If you have been feeling lately that Indian politics has become a circus,you are not alone. Officially we still are a parliamentary democracy with an elected government in charge. But,the countrys political agenda is being dictated in the streets by mango people in funny white caps who believe lynching elected leaders in the public square is the solution to Indias problems.
Cheering them on are prime time television anchors whose idea of political journalism seems limited to gathering commentators every evening to chatter away about the mobs latest victim. The victims thrown their way have come so fast and furiously that no news channel has time to conduct an independent investigation so wittingly or unwittingly, they have endorsed the mob. Political discourse these days takes place only on television and mostly without the participation of our supposed leaders. And it is becoming increasingly difficult to think of India as a serious country in the middle of a serious economic crisis.
How did we come to this? That is the easiest question to answer. No government in recent years has weakened democratic institutions more effectively than this one. It started with the emasculation of the Prime Minister. After he helped the United Progressive Alliance win re-election in 2009,he was allowed to take charge and appoint a Cabinet but it soon became clear that he could not appoint a minister or sack one without Sonia Gandhis approval. She then proceeded to give so much power to her National Advisory Council that the Cabinet became a subsidiary. The executive wing of government was reduced to a caricature.
The damage to Parliament has been more insidious and has been accomplished with the participation of every political party. Hereditary democracy is the main cause of the damage. It is an idea that originated from the Congress Party but is now the norm so Parliament,and state legislative assemblies,have become private clubs into which ordinary Indians are denied entry. This is the real cause of the rage we see in middle-class Indians who believe they have been totally excluded from the political process. When Arvind Kejriwal says that political leaders across party lines are hand in glove in subverting the system,he is not wrong.
What is not right is the manner in which he and his comrades have justified the lynch mob as a solution to our political problems. And just as we are paying the price for the weakening of democratic institutions,we will soon start paying the price for Kejriwals brand of politics. It is beyond ludicrous to believe,as his vision document suggests,that laws and economic decisions that affect the whole country should be left in the hands of local communities.
The role of elected legislatures in democratic countries is that they become the buffer between democracy and mob rule. But,Kejriwal and his high-minded colleagues appear not to have noticed this. What they recommend,perhaps unknowingly,is mobocracy. What is nearly as worrying is that their ‘vision for Indias future is devoid of a single new political or economic idea.
It should have been the job of our political leaders to debunk Kejriwals ideas but they have been too busy running for cover from his daily attacks on their character. Speaking of which I admit that it pleased me when he targeted the president of the BJP last week because our main Opposition party has played its own part in damaging democratic institutions by being a lousy Opposition party. It has been so ineffectual that it only sensed the public mood when the movement against corruption began. Then it tried to hitch its wagon to Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev. They would have leapt into Kejriwals arms if he had not made it clear that he did not want them on his team. Congress spokesmen like shrieking about India Against Corruption being the BJPs B team. It is the other way around.
What frightens me most about Kejriwal are his certainties. Only he can be right. Only his comrades can be honest. Only they represent the aam aadmi. His ideas have about them the reek of totalitarianism and if he ever,God forbid,gets a chance to implement them,I hope that the first thing he does is close down every private television channel. On second thought,he may not need to because no despot could ask for a more docile,more pliant propaganda machine.
In recent weeks I have found myself more than once thinking nostalgically about those good old days when there was only Doordarshan with its amateur efforts at disinformation. At least it had no pretensions about being anything more than a propaganda machine for the government it served. What we now have is a media monster nearly as dangerous as Kejriwal and his mango people.
Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh