make one story. To imagine that this kaleidoscopic extravaganza will be shattered so that one colour dominates to the exclusion of others is a nightmare which curiously appeals to some who have a vision of a country which carries on an agenda which promotes purging the society of those elements who differ from vested preferences.  The ‘magic of democracy’, as Blackwell puts it, will be a seriously compromised one if the plurality of the society is diluted and different communities exist not as a happy family but in well defined, never-to-integrate and intermix fragments. There will be a death blow to centuries of our cultural variety should the government of the day intervene to negate such a beautiful and fulsome togetherness only to pander to the bigoted tunnel vision of some. It may be recalled that for those who fathered the Indian Constitution it was a conscious, courageous and moral decision to maintain the essential idea of India by opting for a secular democracy and an inclusive, pluralistic society. It was seen by these tall leaders that the growth of the nation needed not just fertility of soil, but also a rich biodiversity that leads to its all-round prosperity and healthy blossoming. It may be added that no country in the South Asian region can hope to remain peaceful if it does not pursue a pluralistic goal. In fact, it has to be understood that it is here that the beauty of the idea of India lies!

Gandhi said: “I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people”. However, there is a visible streak in some thinkers which seems to have the view that muscles can still deliver. In the recent times, in particular, in many of my conversations with very well informed and mature friends, I have noticed with great dismay a tacit approval for violent methods to deal with some issues of communal disharmony. There is a viewpoint that the ‘aggressive’ minority (read Muslims) of the country can only be tamed by promoting outfits which can take on these misguided individuals and make them fall in line. There is a perception amongst the believers of this viewpoint that the repeated misdemeanours of the ‘aggressive’ minorities cannot be controlled by the government, and there is, therefore, a need to have Hindu outfits which should respond to these acts of the misdemeanour aimed at undermining the ‘legitimate’ expectation of the majority that the minorities will behave the way Hindus consider to be right. The idea of the nation, the parameters of patriotism and nationalism and generally all rules of conduct, will be dictated by the majority community, and the feeble voices of minorities and the disadvantaged will be left unheard and unheeded.

One may ask: what will be the government’s position in such a scenario? Will it be a mere spectator to the fight for supremacy amongst the various communities? Will it keep a record of who has scored more goals over the other? Will it be there like a referee (a very biased one at that) to point out the infringements of various democratic practices and laws respected the world over? Will such a government work to maintain the beautiful tapestry of our vibrant culture or will it disintegrate it to separate all the colours and create separate fabrics each with its unique weave?

In a gentle way, you can shake the world” is what the Father of the Nation once said. Gandhi’s methods have stood the test of time and space. They have delivered desired results not merely in India, but in different continents. It is hardly surprising that the Mahatma has inspired many generations of those who have waged struggles in their own countries for justice, equality and liberty. If, in his country, there are leaders who are promoting even violence to meet their vested interests, what will be the shape of things to come? When a communal riot is analysed threadbare to calculate its implications on the vote banks of the different political parties, one shudders to think of the greed for electoral mileage that a communal riot can create for the political player! Ethics would often determine the actions of such players in sane times, but the way electoral politics is being conducted today, I wonder if the political parties will stop at anything. Then Blackwell’s exultation will turn into dismay. He will be forced to re-assess the Indian scenario all over again. Maybe, this time he will have to say: “India is a closed society that creates havoc with democracy, has no rule of law and individual freedom is a concept which is not in evidence anywhere. The strong community relations and enviable cultural diversity have been replaced by a uni-polar, linear and drab order where only the majority community has all the say”. Sorry, Blackwell, to have destroyed your sentence. But, don’t you see, there are people out to destroy my entire country, its colourful diversity and ethos? Maybe, then, only one birth will be enough to know the whole of India.

(The author is a former Director-General of Police)

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