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Monday, April 19, 2021

Democracy is now a spectator sport

The Narendra Modi stadium is a symbol of how citizens have become mere spectators to politics, which is, increasingly, a game controlled by corporate sponsors

Updated: March 3, 2021 9:36:37 pm
imotera stadiumThe Narendra Modi Stadium will host all five T20Is. (Express Photo)

Written By Harshvardhan Purandare and Sandeep Pandey

Ahmedabad is home to the iconic Sabarmati Ashram where the foundational values of Indian democracy evolved during the freedom movement. Now, the city is also home to the five-star Narendra Modi stadium at Motera, a new monument named after our prime minister. One could say that Indian democracy, which grew at Sabarmati Ashram, was buried at the Modi stadium. The distance between the two can be covered by car in just 14 minutes, and in 66 minutes, if one were to march like Gandhiji.

What are our objections to the new monument? Is it that a leader has named a cricket stadium after himself during his lifetime? Partly, yes, because we usually celebrate our leaders after their demise. It is also difficult to evaluate the achievements of an incumbent prime minister. From Jawaharlal Nehru to Manmohan Singh, all prime ministers have made their mark. Modi is yet to find a place in history. His opponents allege that he represents the downfall of the economy and divisive religious politics.

Are our objections about the fact that the name of the PM’s publicly-adored role model, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, was dumped from the stadium? Again, partly, it is. The very project of the integration of our diverse geography, which was overseen by Patel, is collapsing as several parts of India are disgruntled with Delhi. The damage to the federal structure appears irreversible as Centre-state relationships deteriorate under the so-called “strong Prime Minister”. We need to remember Patel more during this phase of disintegration of minds across India. Unfortunately, the Iron Man of India is now largely cast as a metallic statue at Kevadia, Gujarat, just as Gandhi has been framed in his spectacles in the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan logo.

The most worrisome fact about the Modi regime’s progress, as symbolised by the stadium, is that citizens have become mere spectators to politics which has itself been reduced to a sport with corporate sponsors and fixed matches. We have gathered enough wealth to afford and build Motera-like symbols of our wealth. But they do not mean anything to our collective future. Democracy is supposed to distribute the wealth that capitalism brings in. What we have now is “election-only” democracy, with people vanishing from the intervening democratic process day-by-day. The cost of the popularity of the leadership is its disconnection from the struggles of the average Indian.
While democracy narrowly survived death in the last US elections, with the Democrats narrowly defeating Trumpism, India might represent the next challenge where democracy will have to evolve to back away from the divisive, incompetent, religiously-aligned autocracy that our electoral processes have let us slide into.

The best way to understand our democracy’s health is to observe the political processes around us and cross check them with the rule book: Our Constitution. Just as American democracy defines itself by “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, the pillars of Indian democracy are “liberty, justice, equality and fraternity”.

Liberty is now subject to where you stand in the power hierarchy. If you are a prime minister, you are not answerable for internal and external misgovernance. The ruling elite — a combination of the rich and the religious — can suffocate ordinary citizens who raise their voice, while they themselves can sell the country in the name of reforms and condone religious vigilantism. A tweet can land you in jail. While you can still practise your own religion or faith, Parliament is now clearly discriminating on the basis of religion. Triple talaq, the division of Jammu and Kashmir, CAA-NRC — one after another, there has been an organised effort to demean Muslims.

Equality is no longer a relevant value; we don’t mind a hierarchical society with a feudal mindset. There is growing support to ideologically accept inequality to be the “real truth” of life in the name of religious nationalism. Competitiveness and individualism are the grand experiments of the era of globalisation. But India is no America that it can digest these values. It is still a country of communities as made amply clear in public protests or the exhibition of solidarity with migrant workers walking home — both supported by the spirit of service in the form of langars.

Justice has become a distant dream. While billionaire raj and corporate lobbies drive us away from any possibility of economic justice, social justice has gone out of political debate in the name of meritocracy. And we had better not comment on the arbitrariness of the judiciary and systems of justice. There are no “angry young men and woman” asking for justice; those who do are either ridiculed or jailed.

Fraternity is the value most attacked. It is replaced by indifference towards other sections of Indian society. We are not ready to connect with each other anymore. The coronavirus arrived almost as if to justify this alienation. Farmers agitating around Delhi can be simply ignored. Beyond indifference, there is growing hostility on the basis of religion and class. Nationalist sermons have failed to generate any new spirit of fraternity.
Gandhiji believed that India is a country of the poor, belonging to the poor, while the Modi regime says that India and Indians are destined to become rich and powerful. Our per capita income and the middle class do not reflect the aspirant India as advertised. We are falling back to the “Hindu rate of growth” of the ’60s. The economy and democracy have been consistently sliding downwards in the last few years or so.
The Narendra Modi stadium now stands as a symbol for excluding people from the political process. No democracy has ever survived without people shaping it with consistent effort.

The remedy is to walk away from the hype of the Modi stadium and back to the values represented by the Sabarmati Ashram. It may just be the smallest but most important march that Indians could make.

The writers are associated with the Socialist Party (India).

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