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A political stock taking of the indian Republic

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As India celebrates seventy two years of being a Republic, it provides a moment for reflection on the journey so far travelled and the road that lies ahead. Five years ago (2017) the concluding statement in a Status Report on Indian Democracy (based on a survey based public opinion analysis) published by CSDS-Lokniti, is relevant even today. The Report said, For many, accessing the state for basic needs constitutes the only choice and not one among a set of different options. In these circumstances, the responsiveness of the democratic state is critical to the justice and welfare dimensions of democracy that citizens uphold and cherish. The COVID-19 pandemic and the manner in which it impacted the lives of citizens only adds greater weight to this aspiration and expectation of the people of India. Truly, even after three decades of economic reforms and liberalisation of the economy, the government is not merely a facilitator....for some sections of society it is also the provider of basic needs.

A political satock taking of the indian Republic

As a Democratic Republic that has moved on the path of progress in the last seventy two years, there is much that we can be proud of. One notices, over the years, both the deepening of the democratic process and the expanding of the democratic space. Elections have seen a relatively high turnout with all sections of society actively participating. With the emergence of a competitive party system, each election, either at the state or national level, is witnessing an intense electoral competition. The federal system has seen a new dynamism in the relationship between the centre and the states. Frameworks are being increasingly contested. The political conflicts between the two levels of government are becoming frequent and more intense. The states of India, are increasingly becoming the new centre of Indian politics. The current debate in the country on the role of the All India services and the views of the centre and the state in this regard, are a case in point. The importance and impact of state level elections on national politics is a case in point.

Yet, the political report card of the Indian Republic also indicates major grey areas. Has India become an election only democracy is an important question to raise. Two years after the inauguration of the Republic (in 1952) we had our first general elections. In the last seven decades, we have had seventeen elections to the Lok Sabha and more or less a similar number to each of the state assemblies. Elections have become like a festival in India and are the most visible signs of the working of Indian democracy. The high voter turnout in elections may be on account of the fact that election day is one moment when the citizens of India assert their rights as participants in the democratic process. Have we, in the Indian Republic, done enough to expand the avenues and opportunities for active citizen participation in the working of Indian democracy? While we focus on the processes in our Republic, do we pay equal attention to the outcomes of the efforts of those in power?

The idea of democracy has no doubt captured the popular imagination, In surveys conducted by CSDS-Lokniti, public response has been consistent in endorsing the need for India to be a democracy.

Yet, one notices that the same intensity of support is absent in their assessment of the working of democracy. Thus, while the idea of democracy may be very strongly entrenched, the imagination of that democracy leaves much to be desired. This implies a yawning gap between the promise and the performance. Have we become a Republic which is witness to a promise overload and a performance deficit? Does this explain the phenomenon, especially in many states, of voters voting out the ruling party in the subsequent election?

Recent political debates in the country have led one to raise the question whether we are witnessing an intense polarisation within society? Are we focusing much more, on we and they rather than on us? We have been off late heard of my history and your history. The dialogue is unfortunately not on our history! Our Republic was built on the pillars of Unity with Diversity. Recognizing, respecting and celebrating the fact of diversity even as we ensure a total commitment to the Unity and Integrity of the Republic is clearly the need of the hour. What one appears to notice in public debates is the intensity of polarization of positions where we take a stand to defend a pre-determined conclusion we have already arrived at! The deepening divide among people is a visible by-product of this intense polarisation.

The last two years have seen extremely difficult times for the citizens of India. The pandemic has clearly taken its toll and impacted on the daily life of citizens. For many, ways of living have undergone a dramatic transformation in the past two years. People have re-defined their priorities, primacy to concerns of health-care are transparently visible as are an increasing focus on family bonding and emotional support. With a change in priorities and life-styles across sections of society, is the Indian Republic, gearing up to the aspirations and challenges of a new tomorrow? The citizen of India has clearly invested in Indian democracy. In the light of this investment, the citizen is patiently waiting for the democratic dividend. While achievement has fallen short of aspirations, the citizen lives in hope that the constitutional system established by the Republic, seven decades ago, will see the return of investment on this hope of a bright democratic future. Will the entry into the 73rd year of our Republic provide some hope of this return on investment?

(Dr. Sandeep Shastri is a keen student of Indian politics. Dr Shastri is a researcher on politics for the last four decades)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of OneIndia and OneIndia does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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