India has gone through a rough patch in the last few days. Two young Dalit girls were raped and hung from a tree in the Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh. The Delhi police attacked and tried to remove families of the four Dalit rape victims who had been abducted in a village in Haryana, who were camping in the capital for justice. A Muslim young man was killed by a right-wing organisation agitating against morphed photographs of Shivaji and others.
In the midst of all this, civil society has been organising protests and statements and meetings against the perpetrators of the violence. The opposition has disappeared. And one is referring to the opposition because a democracy, and particularly one as big as India, cannot function without an effective counter. Governments, no matter how streamlined and efficient they believe themselves to be, cannot think for all of India that has to be represented by opposition parties whose work then is to expose the fault lines, mobilise opinion in and outside Parliament, and demand action.
The Congress party has sunk into a deep morass. Congress President Sonia Gandhi has been forced to take note of the fact that her son, Rahul Gandhi, is not really acceptable to the party, and has appointed a seasoned politician from Karnataka to lead the party in Parliament. One is not clear whether she is aware of the wave of hatred that routed the Congress from this country, and the people’s continuing anger with India’s oldest party. If she is, she certainly is doing nothing about it. If she is not, then the ignorance itself amounts to hara-kiri.
The Left parties have almost opted out, with their only mission being to survive somehow in the three states —West Bengal, Tripura, and Kerala — where they exist. Their response time is so long that often statements are issued when the country is already past the crisis, and plunged into another. And the structure and functioning is so bureaucratic that it has become unresponsive and insensitive to the aspirations, concerns and demands of the people at large.
The regional parties of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar sank like a stone in the Lok Sabha elections. But if one looks at the attitude of these warlords, one would think that they are in power not just in the states, but at the centre itself. The arrogance is visible in the dark, and the swagger even more exaggerated if that was possible. Samajwadi party chief Mulayam Singh is perhaps, the worst, with the violence in Muzaffarnagar followed by the hanging of the two young girls in his state. His remarks ‘men will be men’ drew stern admonishment from United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
The people per se are trying to do their little bit but then as the Pune incident showed, there is so much and nothing more that civil society alone can do. The mobs that were allowed the run of the streets of Pune striking terror and torching vehicles, finally caught hold of the innocent IT professional and beat him to death. The opposition parties have not issued a single statement, nor sent a delegation to the spot, or to the chief minister for full, transparent justice, or for that matter to that young boy’s inconsolable family.
It is imperative for the opposition space to be vibrant and functioning, otherwise governments become autocratic and tyrannical even in a democracy. Perhaps even more so in a democracy, as without challenge and without accountability, the worst decisions are taken. Indian federalism has grown in leaps and bounds, but unfortunately after good starts, many of the regional parties have been completely taken over by autocratic families and their set of muscle and moneyed men. Inner party democracy no longer exists, and the writ of the leader on top prevails. This has slowly seeped the vitals of the political parties that really now resemble a hollow carcass. And is reflected in inaction and statements of the Mulayam Singh kind.
The result is that while the space is there for federal parties and a vibrant opposition, as reflected in even these elections, the current lot just do not inspire confidence. Where they did, they have been re-elected, as Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu, Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal and Naveen Patnaik in Orissa. It now remains to be seen whether an opposition will emerge from the ashes of the electoral debacle and strengthen democracy? That is the million-rupee question to which no one has a definite answer yet. A couple of months, however, will reveal all.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 7th, 2014.
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