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Indian Pusillanimous League

Pratap Bhanu Mehta | Swaraj Aur Samvidhan<br> In the end one cannot avoid concluding that moving the IPL out reveals so much about Indian democracy.

There is a sense in which moving the IPL out of India is a ringing indictment of the Indian state. Admittedly India is in a bad neighbourhood and will be the target of violence. Our democracy is a mind bogglingly complex logistical exercise. All risks of violence have to be weighed. But in the end one cannot avoid concluding that moving the IPL out reveals so much about Indian democracy.

What does it reveal? First,that the institutional articulation of this democracy remains fragile. The challenge to it does not come from anti-democrats or potential dictators,but from elements in the system that might use violence and intimidation at the local level to affect electoral results. This is why democracy now needs such extensive paraphernalia of security. This is why we hold elections over such a long period,violating the crucial normative principle of the simultaneity of voting. This is the idea that each voter should cast their vote independently,with the same information base,and with no knowledge of trends in voting elsewhere. If this is a democracy that works,it works only because the sinews of coercion keep the electoral process together. By acknowledging that the security needs of elections are so overwhelming that no other event of importance can take place for a month,we have in a sense,put life hostage to security. We may say this is a price worth paying for democracy. But this belies the question of why we have come to such a pass that this price is necessary in the first place.

This move is also an indictment of the Indian state. To put it bluntly,we are now in a frame of mind as a state where we do not have the slightest self-confidence in our abilities to defend ourselves. The corrosive effect of this lack of self-confidence will,in future years,arouse only more contempt for the state in both its enemies and in its friends. To be sure we do not want reckless bravado and grandstanding. But the idea that we do not have a government that can instil confidence in its citizens that it has the capacity to hold a major sporting event is preposterous.

What are we saying? Let us say,for argument’s sake,that this election throws up a really messy verdict. We need to have fresh elections at the time of the Commonwealth Games. Will we hold elections hostage to the event? Or will we cancel the event? By creating the conditions for the Games to move,the state has simply humiliated itself,and sent a signal about its own diminished capacity. One could argue that this is simply the state being honest. But this honesty would mean something only if the state intended to do something about this diminished capacity.

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The authority of every state and the foundations of its legitimacy are,in part,deeply psychological. It is supposed to be a source of reassurance that it can provide the basic framework for normal human activity to proceed. When it reveals itself to be so fragile,it cuts off that basic reassurance. Some might say the IPL is merely a public spectacle. So what? This response misunderstands the foundation of state authority. If a state cannot even secure public spectacle,what else can it hope to secure? These public spectacles are the visual representation that our public spaces are secure,that the rituals and forms through which we experience being part of a public are an occasion for celebration,not for anxiety.

In part,the state has tied itself in knots. On the one hand,it was to reassure everyone. India is safe. India is not Pakistan. India is strong and rising. The rhythms of life can go on. Investment should not be deterred. On the other hand,it keeps reminding us that we are at war. The routine act of holding our democracy together is now so onerous that much that we value must be put on hold. The nature of our enemy is so complicated that we have to take all precaution. India is cautious and afraid.

It might be tempting to think that there is a grain of truth in both these stories. But the point is that the state,in the way it articulates its position,gives a sense of being insincere about both. At the slightest pretext it gives up the story that it can defend its citizens. On the other hand,nothing its does conveys a sense of urgency about anything. If the crisis is bad,let us admit it and act accordingly. If not,why add to a sense of anxiety about ourselves? It is not the acts of violence,it is how we respond that defines us. The Indian state has shown that it is both patently weak and insincere.

First published on: 24-03-2009 at 03:31:32 pm
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