In the last few days, I’ve engaged in several discussions with people across the political spectrum regarding the appointment of Yogi Adityanath as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Reactions have ranged from victory bellows to meek ‘lets-give-him-a-chance’ suggestions to rage, astonishment and disbelief at his appointment. Without doubt, the most common argument in favour of his appointment refers to the popular support that Yogi Adityanath enjoys (as a 5 time Member of Parliament) in Eastern Uttar Pradesh. The narrative is that we had a free and fair election process (lets ignore the EVM tampering allegations for now), people voted for a party, and one party won a resounding victory.
This party has appointed a leader who has enjoyed popular support in his constituency for 2 decades now. Opposing this means that you oppose democracy. ‘Do you have a problem with democracy?’, I’m been asked.Where do I begin?
Democracy was decidedly the most powerful political idea of the 20th century. Even in this century, less than 7 years ago, hundreds of thousands of people in autocratic regimes in the Middle East took to the streets at the peril of their own lives to fight for the ideals of a democratic system. In many ways the idea of a ‘democracy’ has been the light at the end of a tunnel, a paragon of political systems in our times.
However, various political events in 2016 and 2017 (so far) have brought to light the fact that, as it is with most systems — democracy has it’s strengths, but it also has its fair share of flaws. Turn the pages of the newspaper to look back at the different seemingly democratic events in the last few years that have had severely controversial outcomes - the election of Duterte in the Philippines, the state of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, Trump in USA, the Colombian Peace Deal, and Brexit. It is time now for us to accept that while democracy maybe the best system we have, we must begin to look at ways to make it better. (For a more detailed critique of democracy in the 21st century, do read this essay in The Economist.)
Specifically to the point of Uttar Pradesh and India — in a country that has a first-past-the-post electoral system, it is especially easy (even conducive) to ignore minority voices in favour of a strong and large majority. This is especially dangerous in a situation where the majority may harbour ill-feelings towards a certain faction of the minority. In the post-truth era, populist political movements have effectively used media to set the majority against the minority to win elections. This newslaundry report throws light on the anti-Muslim narrative used by the BJP IT cell to instigate the Hindu majority against the Muslims in UP. If you’re a BJP supporter and you’re reading this, you’re probably saying — this isn’t new and the Congress and the SP and the BSP have done this for decades, and you’re absolutely right. Elections have always been communal in India, (and more so Uttar Pradesh), and all parties have played ball with communal politics— but this obsession with chasing majority, and then granting unquestionable legitimacy to anything that enjoys majority support is worth taking a look at.
The story of the appointment of Yogi Adityanath is one that is about the crisis of leadership that exists in the country, but we must not ignore the underpinnings of the system that encourage the rise of such leadership.
In the last 30 years, we’ve been witness to great innovations in science, in technology, in the arts, but we need most now, is innovation within the political systems. This is easier said that done, but this process starts with the bitter realisation that often that what we label democratic values (secularism, equality, equity) are at loggerheads with the democratic system itself. This democracy needs to go, and it needs to be replaced with a new democracy. Else, the majority narrative will prevail and minority voices will be pushed to the fringes, and we will watch as mute spectators, as democracy thrives, and parts of our country slowly, die.