London, July 1: The success of any democracy is dictated not just by the kind of government a country has, but how effective an alternative does the country possesses to the government in power.
Democracy flourishes when a country has a multi-party political system. Most democracies have bicameral systems like the Republicans and the Democrats in the United States or the Conservatives and the Labour in the United Kingdom, which also has third alternative in the smaller Liberal Party.
When India opted for parliamentary democracy, the founding fathers visualised a multi-party system like the one in the United Kingdom. This author had the good fortune of being an active newsperson witnessing the first three general elections under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, who dominated the Indian political scene like a colossus.
The Indian National Congress was the dominant party in the country for over two decades, and no worthwhile alternative emerged, though there were a large number of small parties, including the Jana Sangh, which later became the Bharatiya Janata Party. There was no Leader of Opposition in Parliament, which was dominated by the towering personality of Jawaharlal Nehru.
In more ways than one, Jawaharlal Nehru did everything to nurture India's young parliamentary democracy. It used to be said then that he was his own Leader of Opposition. In the development plans that he formulated, he ensured that along with the growth of wealth, there was stress on the equitable distribution of such wealth.
Along with national leaders who led the struggle for freedom, Nehru made the people of India partners and ingrained in them the importance of electing their government. He treated himself as the first servant of the people of India.
The scene that followed his passing away saw the steady diminution of Indian National Congress. It got divided, and even though Mrs. Indira Gandhi emerged as a dominant leader following the 1969 general elections, parliament still did not have a Leader of Opposition. The opposition could be seen only during street demonstrations.
Thus when the nation faced a crisis following the Allahabad High Court judgement against Mrs. Gandhi's election, the opposition parties took to the streets. In the absence of a clear alternative to the Congress, the country had to suffer a state of emergency. That is a different story though.
The nation has lived through that nightmare and moved on. Parliamentary democracy in the country has not only survived, but also emerged stronger for it. The system has also lived through periods when it had Prime Ministers like V.P. Singh and H.D. Deve Gowda who had no majority but survived by dividing the people of India.
With the emergence of National Democratic Alliance, led by the BJP and the United Progressive Alliance headed by the Congress, the country seemed to have achieved two alternatives. But the growth of a system in a multi-polar, multi-ethnic society like ours can be a slow process. The elections of 2009 have thrown up two strong national parties - the dominant Congress and the opposing BJP. Both parties are still dependent upon smaller regional ones to be able to present two political alternatives to the nation.
Congress Party leaders are working hard to restore the party to its past glory and strength. The Congress has been able to create a pool of young leaders and is led by an able Prime Minister in Manmohan Singh in whom India has placed trust. He is leading the country towards what Jawaharlal Nehru envisioned as "economic freedom".
Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani, on the other hand, leads a weakened BJP and reduced numbers of supporting smaller parties. Today's BJP, it seems, does not know itself. Is it an independent party or is it an extension of the RSS? Can it be an alternative to the Congress? It failed to project any economic policy or a development plan for the country during the recent elections. The party does not also have any pool of young leaders.
The BJP is also not able to free itself from the RSS stranglehold. Can the BJP ever become a party of the 21st century, appealing to the aspirations of a young India?
In a country where a large number of people still live below the poverty line, in a world where the country has to face a dominant global economy, it is tragic to see the country's main opposition party devoid of an ideology or a programme that can face challenges. One hopes that the BJP will recover from this almost paralytic stroke that it has suffered. .
The only other political grouping that could meet the challenge of the emerging situation, the Communist party-in all its shades finds itself in an equally great political mess. The one difference, however, is that the party has an ideology and economic philosophy. It would need to rise above its beliefs from the Stalinist era to be able to evolve into a party that can appeal to the vast majority of India's people.The emergence of Naxalite movement can well and truly be laid at the doorstep of the Communist Party (Marxist) in failing to deliver in the states where it ruled. The Communist ideology being based on violent revolution, the failure of the CPM to deliver via the route of parliamentary democracy led to the emergence of a violent Naxalite movement. It cannot be written off merely by being declared a terror outfit.
The Congress with its economic planning, its concern for the poor and disadvantaged and all inclusive secular ideology appeals to the people. It is now for the BJP and the CPM with its allied left wing supporters, to so evolve and offer an alternative like the Labour Party in Britain does to the Conservatives or vice versa.
The Communists have to grow out of their anti- Americanism and come to grips with a new emerging India. The educated youth that have made the country a global leader in a world dominated by knowledge-based industries. India is destined to do still better for it is in this field that its young dominate and meet the global challenge
India's rural scene too could witness a major change in the next few years as education and information make their way into its villages. We are already witnessing the impact of telecom in rural India. Let us also not forget that when we were a country of around 400 million in the mid sixties, we were dependent upon PL480 food imports from the US to feed ourselves. Today's India of one billion plus people not only feeds its people, but also is a net exporter of food.
It is this reality of new emerging powerful India that opposition parties like the BJP and CPM have to come to grips with. Their beliefs in archaic thoughts of Hindutva, divisiveness or Communism of Leninist era and trade unionism of a bygone age can hardly be an alternative to the Congress - the party that comes with a vision of an India a global power, secular and committed to growth which is all- inclusive.
Will these two political mainstream parties be able to rise to the occasion and face the reality of the aspirations of today's India? Can any of them adopt an economic and all inclusive ideology that offers the people a fair share in the growing national wealth? The current market driven economic policy is creating wide disparities and emergence of oligarchs.
It is now for the BJP and the CPM to set their houses in order. That has been made clear by poll verdict 2009.If the Labour party in Britain could change itself to New Labour ridding itself of octopus like trade union control to meet the challenge of a changed Thatcherite Britain, there is no reason why the CPM cannot do the same in the current Indian context. It is a challenge that can be met.
Or else come 2014 and the Indian political scene would be dominated again by the all inclusive Congress. By Prem Prakash(ANI)