Populism has swept the collective consciousness of the Indian masses in general and educated middle class in particular. Whatever is fancy and suits the wish list of middle class in the urban pockets is nowadays being advocated aloud without the cost-benefit analysis of the issue. This populism, or better to call it populist rhetoric, is writ large today in the power corridors, judiciary and media alike.
When Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi bluntly suggested to tear apart the ordinance of the Union Cabinet against debarring convicted law makers, he was seen to be taking a moral high ground. However, he was just responding to the populist rhetoric that was threatening to get the voices louder on the issue.
Rahul Gandhi though had a reason to side with the populist rhetoric, as the then main opposition party that did not contest the Ordinance or the Bill, rather just suggested a few changes here and there, wanted to stump the government on the issue with backstabbing. After all, they had failed to see the larger threat to democracy if every convicted or charge-sheeted law maker is debarred from the House and prevented to contest electoral process.
Having sniffed the fact that the then BJP Parliamentary Board had planned a march to the President against the Ordinance, the Congress Vice President was left with no choice but to triple cross the double-cross efforts of the BJP.
However, in this political one upmanship an ordinance that could have saved the democracy from many future challenges was stalled. It has never been about one Laloo Yadav going to jail or one Rasheed Masood losing his membership of Parliament that was the core issue, the core issue will always stand as to how many emerging mass leaders could be framed and political careers spoiled in the time to come.
Where is this holier-than-thou politics goading to the Indian democracy? Has the greater god for greater number of people being sacrificed for populism is a question that is threatening the future fair play in the battle of democracy. It seems now a few educated middlemen will write the destiny of the masses, even though the larger number will have a right to vote; of course vote only to those who are allowed by the few men sitting over their fate with whatever coloured vision they may be having against the uneducated but popular leaders of the country.
It seems judicial prudence and law of natural justice is being compromised, if not outrightly butchered in India, thanks to the new wave of populist rhetoric. India is not a tiny country like Singapore where a referendum democracy can work, nor could few vocal voices in the urban pockets be termed as the popular voices or voices of the masses. Unfortunately, today even a few TV news channels have the audacity to call them the ‘Nation’.
The nation, however, does not rest in the studio of a TV news channel, nor in the drawing rooms of those who watch these channels. The way India, the real India deep rooted in the semi rural and rural pockets works, if charge sheet or even being convicted is allowed to rob the democratic rights of the Indians tomorrow any rising mass leader can be framed and convicted.
Have not we seen many convicts being declared innocent after decades of trial in various courts? What if they are emerging leaders and hence being framed by the political heavy weights against whom they dared to stand?
The way Indian judiciary functions, if one is not resourceful it takes no less than 20-25 years to get a clean chit from the lower courts to the Supreme Court if one is framed with all the might. Who will compensate if a bright political career is spoiled by getting him convicted? Can the judiciary or those who are carried by populist rhetoric return someone his glorious years fighting in the courts and denied democratic rights to contest elections, even if they have masses with them?
What if the ‘Real’ public support of a mass leader comes out on the streets against his vindictive legal framing? Are we inviting social unrest and civil war in the process? These are the challenges of a large democracy like India that are unique only to this part of the world. So, imagining Singapore or the USA and making a populist statement on cleansing the Indian system in general and politics in particular is simply bullshitting.
It seems in every walk of life whether it is judiciary or the media one is either guided by the populist rhetoric or just plain subconscious desire of 15 minute of fame that drives our collective consciousness. And that is something which threatens to derail the democratic process of the country, curtail the civil rights and deny judicial prudence and law of natural justice.
Take for example, ‘None of the Above’ option while electing a candidate in the elections. It may not have much impact in the rural pockets, but in the urban constituencies where the voices leading to populist rhetoric are louder, it may create a unique situation where the constituencies will either be represented by a real tiny mandate or it will go to polls again and again only to get the candidates discarded. The question is who will bear the cost of the repetitive elections? Or does the wisdom of a few drawing room experts think we Indians are fools to go to polling booths, stand in queue for hours only to exercise the right to refuse all?
These are all fancy thoughts that sound unique, ideal and revolutionary at face value. But scratch the surface, dig deeper into the issues that this country confronts on a day-to-day basis and one finds in the name of creating a clean society we are sowing the seeds of political and social unrest. Right to reject or right to recall is a thought that just does not fit into a large, heterogeneous society like India. The architect of the Indian democracy and constitution were not fools who did not address it the way it is being addressed now.
The alternate voices in politics and other walks of life have always raised their heads in every society. The unique problem with India today is that these alternative voices that raise many questions without themselves having any rational answer are increasingly taking the centre stage. And that is something which threatens to drive the nation not on the merit of issues & agenda but populist rhetoric. If not nipped in the bud, such media orchestrated populist rhetoric also threatens to rob the sanity out of the society.