Delhi: Clash of the faceless and the tragedy of democracy

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There is a big gap and with each passing day, that gap is widening. The gap is between the people and their representatives, the words and the action, the promises and the performance and the reality and perception. And the more the gap is growing, the more India is getting divided.

The protest against a brutal gangrape that rocked Delhi over the weekend and refused to die down even on Monday, the first day of the week, is gradually snowballing from an emotional outburst into a larger problem. And that problem is exposing a big worry: The growing vulnerability of India's democratic institutional politics. It is not a matter of pride if India, the largest democracy in the world, today tries to repeat a Tiananmen or Tahrir Square.

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The protests at those spots were significant for they symbolised what mass upheaval in non-democracies can mean. But if India aspires to repeat those feats, it will mean something has gone wrong with its democracy. We can not afford to see a Tahrir Square for that will mean a step back for us.

But our ineffective political leaders are making such an unfortunate turn inevitable. The protest in Delhi turned awkward mainly because of three reasons. First, the police went to the offensive even when it was not required. Second, since the protest was just an aggregation of individuals and a faceless movement, it was vulnerable to outside elements and it was precisely what had happened. The state retaliated with more vigour. Third, the administration and the leadership showed a shameful indifference towards the incident and allowed it to reach a tipping point.

The Delhi clash was made inevitable by the facelessness of both sides. The problem with India's politics today is that there are lots of MPs, MLAs and ministers but hardly any leader who is capable of commanding respect. Technocrats and sycophants are never capable to allay public grievance and this is proved time and again in contemporary India, whenever there is any social tension. In the recent past, we have seen how the administration fails to quell tension in Assam, Mumbai, Bangalore and now, Delhi.

The leaders term these incidents either as a communal problem or one fuelled by foreign hands. They deploy police power or impose a ban on social networking sites to contain the protest but never find any viable solution.

If we look at three of the central leadership figures who could have played a potentially affective role in controlling the violence, President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, all of them have failed to rise to the occasion.

Starting from the Home Minister, he is perhaps the most clueless incumbent to hold that position. Shinde was appointed as the home minister after he failed to contribute anything substantial in the power sector and there is little to expect from such incumbents who get promoted just on the basis of loyalty. We have allowed the importance of a key ministry like home to be compromised. What has followed is logical. The hapless minister is even terming the demonstrators as Maoists. Shocker!

Take the case of the President. Pranab Mukherjee undoubtedly one of those last-few old-timers of Indian politics but he did not come out to make any statement to pacify the protest. This is precisely because we have politicised the institution of Presidency to the core.

And finally, the Prime Minister. The highest executive in contemporary India is such a feeble incumbent that it is no overstatement if one says that the country is running on an auto-pilot mode and crash anywhere anytime. Just see, for instance, how he kept on whispering while 'assuring the country on the protection of women'. It was not an explanation that Manmohan Singh was giving to the Opposition in the Parliament on FDI.

It was an assurance that the country needed from him as a leader, as a guardian. And the PM spoke on the matter with so much dispassion. Even if not as a Prime Minister, Singh should have shown concern as a father of three daughters. But his voice and body language, as always, ditched him.

We also have an heir apparent called Rahul Gandhi. But he is a mystery for me. He neither speaks on issues of the elderly nor the young. What he is upto? It is a dreadful thought to imagine this man as the future leader of the country!

The Delhi clash raises a crucial question: Has our obsession with electoral democracy buried the prospects of a functional democracy? Is it just the election that binds the leaders and followers for once and the rest of the time, it is free-for-all? The clashes in Lutyen's Delhi revealed how much rootless the leaders today have become and this is not just applicable with one political party. We are not fighting the British today. Actually, it is the entire political culture that has lost its credibility today. The media fills in the vacuum and fuels the outrage, which ultimately disrupts the focus on the actual issue.

If police is the final resort to find a solution in a proud democracy like ours, then I must say that this system has reached a critical phase. The police can not be blamed for it is just an arm of the state and will just carry on the orders. The worrying sign is: Has the state exhausted all its peaceful means to deal with potential problems?

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