Inspiring pictures of democracy were being telecast from the American shores after Barack Obama won his second presidential term. The people of the world's oldest democracy were showering praises and clapping for the incumbent and his family. No military uniforms, no counter-charges, no intervention by the judiciary, no savagery in the law-making body. The Americans elect their President in a noble manner and there is no possibility of him losing his chair at the slightest provocation. Power-building game in that country is a means to a bigger aim and that is the nation's welfare.
Our 'shielded democracy'
On the contrary, in India, which is proudly termed as the world's largest democracy, the post-election pictures are mostly disturbing. A highly shielded democracy (quite a contradictory term), leaders and parties kept under 24X7 vigilance, strict code of conduct being activated, multiple phase polls, instances of threats and violence during and after elections and parade of armed men in uniform, all speaking about an apprehensive ambience in a system in which the people supposedly have the supreme authority.
Electoral politics a means in the USA while an end in India
We Indians wish that our system should also grow on the lines of the USA. But unfortunately, that will remain a wish only for structurally we are different. Unlike in the USA, the Indian electoral politics is more an end in itself than the means and shameless muscle politics takes over once the votes get over and the voters are pushed to the periphery. This is quite unfortunate for such outcomes do not qualify a nation as a democratic in the real sense. It is just a game of power-building played periodically in which an individual does not matter. Indian democracy, at the end of the day, is an occasion of group/community activism no matter how much the suave urban electorate tries to console itself by saying that each vote matters.
They debate, we quarrel
Individuals matter in the US presidential poll and we see how two competing personality engages with each other on public platforms. It is a transparent system where the common people observe and understand their thoughts and visions and exercise their valuable ballots with great responsibility. If we are really speaking in favour of a democracy, we should ensure that its customs are followed impeccably. It must be an intelligent engagement but to give intelligence a chance, literacy and maturity must be given priority.
We believe in charisma and not objectivity
This is where we have failed. We had started with our experiment with democracy on an appreciable note. Some great minds got together to develop a weighty constitution of ideals, similar to the US experiment, but we failed to sustain the good work. It was precisely because we did not back the noble work with a democratic transformation of the highly fragmented society by means of education and universal welfare.
India had started its political journey as a one-party rule but instead of gradually developing a two-party system, the country saw a multi-party system gaining prominence. The collapse of the Congress system effected by ambitious individuals and the subsequent rise of the coalition politics in India meant that election in this country remained a community/identity-based programme.
We often regret that our democracy does more with divisive factors like caste, religion and other identities and not objective issues. This is no surprise for we have historically chosen to nurture divisive identities as the corner-stone of our politics.
Our journey of nation-building began from a family at the top and given our naive understanding of politics, we continued to admire an individual from that family even as she went on destroying the possibility of the democracy reaching the grassroots level. This is because we only admire charisma and not 'boring faces'. It was really amazing that how Indian voters felt so attracted to a single dynasty years after years even when it was left struggling to lead the nation in the right direction.
Our admiration for individuals comes with tags like Gandhi, Yadav or Patnaik but never did we bother to understand how a PV Narasimha Rao scripted his leadership. His individual leadership never appealed to us for he was not given his due by his own party.
We also could never gain from the intellectual capacity of current Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, for he remained stuck in the cul-de-sac of petty party politics. The credibility of an individual was sacrificed at the altar of power-blind party politics and the fact that he does not have the charisma meant that his objective appeal remained limited to our politically immature mind. This does not happen with Obama or Clinton.
Narendra Modi comes closest to the US-style of leadership
The closest comparison that we can draw between the US and Indian electoral politics is in Gujarat where the personality cult of Narendra Modi has dwarfed the otherwise familiar electoral formula of identity-based voting. If this transformation is possible in Gujarat, why not in other parts of India?
We need to take our democracy to the next level
It is not that America does not see identity-based voting but that is miniscule in comparison to India. Democracy passes through various stages and gains maturity. There is no doubt that democracy in India has deepened with time as there is more assertion of rights by groups and communities that were earlier cornered. But this hard-earned advantage will be squandered in no time if we do not clear the mess that our democracy has found it in today and try to improve the functioning of the maturing institution.
Party politics has blocked ways for the rise of individual leadership
The identity-based political parties and their confusing coalitions have developed such bottlenecks that it has become virtually impossible for willing individuals to rise and give a sound leadership. The parties and their supreme leaders, no matter what their intellectual or cultural qualifications are, have skilled the art of fooling masses for they know a superbly-managed client-patronage formula will help them retain the confidence of the mostly unenlightened masses on lines of identity politics. They put up cut-outs and pictures but never convey a message on their visions and thoughts.
The enlightened and educated electors, on the other hand, have become increasingly cynic towards the system. The petty power-monger parties in this country welcome this vacuum and go on consolidating their influence.
There are so many issues that a democracy need to address. The Americans are so ecstatic about the election of the first openly gay Senator in the US history. The issues of LGBT and environment mean so much in the American life. What matters for us in the largest democracy? We lend ears to politicians who do not know how Kargil and FDI are not the same. Leave aside intelligent debates, our political talks are not fit to be aired even in a distant rural rally.