The other day, Indian liberals seized upon an ill chosen phrase from NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant to mount a social media offensive on one of their favorite themes. The accusation that the BJP does not believe in the Indian democratic system. On their part, the Government clarified thus:
“We are proud of our democracy,” Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, closing the subject.
But perhaps people should not close the subject. Maybe we the people should open it up instead for a national discussion. The ‘democracy in danger’ meme has been pervasive since 2014. From the losing side only. Perhaps the other side should wade right in and take them by the horns.
Let us have an honest conversation in this country. About which side is a product of democracy. And which side is existing in spite of democracy, surviving purely on its relationships with powerful, well-connected people.
Get this! Yesterday, prominent leaders of the opposition met the President of India and submitted their demand for a rollback of the new farm laws. Now tell me, do you know who are these two people?
In case you are wondering, the person to their right, the one whose face has does not even appear in this media image, is the formidable Sharad Pawar. By the way, Rahul Gandhi, leader of India’s largest opposition, spoke last.
Of course you know the names of these two people. That’s D Raja of the CPI and Sitaram Yechury of the CPI(M). You know them because these people are ‘everywhere.’ Take the 2018 occasion of the swearing in ceremony of the JDS-Congress alliance government in Karnataka. Here is Sitaram Yechury, standing right between Rahul Gandhi and H D Kumaraswamy.
Now, that’s power! Remember the historic press conference by four Supreme Court judges in early 2018? Here is D Raja, shaking hands with Justice Chelameswar immediately afterwards.
Again, that’s the kind of power and privilege that would make our skin crawl.
Okay, so we know their names and their faces. But who exactly are they? What did they do? Who do they represent, exactly?
In a democracy, we the people are supposed to own the corridors of power. So who gave the hall pass to these people? We know they can’t win elections. In fact, D Raja’s Rajya Sabha seat was a gift from the AIADMK. And Rahul Gandhi personally offered to send Sitaram Yechury to the Rajya Sabha. Incidentally, D Raja was second in the ‘merit’ list of Rajya Sabha MPs who spent public money on their travels in FY 2016-17. I thought I would remind you, since you paid for part of this. The first position in the same ‘merit’ list also belonged to someone from CPI(M). You must be so grateful.
You might be surprised to know that both the CPI and the CPI(M) continue to enjoy the status of “national party.” The Election Commission sets minimum standards of electoral performance in order to achieve this coveted status. And both Communist parties manage to fail these standards after almost every General Election. No worries, the EC always updates the rules after every round of elections. They lose elections, but never their status. People’s verdict does not matter so much.
Would it therefore be wrong to say that the Left exists not because of democracy, but in spite of it?
Take a character like Yogendra Yadav. I don’t think his Swaraj India, supposedly a political party, has even one MLA anywhere in India. But that does not prevent him from being a farmer leader on television and an expert for all seasons. If India was really a democracy, where would this man be? What would be his position in public discourse?
In fact, take most of the so called intellectual class. Where would they be without their St. Stephens, JNU and Doon School mutual aid societies? If they didn’t have a buddy at the Washington Post or an uncle who was a Nehru era top bureaucrat, where would these people be? Some of them have lived in a world so far removed from actual people that they don’t even know their accents are fake! Without their diplomatic connections, bureaucratic connections and/or links to Pakistani royalty, they would have struggled to make a living. Selling tea or pakodas is harder than selling opinion pieces. For one, nobody buys tea or pakodas as a favor. If you want customers, you have to make it worth their time and money.
Finally, let us turn this around. Where would PM Modi be if he did not have 230 million people who voted for him? Does he have a safety net of friends in high places? A backup career lined up, writing opinion pieces in the New York Times? Anyone out there who would offer him a free Rajya Sabha seat? If he had not been four term Gujarat CM and two term Prime Minister, you probably would not even have remembered his name. Would the media have put a microphone in front of him if he had not won so many elections?
The only reason BJP is heard anywhere in media is because they keep winning elections.
Just think about it. Ten years ago, how many people in India had even heard of Amit Shah? Then, Amit Shah earned a place on the national scene by winning Uttar Pradesh. And subsequently, state after state in an astonishing series of victories. How many elections did Sitaram Yechury win in the meanwhile? Yet, you probably knew about Yechury ten years ago. He is still prominent on the scene.
Sitaram Yechury and folks like him are not product of democracy. They exist in spite of it. They have contempt for democracy and it shows. Here, let me transcribe for you this enlightening exchange between Yechury and Samdish of Scoopwhoop (watch from 21:13 here)
Samdish : There must be some affinity that you or any other Communist has towards China?
Yechury: Absolutely. We have an affinity towards Communists all over the world.
Samdish: Isn’t it a bit impractical in today’s geopolitics?
Samdish: To have such an affinity across border lines.
Yechury: Why? In fact, this is a good thing. It should happen. According to me, it’s not just with China or Russia … I have gone to China multiple times.
Samdish: Do you think it is truly a Communist state or do you see their faults?
Yechury: They are adapting today’s conditions to their society, and they are doing it very successfully.
Samdish: But human rights violations, comrade. They are doing organ harvesting of Muslims.
Yechury: If you ask them, they say these claims are rubbish.
Keep it up, comrade.
PM Modi and Amit Shah are products of Indian democracy. They are where they are because they won the confidence of people. Of hundreds of millions of Indian voters who braved the blazing May sun, stood in long lines and voted for them. Not once but twice.
The BJP is the harvest of Indian democracy. Asking them if they are in favor of democracy is like asking the paddy crop if they can “tolerate” the rain water that nourishes them. The Leftists are like the middlemen of democracy. Nobody knows who voted for them or who wants them around. But we know that if you try to break their cartels, they can create a big ruckus.