Talking Turkey

Violence is a way of life for anti-socials. But in today’s India violence is a way of life for corrupt politicians as well. It doesn’t matter whether they belong to a left party or a right party. Criminalisation of politics in India’s multi-party parliamentary culture is so deep-rooted that nobody can think of polls without guns. Faced with unprecedented violent attacks in the recently held 3-tier rural polls in Bengal, CPM that lost power to its arch rival Trinamool Congress just two years ago, began to cry itself hoarse about the ‘rape of democracy’. In truth marxists are now being paid with the same coin by their opponents who are in charge. The red hooligans under their able leadership did it for more than three decades. And now the green hooligans are taking their turn making it impossible even for non-partisan dissenters to voice their dissent through their everyday existence.

In a land of chronic unemployment foot soldiers are always available in plenty for political parties that can go to any length to remain in power. They talk of democracy in which they have very little faith as most of the functioning democratic institutions have been crippled beyond repair in recent years. Of late what is in news is ‘paid news’! The Election Commission noticed the menace of ‘paid news’ as early as 2004 general elections itself and it became an open secret during general elections of 2009. And marxists are no saints. They too indulged in the malpractice of the day called ‘paid news’ and contributed in no minor way in ‘raping’ democracy. What exfacie appears from the report on issues related to ‘paid news’ by the Standing Committee on Informations Technology, is anything but horrifying. How ‘paid news’ played havoc in the last Gujarat assembly election was revealed in details by a sub-committee constituted by the Press Council of India. In plain words election means ‘money and muscle’. What is true of Bengal, locally, is equally true for India at the national level. Talking of erosion of democratic values and norms makes little sense in the prevailing political atmosphere. Democracy exists for a limited few. And for the vast majority of population democracy has no meaning other than periodically exercising adult franchise. The fruits of democracy are enjoyed by the rich who don’t really go to booths to cast their votes.

For all political parties, left and right alike, it is now one-point agenda—how to fight election and win election. The reason is simple : election is the gateway to reach the exchequer, from local bodies to the centre. Poll-related violence creates a situation for contending parties to update their roster of martyrs. And martyrs are invariably subalterns. As it happens in every crossfire, be it communal riot or partisan warfare, common people die, in most cases for wrong reasons. Strangely enough, CPM’s women wing is now shedding tears for the rape victims but they didn’t find anything wrong in the brutal murder and rape of a young girl activist in Singur. Nor did they raise their voice against multiple rapes and murders during the Nandigram agitation.

Parties in power are bound to resort to strong arm tactics to silence opposition in the absence of mass movement for a greater cause. In the name of democracy what they have been practising over all these years is authoritarianism. Congress did it locally and nationally. And Opposition parties too didn’t change the rules of the game when they themselves became arbiters. In today’s parliamentary culture some are victims of fortune and some are victims of misfortune.

The idea of party dictatorship and hegemony seems to have destroyed democratic space otherwise guaranteed by the Constitution for ordinary people. People everywhere, almost in all states, are trying to get rid of party high-handedness and monopolisation of powers by parties without success. Recurring attempts by the civic society and concerned citizens—liberals, democrats to be precise—to protect whatever remains of democracy so far failed to produce reassuming results.

Partyless democracy is not possible, it is not working anywhere in the world. But party-oriented democracy is anything but representative democracy, particularly in a backward country like India. Democrats don’t know how to resolve the riddle. Since the days of Jayprakash Narayan to Anna Hazare, no concrete alternative line has emerged to check the development of authoritarian tendencies in the corridors of power.

Once many thought the rise of regionalism could thwart authoritarianism and democracy meaningful for the marginalised. But the reality is otherwise. Regional parties are parties with narrow vision and they are no less ambitious and hegemonic in attitudes than national entities. And democrats see no valid reason to back maoists either because maoists too believe in dictatorship of party. Whether civil rights groups would be allowed to function freely and voice their dissent in a maoist land is open to question.

The point of issue is how to define democracy. On the one hand the Constitution grants surfeit of democracy. But in the field people see in every part of the country the continuing shrinkage of democratic and civic rights. Unless political forces on the left champion the cause of vast majority beyond election, nothing would change for the better. Not that people are not resisting the state onslaught on the systematic attakcs on their rights and livelihood. They are doing it under local initiatives, without relying on party. But spontaneous outbursts are no answer to institutional authoritarianism. Without a long-term goal to reach no social movement can sustain itself for long. Marxists too have abandoned their long-term goal, they too resort to ad-hocism to keep their flag flying. As a result they have no option but to talk Turkey, at the time of stress and strain, particularly at a time when they are at receiving ends.

Vol. 46, No. 4, Aug 4-10, 2013

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