April 27, 2004
The great Indian tamasha is well and truly under way. The 2004 election campaign is almost done. Rudyard Kipling had written that only mad dogs and Englishmen come out in the mid-day sun. Since the British left, that dubious distinction has gone to Indian politicians. But they come out in the heat only at election time — to make promises.
In the three rounds of voting, the people have come out with hope and courage and exercised their franchise. As always, many have died. These deaths do not prick the national conscience — the country takes these deaths in its stride as part of the price to be paid for democracy. Democracy, then, is sometimes akin to Shiva’s Tandava Nritya, the Dance of Death.
When one travels abroad during election time, friends and acquaintances in the West never fail to cast doubt on the wisdom of India’s illiterate multitudes voting in democratic elections. Yet voters have shown remarkable maturity. Take the instance of voters in Karnataka, in the early eighties, plumbing for the Janata Dal to rule their state for the next five years. At the same time, in the Lok Sabha election, they gave almost every single seat to Indira Gandhi’s Congress Party for a strong government at the Centre. It is tragic, therefore, that politicians always let the voters down.
The shenanigans begin soon after the elections. The parties will jockey for power, MLAs and MPs will disappear, some will be herded into luxury buses and will next surface at some exotic wayside resort. As soon as the government is sworn in, in-fighting will rear its ugly head. Some who are not given the portfolios they think they deserve will sulk for months.
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When Parliament and the state assemblies convene, we will again witness members jumping into the well of the House, shouting at and abusing each other. Inevitably, there will be walkouts and Parliament will remain gridlocked. Will any worthwhile business be transacted? Will major issues confronting the nation ever be discussed? Going by past experience, we the people, should not bank on it.
Soon it will be election time again. We tend to think that democracy is only about holding elections every five years and transferring power peacefully. Democracy is about people’s participation in their own governance. Unfortunately, in India we are still far from achieving that. Que sera, sera!
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