Democracy in letter and spirit

Vipin Pubby

Vipin Pubby

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Are we really a fully functional and vibrant democracy?

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s comments in the United Kingdom have kicked up a row. Parliament proceedings have been disrupted this time by the ruling party MPs demanding apology from him for allegedly insulting India and Indians abroad.

Congress and other political parties have been defending Rahul Gandhi’s comments saying the ruling party MPs were confusing between the criticism of the nation and the criticism of the present government. They have also been pointing to alleged “insult” of India and Indians by prime minister Narendra Modi in his speeches abroad.

Irrespective of the claims and counter claims on the comment that the democracy in the country is in danger, the controversy has thrown up a vital question on whether we are really a fully functional and vibrant democracy?

Whether mere holding of elections on regular basis is the sole criteria for claiming to be the world’s largest democracy?

democracyThe flaws in our basic electoral process itself puts a shadow over the true spirit of democracy. Thus a party with even 31 per cent vote share can get to rule and claim to represent the entire country. Never mind the fact that over 2/3 of the citizens had not voted for it.

Obviously the vast majority of voters had not backed that party’s agenda but once in power, it takes the right not only to pursue that agenda but to impose whatever hidden agenda it might also have.

However what casts doubts over whether we are practicing true democracy in letter and spirit is the way governments function and deal with its critics and opponents.

Here are a few random examples of how democratic and even fundamental rights of the citizens are trampled on by the governments in power – and I’m talking about governments both at the centre and in the states.

Activists, political rivals and even journalists are put behind bars for years together under the draconian and outdated laws like Sedition law, criminal defamation law and the re-christened Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act which continue to be misused to prevent or discourage criticism of the government.

There are numerous examples of such laws being misused and take away civil liberties of the citizens living in a democratic country.

How would anyone justify putting someone behind bars for a four year old tweet based on a two decade old Bollywood film or jailing someone for years for making an attempt to report on a rape case.

Seditions and UAPA laws have been evoked against retired bureaucrats, judicial officers and journalists for simply raising a demand for justice.

A 22 year old girl was charged with sedition for raising slogans against the government while an octogenarian was put behind bars for alleged anti national activities and denied medicines which led to his death. Lakhs of undertrials continue to languish in jails for years and over four crore cases are pending in courts for justice.

Official data from the National Crime Records Bureau’s report on Crime statistics confirm the fact that there has been a sharp increase in booking people under these laws.

Numerous instances of obviously false encounters in which police kill and get away with extra judicial killings are among other instances where democratic rights are trampled.

Heavy equipment is used to demolish the house of a Muslim man in Prayagraj.

Then we have a new instrument of dispensing instant ‘justice’ – the use of bulldozers to demolish houses of those whom the government perceives are guilty. It is evident that this is done in a highly selective manner.

During the recent holi festival, the social media was full of revolting videos where the revellers were seen forcing people of other communities and nationalities to play Holi. Not just that, these videos showed how women were sexually assaulted and harassed without the police intervening or senior political leaders condemning such rowdy acts.

It is also common knowledge that all kind of investigative agencies are unleashed upon those who are political opponents or critics. State governments misuse police at their disposal to harass and threaten opponents.

To be a truly democratic country and to practice democracy in letter and spirit, we must strengthen our systems, remove outdated laws and make the political leaders more answerable. punjab


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Vipin Pubby

Vipin Pubby

The author, a freelance journalist, is a former Resident Editor of Indian Express, Chandigarh, and reported on the political developments in Jammu and Kashmir, North-Eastern India, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab in his long, illustrious career.

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