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Social and political Values and Systems in India.

Democracy -Past and present

Politics without principle is a sin.

“What is the difference between a priest, a lawyer and a politician? A priest wouldn’t tell a lie, a lawyer couldn’t tell the truth and a politician doesn’t know the difference.” R K Laxman, “A vote for laughter

        “A good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has disease.”           William Osler

“Don’t find faults, find remedies.” Henry Ford

Introduction – Democracy(rule of many) is far greater than any other form of government, be it Monarchy ( Rule of one), Aristocracy (rule of few) ot Dictatorship. According to Lincoln, “Democracy is the government of the people, for the people and by the people”. The word ‘democracy is derived from two ancient Greek words: demos (the people) and katos (strength). In a democracy political power is ultimately in the hands of the whole adult people. A democratic government may be Direct or Indirect.

Direct Democracy – In a direct democracy, people themselves legislate and execute them. In modern times, the most successful and long-term experience of it is Switzerland, where a host of ordinary policy questions are routinely put to the electorate, following a tradition dating to the 16th century. Earlier in city state, it was possible for people to rule themselves directly. In modern age, democratic government governs the nation through the representatives of the people.

Direct democracy depends on the following methods for its functioning –

  • Initiative – It is a method whereby a group of citizens can put a legislative proposal directly – may be to enact a new law, or to repeal an existing law or to amend it – for determination in referendum.
  • Referendum – It is a method of referring a question or set of questions to the electorate directly rather than allowing them to be settled by people’s representatives in the legislature.
  • Plebiscite – Plebiscites are referendums, a system for allowing the whole of the electorate to give their opinion on some political question.

Indirect Democracy  – Indirect rule by representatives of the majority of the electorate is known as indirect democracy. In this system, people vote for representatives. The main instrument of choosing the representatives is periodical elections. Political decision -making is done by this small number of people’s representatives,  elected by the whole electorate.

Representative Democracy is usually equated with Liberal Democracy which describes the political system which originated in the USA and Western Europe. It has subsequently been adopted by Third World countries. Indirect democratic regimes may be classified as either Presidential or Parliamentary systems.

Indirect democracies are based upon several interrelated principles:

  1. the existence of regular, free, fair elections based upon universal suffrage and secret ballots;
  2. the existence of competing political parties offering electoral choice;
  3. the existence of electoral laws supervised by an independent judiciary;
  4. freedom of speech and association ;
  5. freedom to stand as an election candidate;
  6. “reasonable” relationships between votes cast and representatives elected;
  7. availability of accurate unbiased political information.

A civil society is needed to strengthen Democracy. Democratic way of life. healthy democratic practices and systems can be developed created in disciplined atmosphere  only.

Diagnosis of the disease of electoral politics – Today, Democracy has become the most difficult form of government. It has been successful only in a very few nations that too in in developed countries.  In developing or underdeveloped democratic countries, one of the main reason of chaos is its electoral politics and vested interests of its political leaders. Democratic practices are at its lowest ebb these days. They have become very complicated. People in power echelons are becoming very insensitive in tolerating dissent views. They take  right decisions only after they have exhausted all other alternatives.

The major problem with this kind of democracy is that quite often it leads to negative electoral-politics, as voters do not have any choice in selecting the candidates. It is the job of rival political parties to select the candidates and woo the voters to vote for their prospective candidates.

No system of choosing the representatives of the people through elections can be fool-proof in any democratic nation. At present many ill-practices have developed in the electoral politics like –

  • A politician can fight elections from two seats, but a citizen can’t vote from two places.
  • One has to be a graduate to get a job in government at supervisory level (class III, II or class one job). But there is no educational qualification for a political leader for fighting an election. Even an illiterate politician can become a minister.
  • A politician can fight elections while in jail. No citizen can enter into the government service, or can continue in any government service, if he has ever been convicted and imprisoned in jail continuously for more than two-three days in a criminal case or case of financial irregularity  But a politician can occupy even a post of PM, CM or minister even after being in jail for criminal or economic crime several times.

It is a big problem at present, how to elect true representatives, who can serve the masses  honestly and sincerely. Electoral politics has led to slow development in the position of poor masses. It is a matter of great concern how to cure mal-practices developed in the electoral system, especially when the elections are not fought with fair objectives. People usually fight  elections to gain political power by hook or crook, and control the destiny of millions of people. It makes it easy for them to serve their own personal interest  or interests of their followers.

It has been seen that usually most of the elected representatives in legislatures do not understand what to legislate, how to lay down policies, because of the lack of understanding of real issues  and monitor its implementation properly. Executive lacks the ability to supervise the functioning of bureaucracy/execution of plans and policies. effectively and efficiently. Members of Opposition parties are more busy in criticizing all the time functioning of party in power with negative mindset and do not allow the government institution to function in public interest.

For winning the elections or creating votebanks for themselves, political leaders adopt ‘policy of divide and rule’.  They  shamelessly divide the electorate on the basis of their diverse identities and create numerous watertight compartments, appease different sections of society, give priority to sectional interests over national interest and thus woo the voters.. In such a situation how can government maintain law and order  in the country or function efficiently and effectively in a democratic state?

Till the people in power echelons understand the reasons, why electoral system has got derailed and think about the ways and means to remove the shortcomings, developed of present electoral process, neither the government would be able to treat the disease nor the patient. it will be difficult to elect deserving candidates to run the government. It is necessary to diagnose the disease correctly before working for its cure.

People wish to see in their political-leaders maturity, dynamism, positive approach to tackle problems, mannerism and unbiased grasp of the problems/needs of all communities and cultures.

India’s experiment on Democracy and electoral politics – When India got Independence from British rule in 1947, it chose democracy. Since then Democracy is the backbone of our country. The Constitution of India is founded on the principle that all voices should be heard. Institutions are established here for the benefit of nation and its citizens. The thinking that legislators can make any law, they want and impose it on people, or executive can execute in any manner, it likes, is absurd.

Historical Background

While laying down the foundation of democratic institutions in India, British Imperial rulers had very cleverly and diplomatically  served a double purpose – on one hand they got the credit for the amelioration of the Indian society. And on the other, they devised a unique method to distribute the political power, to keep balance of power in such a way that could prolong their rule in India and keep the natives busy in their in-fights.

Preparing grounds for electoral-politics The introduction of electoral politics, in the beginning of the 20th century gave rise to Power in numbers. Through modern education system, British imperialists created differences between different castes and communities, and developed a complex in Indian minds about their heritage and social values and systems.

Factors that led to electoral-politics in India – Following were the measures taken by the British rulers, promulgated in piece-meal and with due regard to the safety of British domination –

  1. Discrediting Indian values and systems –   First of all, Imperial British rulers had exaggerated the distortions developed into the system during almost 500 years of Muslim rule and 200 years of British  rule, after the decay of Hindu Raj around 8th century. Under British rule, many rulers, European teachers & philosophers, missionaries, and bureaucrats had purposely  blamed the Social-structure of India and held it responsible for poverty, misery,  deprivation and exploitation of millions of its people. They depicted the Indian culture and practices as discriminatory barbarous, uncivilized and its social system highly stratified”, where multiplicity of communities and their cultures were exploiting each other for their own advantage.” They carefully avoided telling the strong points of Indian philosophy, systems and social values.  .   
  2. Modern education system – Next step was Modern education system introduced by Macaulay. On one hand, Indians got access to the enlightened spirit of many liberal thinkers, like Locke, Mill, Rousseau, Voltaire, Spencer and Burke; and the knowledge about English, French, American revolutions, through modern education. It offered to Indian intelligentsia, the key to the treasures of scientific and democratic thought of Modern West. It opened up the doors of knowledge and widened the mental horizons of Indian intelligentsia. They attracted the attention of the minds of educated people, national leaders and reformers towards  rigid attitude, social evils and practices, which had developed in the system to preserve their Hindu identity under Muslim and British rule. On the other hand, a group of emerging political leaders, as well as of some intellectuals deeply influenced by Western thinking  doubted the efficacy of the sayings/teachings of Hindu epics/scriptures like Vedas, story of Ramayana-Mahabharata etc. They have developed a doubt/complex about its rationality.
  3. Census Operations – After consolidating its position, the British Government in India made an effort to know about the people, whom they want to rule and chalk out strategies for the colonial governance. British anthropologists worked very hard to collect data. For the first time, the Census operations drew the attention of the rulers, intelligentsia and public to the multiplicity of castes and sub-castes and diversity of Indian society. A systematic and modern population census, in its present form was conducted non synchronously between 1865 and 1872 in different parts of the country. This effort culminating in 1872 has been popularly labeled as the first population census of India. However, the first synchronous census in India was held in 1881.

The rulers exploited material/information  gathered through census operations, relating to social, demographic, linguistics, religious and cultural diversities of India. The knowledge of such diversity of Indian society and multiplicity of castes and sub-castes helped the rulers to instigate caste consciousness, caste animosities and make caste a tool in political, religious and cultural battles that Hindus fought among themselves from now on-wards without any sign of relief even as of today.

It changed the older system in a fundamental way, giving rigidity to social stratification and hierarchical ranking. It led to caste-ism in politics. Middleton, a Census Superintendent remarked, We pigeonholed everyone by caste and community. We deplore its effect on social and economic problems. But we are largely responsible for the system…Our land records and official documents have added iron-bonds to the old rigidity of caste…. The government’s act for labels and pigeon-holes had led to a crystallization of the caste system, which, except amongst the aristocratic caste, was really very fluid under indigenous rule.”

Earlier, the Hindu Society was classified into four Varnas embracing numerous castes and sub-castes within its fold.  Census operations divided it into five and created new unbridgeable compartments within Indian social structure. – Backward caste, forward caste (caste Hindus), untouchable or scheduled caste, scheduled tribes and minority.  Through legal process, they gave each one a new separate and distinct identity.

The British authorities knew well that, in the Hindu society, caste opinion and caste loyalties always remained a cohesive regulatory force and the easiest, quickest and the most powerful mode to communicate.  They were also aware of the influence of Brahmins over the whole society.

While introducing electoral politics in India, the British successfully divided the Hindu population into two uncompromising groups viz. `We the Non-Brahmins and `They the Brahmins and caste Hindus. They instilled deeply in the minds of millions of unlettered Hindus, venom against caste-system and the Brahmin community.  The introduction of electoral politics, in the beginning of the 20th century gave rise to Power in numbers. It gave political leverage to the non-Brahmin castes on account of their numerical strength. Since then, their influence in politics has been growing continuously.

Leverage to Non-Brahmins in politics – Pigeonholing everyone by caste and community gave political leverage to the non-Brahmin castes on account of their numerical strength. Infights amongst natives among various castes and communities started.

Hindu population was divided into two uncompromising groups viz. `We the Non-Brahmins and `They the Brahmins and caste Hindus. The submerged sections of society developed in their hearts venom against each other. They feared that Hindu Bramins’/caste-Hindus’ majority in government would dominate them.

Leaders of non-Brahmin community united numerous endogamous jatis into region wise alliances, increased in size and emerged as powerful pressure groups in different regions. Modern means of transport and communications shortened distances and made mobility faster and easier, Every thing together had destroyed the local character of governance. Small local castes, confined within a small area earlier, grew in size, embracing a much wider area than before.

Earlier non-Brahmin movements had economic and social thrusts demanding education and land for backwards and freedom from caste rigidities. Till the end of the 19th century, Backward castes resisted the hold of Brahmins in the spheres of land, wealth, and education.

Later on,  some non-Brahmin political leaders demanded a share in the power-structure, special attention and intervention of the British government in electoral politics and government jobs, and thus improve the position of Backwards. Non-Brahmins’ demand for a share in modern callings turned into a political movement. In the South and Bombay Presidency, the non-Brahmin leaders voiced forcefully against the domination of Brahmins in government jobs and other modern callings. They  demanded enough space in education and jobs in government. British had full sympathy with them.

Their demands were quickly accepted by the British. These demands gave birth to caste-politics in elections, creation of vote-banks vote-banks through protectionist and appeasement policies and quota system in education and government jobs. Non-Brahmins acquired considerable amount of political clout ever since the beginning of 20th century,. With the introduction of electoral politics,, their influence in politics continuously grew.

Start of General elections in India –  While introducing system of general elections in India, the British very diplomatically divided the Hindus along caste-lines. The first  General elections in the history of India was held in 1920 to elect members to the Imperial Legislative Council and the Provincial Councils. With it grew the importance of numbers. The beginning of the system of elections to elect the representatives of the people through adult franchise gave importance to Power in numbers. In the name of amelioration of the backward sections of society, the British government gave political leverage to the non-Brahmin castes on account of their numerical strength. Since then, their influence in politics has been growing continuously.

Justice Party in Bombay in 1917, and South Indian Liberation Federation in Madras in 1916, united the lower and intermediate castes.  In Maharashtra, Phule and Ambedkar challenged the influence of Brahmins and Marathas. In Tamil Nadu and other Southern States, lower and intermediate castes got united under the leadership of Periyar by fusing in them Dravida and Tamil identities and led anti Brahmins movement.  They regarded lower and middle castes as descendants of the original non- Aryans natives of India, who believed in egalitarian pattern of society.  Aryans conquered them and through caste system, Brahmins established their superiority over them.

In AP and Karnataka, intermediate peasant castes like Reddy, Kammas, Lingayats, Vokkaligas came forward against Brahmins.  In Kerala, caste identities became rallying points for class like party formation starting with Ezhawwas, at one time the most depressed of all communities.  In Gujarat, ground level consolidation of Dalits, Adivasis and minorities rose.

The leaders of Non-Brahmins like Mahatma Phule, Ambedkar or Gopal Ganesh vehemently criticized Hindu hierarchical structure, and regarded untouchability as an inevitable concomitant of caste system. Therefore, eradication of caste system became their major plank. They taught the lower castes to get united and work for abolition of caste system as it was responsible for treating them as lesser human beings. It engaged them to forced labor or unsavory jobs, imposing many restrictions on them, preventing them from joining the mainstream of the society; and the subjugating them with the help of the religion. They also attacked the hypocrisy of Brahminism and emphasized reforms and spread of education.

Being non-militant by nature and very small in number, comprising only 3% of the total population, the Brahmins in South yielded to the pressures of non-Brahmins without much resistance and moved out from there to other parts of the country, where non-Brahmin movement was either weak or non-existent.

“Importance in numbers in elections” – The suggestion of Census Commissioner to exclude untouchables from Hindu fold in the coming 1911 census immediately increased the importance of untouchables in political circle, in social circle, and in their own eyes too. Around 1909, the non-Brahmin Community, which resented the Brahmins hold in modern occupations, was divided into two Backwards and untouchables. For the first time, the lowest layer of Hindu Community was conceptualized under the name of ‘untouchabes’ in the political circles.

Together, all these measures led to electoral politics of vote-banks along caste and communal lines. Casteism and communalism, which was almost non-existent hitherto, established its firm roots in the political life of the country.

Steps taken by the government which inflamed electoral politics of Vote-banks before Independence –

  • Granting separate Muslim electorate through Government of India Act 1909,  (Minto Morley Reforms) brought the idea of communal electorate to the forefront. Granting special electorate to Muslims made the numbers important.
  • Around 1909, the non-Brahmin Community was divided into two – Backwards and Untouchables.  For the first time, the lowest strata of Hindu Community were conceptualized under the name of untouchables in the political circles.
  • In 1908, the untouchables comprised about 24% of the Hindu Population and 16% of the total population. The suggestion of Census Commission, to exclude untouchables from Hindu group, gave a new dimension to casteism in politics. The suggestion of Census Commissioner to exclude untouchables from Hindu fold, in the forthcoming 1911 census, immediately increased the importance of untouchables in political circle, in social circle, and in their own eyes too.
  • Such a move alerted national leaders. This was not acceptable to Hindu leaders at any cost. Their fear proved to be right  as the number of Hindus has fallen down continuously. The following chart, based on various censuses, establishes this fact: Hindu population was 73.3% in 1881, 72.3% in in 1891, 70.3% in 1901, 69.3% in 1911, 68.4 in 1921, 68.2 in 1931 and 65.9 in 1941.

In order to overcome the problem, the Hindu leaders gave top most priority to the abolition of untouchability. They interpreted Vedas liberally and said that purified Varna System expressed equality. The reformers pointed out that untouchability was neither an outcome of caste system nor an integral part of Hinduism, but an external impurity and sinful blot on Hinduism.  They were clear that segregation of lower castes in Hindu Society was not based on economic status or their incapability to do any intellectual work, but on cultural grounds – unclean habits, undisciplined  life style, speaking foul and abusive language etc.  They tried to improve the status of untouchables through Sanskritisation. The emphasis was on education, moral regeneration and philanthropic uplift.[ii]

Steps taken during the British rule

  • In 1918, Mysore Government denominated all communities, but Brahmins, as backward and gave the backwards special protection in the form of scholarship, admission in educational institutions, quota in jobs and other concessions and benefits.  Special Government officers were appointed to look after their welfare.  Madras and Bombay Presidencies followed their example.
  • Government of India Act, 1919, accorded special representation by granting a few nominated seats, in the Legislative Assembly, for depressed classes.  Legislative regulations and administrative orders declared denial of access to untouchables to schools, well, roads and public places as illegal.  So far, untouchable activities were combined with the non-Brahmin movement.
  • By 1928, untouchables separated themselves from the intermediate caste and established their independent identity at national level. Until 1932, the Government of India avoided itself from stigmatizing any group, by official acknowledgement, of their low social status and considered it unfair because Owing to the social disabilities, to which members of the depressed classes are exposed, it would be in the highest degree undesirable that any official authorization might appear to extend such qualification. The fluidity of social distinctions and the efforts of the classes lowest in the scale, aided by social reformers, to improve their status make it more desirable, that government should abstain from doing anything, which would tend to give rigidity to these distinctions.(Indian Statutory Commission, 1930, VI, p 341)
  • The joint Select Committee of the British Parliament, while reviewing the South Borough Report on measures to secure representation of minorities or of Backward classes for Indian Constitutional Reforms 1919, commented that they attached importance to the educational advancement of the depressed and Backward classes. (Mukherjee P, Indian Constitution and all Relevant Documents relating to Indian Constitutional Reforms of 1990, p 528).
  • In 1930, Starte Committee suggested to sub-divide the backward classes into untouchables, aboriginal hill tribes and other backward class.  Political expediency and imperial designs to keep balance of power got victory over rational thinking.
  • Through Communal Award 1932, British created a permanent split in Hindu Society. It perpetuated casteism and made impossible the assimilation of different castes under one fold.  Dr. Rajendra Prasad said, The principle of dividing population into communal groups, which had been adopted in the Minto Morley reforms had been considerably extended, even beyond what had been done by Montagu Chelmsford Reforms… The electorate in 1919 was broken up into ten parts, now it is fragmented into seventeen unequal bits… Hindu community was further weakened by giving separate representation to Scheduled castes. Division on the basis of religion, occupation and service were made.  Every possible cross division was introduced by the British.(Cited in Mehta and Patwardhan, The Communal Triangle, p72). The Communal Award strengthened the roots of casteism in politics.

After Independence – Democracy and people’s rights should go side by side. But the way political leaders have perceived and claimed to promote people’s interests, is neither beneficial for the country, society nor the poor. Indian reform movements took a long time to dilute the rigidities of caste practices developed especially during the alien rule. But after Independence, for winning the elections, and remaining one up as long as possible, entry of caste into national politics has given a new lease of life to casteism. The politics have principles have been reduced to street-level politics.

For political leaders of the day, winning elections is everything. Every election gives a chance to shift  political power from one political party to another. For each political party the most important is to usurp political power by hook or crook, so that  they can control the destiny of the people as well as the treasury of the nation and serve their own vested interests.

They do everything in their power to strengthen their vote banks. For it,  populist policies are promoted, appeasement measures are taken and  sectional interests are pursued to build a team of their supporters/followers. They just don’t care about the social imbalances and tensions, such actions cause. Agitations,  violence and sectarianism on the basis of caste and community are continuously on increase.

To serve their vested interests, political leaders and their parties have divided the Indian society into uncompromising watertight compartments on the basis of caste and community more rigidly than it was ever before. With an eye on coming General Election of 1919, all national and regional political parties have, once again, started playing the cards of caste and reservation to win the battle of ballots.

In provinces, some castes, which are given benefit of reservation by the concerned state, are quite vocal to get recognition and be included preferably in SC and  ST lists, or otherwise, at least in OBC list of central government. As it entitles beneficiary caste to get advantage of over-protective policies and plans of government all-over India.

Promoting sectional interests and giving special benefits to some social  group/groups invite conflicts, because the interest of one group is promoted at the expense of others. Equal treatment to all citizens encourages co-ordination and co-operation, but preferential treatment to some and taking away the legitimate rights of others generate resentment and heart-burning.

After Independence, sectional interests have aroused the agitation among different castes and communities all over the nation.  There started a cut-throat competition for scarce positions of power and prestige.

From historical facts, above, it is clear that the British fanned casteism and communalism in electoral-politics for political reasons. Earlier, though there were few stray incidents of violence, the nation was largely free from caste wars or class clashes.

Conclusion – The seeds of casteism and communalism, which were sown by the British, blossomed to its full in the electoral politics of independent India.

July 5, 2018 - Posted by | General |

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