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Bharat, An Evolving, Chaotic but Vibrant Democracy

From being ‘gana rajyas’ to going high-tech in campaigns & voting, Bharat has covered huge space and willing to experiment with spiritual democracy

Dr Aniruddh Subhedar

Like people, nations too have a distinct nature, character and history of their own. Bharat is no exception to this and has its own uniqueness in all these three aspects. Studying Bharat diligently and objectively, one will find that ideal of democracy and freedom to choose leaders has been ingrained in her ethos since times immemorial.

No doubt the modern democratic institutions of Bharat took their form after British colonization but roots of democracy in Bharat are as old as it gets. When Greece was enjoying its city states, in Bharat there were Gana-RajyasGanas means the people making up a state and Gana-Rajya translates to “rule of people”. Scholars tell us that even before Gana-Rajyas, during evolution of Bharatiya civilization, in Vedic period we find existence of assemblies like SabhaSamiti and Vidath, which used to administer people and whose leaders were elected by the people only.

The Ganas were basically units as cohesive as families or clans. Later when monarchy became the norm in Bharat, it was not too far away from this basic ideal. The word ‘praja‘, which means people / subjects, literally translates to ‘offspring’ or children. In essence, Raja (King) was supposed to take care of his people as his own children. And, even during that era of monarchy, at the village level panchayats or village assemblies, usually made up of community elders, were thriving in Bharat; respected and accepted by the State.

Therefore, transition to modern democratic political setup was not too hard for Bharatiyas. As soon as Bharat freed itself from colonial clutches, it made universal adult franchise one of the defining characteristics of its political system.

In Letter & Practice

In modern times, democratic ethics are too well entrenched in Bharat’s polity in letter and practice. Preamble of Bharat’s Constitution pledges to constitute the country into “a democratic republic”. Free and fair elections are bedrock on which this democratic systems stands upon.

The Constitution ensures that there is a permanent and independent body- ‘Election Commission of India’ (ECI) which has the power to control and regulate elections to parliament, state legislatures, office of president and vice-president. Measures relating to elections are so stringent that once ‘Model Code of Conduct’ is implemented by the Election Commission, the government is prohibited from making any announcements or policy decisions that could potentially influence people’s voting choices. This means government cannot start any populist scheme and even government bodies cannot start any recruiting process.

Provisions of Constitution are not a dead letter. In fact, it’s followed quite strictly. General elections in Bharat are not some run-of-the-mill affair; it is of gigantic proportions. General elections in 2024 Bharat will be the largest exercise ever in the world surpassing even the one held in 2019. Total 90 million people are eligible to vote in this election. It will be the longest-held general election in Bharat (except for the first general election of Independent Bharat in 1951-52) spanning over 44 days.

One of the reasons Bharat’s democracy has endured test of time is the seriousness about voting rights and fair elections. Otherwise in Bharat’s neighbourhood there’s hardly a country which can pride itself as a true democracy. In fact, in Bharat’s west, it is hard to find a truly functioning democracy till one crosses the Middle-Eastern countries. Being one of the most populous and diverse countries in the world, Bharat plays a major role in ensuring that democracy and human rights are secure in South East Asia.

Bharatiyas take their right to vote seriously and don’t like anyone meddling with it. The closest Bharat came to dictatorship was during 1975-77 emergency imposed by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. But what preceded and followed this 21-month stint with dictatorship is worth mentioning here. Among the other reasons, the immediate cause of Indira Gandhi implementing emergency was that the courts concluded that malpractices were used in her election and declared it as null and void.

Indira Gandhi paid the price for imposing the Emergency when she and her party Congress were wiped out in elections post-emergency. Interestingly enough, she was re-elected by the people again and later her son Rajiv Gandhi won highest number of seats in Bharat’s political history owing to sympathy wave caused by Indira Gandhi’s assassination by Khalistani terrorists. It shows that Indira Gandhi always had a political stature but even Prime Minister of her standing wasn’t spared by Bharatiya people when she tried to curb their freedom.

Credibility of Election Process

Given the vast geographical area and size of the electorate, ECI has modernized the process by using Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) for polling and counting votes for more than two decades. Making the process more credible and faster, EVMs were first used in 1980s, and they are used in general elections since 2004.

In 2017 many Opposition parties like Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party, Aam Admi Party harboured doubts on credibility of EVMs after they lost elections in some states. It was alleged that BJP is tempering with EVMs. The allegations went as bizarre as claiming that EVMs (a self-contained, stand-alone machine, lacking any networking capability) is being hacked via internet. A leader of AAP even brought a machine to the Delhi Assembly which looked like EVM and demonstrated how it could be hacked. All this hullabaloo was silenced when in May-June 2017 the ECI invited these parties and gave them the real EVM to prove that it could be hacked. Parties like AAP did not even participate in the challenge, while other two other parties, CPI (M) and NCP, who sent their representatives said that “they just came to understand how EVMs work”.

Even without going into technical know-how the allegations against EVMs could be easily dismissed by looking at the fact that even in these 2017 elections, BJP lost in Punjab and Congress won. AAP won Punjab state elections in 2022 and Delhi State Assembly Elections in 2020. In the state of Bengal and in many South Indian states BJP has lost the elections though the same EVMs were used. Interestingly in Delhi AAP won 62 out of 70 seats in state assembly but in Lok Sabha elections, all seven seats of Delhi were bagged by BJP.

Clearly, it’s not EVMs which make parties win or lose, it is only and only the voters’ preferences. Voters were making the choices whom to vote and whom to vote out, whom to choose for State assemblies and whom for the national government. And these choices were also reflected in various pre-poll / exit poll voter surveys by various news channels and independent organisations.

Bharatiya voters are very mature and calculative when it comes to voting to elect their representatives. It is not possible for one person or party to emerge as dictator with such electorate. Such attempts, or even a small hint of arrogance from any political party, have only resulted in voters’ wrath in the past.

As it is, real character of a person can be assessed by comparing whether his pledges, professes and practices were in sync or not. With respect to democracy, the written law, electoral practices and the history of democratic ethics in Bharat all align with each other. Any meddling with the democratic institutions is going to raise protest from one quarter or another. Journalists, intellectuals, national and international commentators make their predictions about India, but ultimately it’s the voters of Bharat who have the final say.

Inadequacies, chaos, charges and counter-charges notwithstanding, Bharat goes to polls in next few weeks to elect a new government at centre for next five years. Over to the voter!

(Author is Assistant Professor, Department of Media Studies, Gurugram University, Gurugram)

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