DEMOCRACY, THIS!

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 21 Jul 2018 10:26:27


‘I appeal to all the honourable Members to keep in mind that this is not a public meeting; this is an occasion to debate over the no-confidence motion. When you speak, you please state your point in calmness, and if you want to make an allegation, please do so only when you have a proof to support your allegation. There is no need for any shouting ...’ 

- Lok Sabha Speaker Mrs. Sumitra Mahajan, presiding over the debate on no-confidence motion against the Modi Government.

DESPITE this appeal-cum-warning by the honourable Speaker, which she made when Congress leader Mr. Rahul Gandhi was absolutely shouting himself hoarse during his speech, there was only a marginal good effect on the congregation. Speakers continued to shout instead of speak. They strained their vocal cords beyond imagination, flung insults on one another, and made allegations and charges left-right-and-centre without bothering to see if they had an appropriate proof or not. And all this happened as the whole nation watched on the live television coverage of the event.

To say the least, whatever was happening in the Lok Sabha was just a miniature picture of what is happening generally in the country -- of course in the name of democracy and in the name of freedom of expression as a sacred fundamental right of all, in the name of a sublime principle of agreeing to disagree, in the name of the so-called faith that democracy is a marketplace of free-flowing ideas that may run counter to one another. The whole scene is noisy and impatient and even arrogant in almost all the nuances, and of course argumentative without serving any particular purpose. Everybody is shouting at everybody else; nobody is ready to listen to anybody, a sign of a cantankerous debate, a senseless acrimony.

If we listen to the sounds of Indian society from a high perch in space, we will certainly come across the cantankerousness we have adopted as a new religion -- in the name of democracy. If ‘A’ makes a point, then all others are all eager to pounce on him and douse not just his voice but possibly him as well. Technically, all this is categorised as democratic discourse, but spiritually, the whole thing is a complete contradiction of anything that comes close to democracy. For, the fundamental belief in democracy is that we allow everybody to state his or her point without shouting, and then support or oppose him or her on the strength of systematic and considered opinion and response -- without causing insult to him or her or without invading the susceptibilities and vulnerabilities of the person or group. So, the democratic nature of debate allows everybody to state his point and also listen to the other and often contrarian point of view.

But such a debate hardly takes place in our society. Everybody seems all eager to pick up a verbal fight with everybody else. Everybody is also eager to take out rallies, hold demonstrations, fling insults and also stones, attack the opponents, mostly perceived, even physically, call for bandh, assault policemen, smash buses or burn those, even flow the precious milk onto roads asking for better price, and throw expensive vegetables and other farm produces into gutters ...!

Then there also is another chapter whose pages are turned every now and then -- books whose contents are often objected to, and their copies burned and author/s attacked even physically. Of course, there are some standard books -- Manu Smriti being one -- that are often torn or burned by discarding the contents without bothering to study the detail. There are also speeches to be debunked, articles to be torn, questioners to be intimidated, history to be questioned. And all this is to be done in a very raucous and noisy manner.

Those who believed in democracy as the most inclusive system ever designed, would feel very shocked to notice the terrible cantankerousness of the present-day Indian democracy where all the fundamental principles on which the belief-system is built stand shattered. And when this is happening in a country like India that had seen centuries of healthy social debate, there is only one feeling -- of sadness.

Of course, the Indian society evolved through ages, sometimes negatively as well. And when that happened, a process of correction, too, was set in motion. That process might have become a little strong and acidic and acerbic at times. But on the whole, the evolution of Indian society as a truly democratic and inclusive entity was one process the world acknowledged and appreciated.

Today’s scenario, however, has no kinship with what used to be happening in the larger Indian society. True, all was not well there. True, there were many ills that needed correction. True, in the Indian society, there were villains, too, eager to spoil harmony. But then, there also were heroes -- to protect the democratic debate.

But even in those days when the Indian society struggled with many of its ills, it never saw the cantankerousness that is so villainously visible today. For, today, everybody is shouting at the top of his or her voice, everybody is contesting every word said by the other party. And therefore, the general atmosphere does not harbour the basic democratic principle of agreeing to disagree. For, if I am not willing to listen to the other person’s point of view and want to snuff out the different angle, then I am only destroying the democratic fibre of the society. And, worse still, I do not tolerate anybody telling me this -- that I am acting like a villain. And if there is anybody who challenges me, then I am all ready to pick up a fight till ‘the end’ -- as many people declare from rooftops these days. Democracy, this!