A former President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln, famously said, “Democracy is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” This is also the object of the Indian Constitution. But have the ordinary people of India ever really been a true part of this democracy?
In political terms, yes, people of country do vote every five years to decide who is going to run the Government. In 2014 as well, 31% of Indians who have voting rights elected the NDA government headed by Narendra Modi, thus giving it a mandate for five years. So, we do have political democracy. But do people of India have any say in the functioning of the government? Is democracy limited to the process of elections or does it also fulfill the social and economic aspirations of the people? When we say that India is a democracy, besides political institutions and processes being democratic, shouldn’t the Indian government also uphold the basic tenets of our Constitution, i.e., equality, liberty, fraternity, secularism and justice? Do we have really have liberty of faith and worship?
The present government is not secular –and it does not pretend to be that. According to the data supplied by Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju, in January 2015 alone, a total of 72 incidents of communal violence were reported in the country, in which 11 people were killed and 218 others were injured. Minister of State for Food Processing Niranajan Jyoti , five-time MP Yogi Adityanath, four-time MP Sakshi Maharaj,Sadhvi Prachi — all have become famous for their repeated communal utterances. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who has been a Parliamentarian for the last 37 years (thrice in the Lok Sabha, thrice in the Rajya Sabha), suggests that the Gita should be made the national granth. Union Minister Maneka Gandhi, a seven-time MP, claims that the funds generated by ‘illegal slaughter of milking animals’ are used for terrorism. MoS for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said that those who cannot live without eating beef should go to Pakistan. While our Prime Minister tweets about a variety of inconsequential events, he seems happy and comfortable with this behaviour of his MPs, considering that he hasn’t uttered a single word condemning it.
While secularism is widely debated in India, especially because of the pretentiousness of opposition parties vis-à-vis secularism, equality of the citizens of India is the most under-debated issue on TV channels. In fact, equality is the most abused word in our country. Mr. Narendra Modi projects himself as a Man of Development. Do the fruits of economic development reach all Indian citizens, especially the poor and the deprived sections of society? Privatisation of education and health has snatched away the right to education and the right to health care from poor people. The 2015-16 budget allocation for the crucial education sector was slashed significantly by nearly 17 per cent as compared with the Budget Estimates of 2014-15. India’s public health care system is patchy, with underfunded and overcrowded hospitals and clinics, and inadequate rural coverage. When it comes to allocation for the health-care sector, successive governments in India have always been stingy. Arun Jaitley’s 2015-16 budget has allocated Rs 33,152 crores to the health sector. In his Budget in July 2014, Jaitley had earmarked Rs 30,645 crores for the same, but the actual 2014 budget for the health sector was eventually slashed by 20% due to fiscal strains. It remains to be seen whether Jaitley slashes the 2015 health budget as well. While Modi launched the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Andolan, the allocation to the Women and Child Development ministry’s budget for 2015-16 has been slashed by 44 percent.
Government has removed the price cap on 108 essential drugs at the behest of the pharmaceutical industry. A certain anti-cancer drug which used to cost Rs. 8,000 earlier now costs more than a lakh rupees.
Through the land acquisition bill/ordinance, Government wants to acquire land from farmers and tribals without consent and proper rehabilitation. Farmer-suicide cases have shot through the roof in the last year. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), which promises 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in every financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work, has also been diluted. The scheme’s performance in 2014-15 has been dismal, with less than 3 per cent households completing the promised 100 days of employment, over 70 per cent of the wages being delayed and households being provided employment for just over one-third of the mandated 100 days. Despite MNREGA’s poor performance, the overall budget for the Rural Development Ministry in 2015-16 has been slashed by around Rs 10,000 crores as against 2014-15.
In the name of labour reforms, the Modi government has targeted the basic principle of equal pay for equal work. While doing away with Inspector raaj, the industrialist himself will become the inspector in Modi-raaj. Irrespective of whether industry is implementing labour laws or not, whether minimum wages are paid or not, the industrialist has to just file a self declaration form confirming ‘all is well’. Punishment for violation of labour laws has also been diluted. For example, violation of the Apprenticeship Act now carries a paltry fine of Rs 500 per violation as opposed to earlier provisions of imprisonment. Rajasthan recently amended its labour laws, which enables industries to hire and fire much more wantonly without any legal obligations. Earlier, companies with up to 100 employees were allowed to lay them off without official sanction. Now this number has been increased to 300. The Modi Government’s Labour Ministry has proposed that such laws will be implemented all over India. This Government hasn’t even spared children. The Cabinet approved changes in the child labour act which allowed children below fourteen years to work in family enterprises, undermining their fundamental right to education.
Thus equality of citizens is fast becoming a thing of dreams, with the lower economic sections of our society being attacked from every direction.
The next tenet of our Constitution, namely ‘fraternity’, refers to a feeling of brotherhood and a sense of belonging among the people. It leaves no room for regionalism, communalism, casteism, etc., all of which hinder unity. However, campaigns like Love Jihad and Ghar Wapsi, which were actively taken up by BJP/RSS/VHP, undermine our country’s fraternity. Brahmanical rule and violence based on class, caste and gender is severely undermining the unity of our country. While Congress was a pseudo secular party, BJP portrays itself as a nationalist party but in reality is as pseudo in its nationalism as Congress was in its secularism. Anybody who raises a voice against the BJP is declared anti-national and asked to go to Pakistan. At this point of time, everyone from those who oppose the beef ban to those who are opposed to Yoga being shoved down their throats for PR sake, have been asked to go to Pakistan. One can hardly expect unity within the country when Union Ministers ask people to leave the country because of disagreements.
Justice, the fourth pillar of democracy, has become highly politicized. Appointments of judges were never without the influence of politics under the collegium system (judges appointing judges), but The National Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, 2014 further politicizesthe appointment of judges. The National judicial commission will comprise the Chief Justice of India (Chairperson); two other senior-most judges of the Supreme Court; the Union Law Minister and two eminent persons to be nominated by the Prime Minister; and the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha. The justice system has become a tool in hands of the rich and powerful. 75% of prisoners in jails are under trials because they are not the Salman Khans of the world. All police persons accused of fake encounters are reinstated in Gujarat/Rajasthan, thus jeopardizing the safety of citizens. Every Tom, Dick and Harry knew that Amit shah would be discharged from encounter cases.The media are always very keen to give a clean chit to Narendra Modi even before judiciary does that. Statutory bodies like the IB, CBI, CVC, CIC, NHRC, etc, have been subverted by appointing people who toe the political line.
Corporate houses, which now control the media, politics, the executive and the judiciary, are having the last laugh. They are controlling all our resources like land, water, and minerals. Top 5 richest Indians have half of the nation’s billionaire wealth. They totally control all our banks. The banking sector is in the grip of bad debt by corporate houses: 14 lakh crores rupees of tax payers’ money given as advance tithe rich and mighty is swallowed by corporate houses. They continue to lead lavish lives, but banks and government fail to attach their properties.
RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan says “The total write-offs of loans made by the commercial banks in the last five years is Rs 1,61,018 crore, which is 1.27 per cent of the GDP, would have allowed 1.5 million people to send their children to get a full university degree from the top private universities in the country, with all expenses paid. That’s the size of the write-offs that we are talking about.”
“Sab ka sath, sab ka vikas” was an election jumla. The present government is of corporates, by corporates and for corporates. The proximity of the Congress party to corporate houses, including Dhirubhai Ambani, is not unknown. But we are in an era of open lobbying by corporate houses. More than 400 crores are believed to have been spent on the general election of 2014 by certain corporate houses. In return, the Narendra Modi government in Gujarat doled out thousands of acres of land worth crores of rupees to corporate groups at throwaway prices — as low as rupees two per square meter, many a time breaking all rules and flouting norms. After the election, the mask of being Messiah of common people is not required any more for the next five years and Narendra Modi government is wasting no time in implementing its pro corporate agenda. Adani replaces foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and visits 18 foreign countries with Prime minister to sign business deals in foreign countries. Narendra Modi embraces corporate houses in broad daylight. India has before never witnessed such an open nexus between politicians and corporate houses.
A strong opposition is essential in any democracy, but India’s opposition parties are at this time little more than silent spectators. It is for the people who dream of Achhe Din to demand their rightful place in India’s democracy.
Edited by Mukul Dube