India’s Path to Power: State and Dharmic Democracy

Mr Yashwant Sinha cautioned that “current economic situation is ripe for violence and country shouldn’t take a communal bait”.
India’s Path to Power: State and Dharmic Democracy
Prayagraj, June 11: People commuting on a partially deserted road a day after clashes during a protest over alleged remarks of suspended BJP leader Nupur Sharma over Prophet Muhammad, in Prayagraj on Saturday. [Representational Image] ANI

Yaswant Sinha is the Vice president of All India Trinamol Congress. and better known in Kashmir as a member of Concerned Citizens Group (CSG).

Mr Jayant Sinha (son of Yaswant Sinha) belongs to Bhartiya Janta Party and is presently chairman of the Standing Committee on Finance in Parliament.

Jayant Sinha is Harvard educated while his father Yashwant Sinha had his education from Patna university.

The political/ideological differences between father and the son can be measured by age, experience, and depth of knowledge of the local and the global.

It is probably mere coincidence that on May 7, 2022 they wrote for “Indian Express” separately on changing contours of Indian politics. Mr Yashwant Sinha cautioned that “current economic situation is ripe for violence and country shouldn’t take a communal bait”.

Mr Jayant Sinha argues that “India is a dharmic democracy and can ensure rule of law and well being of citizens”. My analysis of two write-ups is limited to interrogating and understanding how their views can help us in unraveling the present day Indian politics.

I have not to arbitrate between father and the son who are very much entitled to their views and perspectives. Both are quite knowledgeable and regular commentators on socio-economic issues facing Indian polity.

Mr Yashwant Sinha thinks that communal hate and violence is a matter of concern. The economic situation in India is grim especially on the employment front and what better way can there be to divert the attention of the unemployed and frustrated than to get them involved in religious strife.

This sounds fair, clear and understandable. The inflation and jobless growth are posing new set of problems. The new age technology and growing clamour for automation is further squeezing the jobs and future of work is quite uncertain.

The pandemic and social strife too has had an impact on livelihoods. The growing youth population should activate governments to create more jobs and opportunities for all, and more so for segments of population on the margins.

Economic regression and social strife can further accelerate the decay of institutions. Yashwant Sinha comments; “imagine the plight of a young person who has spent many years looking for a job and has found none. He has now given up completely and sits at home. His parents and other elders in the family curse him and then this young man goes out, around with others like himself, and they all suddenly discover an opportunity.

There is a “Shobha” or some other Yatra being planned by people in his area. All that he has to do is to join it. He will either get paid for it or at least have alcoholic drinks to his heart’s content.

He will also get a peculiar sense of power as part of the mob. The young man in the other community is briefed by his elders at the same time and incited to defend the faith by assembling in the place of worship and facing the other community’s mob when it approaches. The situation thus created is ready to explode”.

Jayant Sinha’s formulation is that “we are a dharmic democracy”. He lays bare the foundational pillars of a modern democratic system as having four core attributes: rule of law, respect for human rights, separation of powers in three organs of government, and accountability to the people.

He goes further to explore the basis of what he calls the “Dharmic Democracy” arguing that Indian democracy is not founded on western Enlightenment though but on our own ancient beliefs.

He quotes Mahabharata and Arthashastra which entail “The happiness of the ruler lies in the happiness of his subjects. It is not what the ruler likes that matters but only what people like”.

To him the concept of Ram Rajya articulated by Mahatma Gandhi provides that true democracy is one in which the meanest citizen could be sure of swift justice without an elaborate and costly procedure”.

The two viewpoints articulated by Sinhas carry a grain of truth but each places his conceptual framework in the politics they are wedded to and that leaves space for disagreement.

Those of us who are academic observes of events and political occurrences are quite familiar with these formulations put forward by the Sinhas, and in recent years there is lot of contestation happening on issues and concerns raised by them.

There are many writings in and outside India produced by scholars of Indian politics which need to be perused for finding answers to some vital questions. How we frame questions and proceed to answer is of great importance?

The Yashwant Sinha is right to argue that the current atmosphere of hate and violence are directly ascribable to the prevailing economic situation in India. There is sufficient theoretical support to this line of thinking.

Historian, Herbert Moller linked the economic depression hitting the largest German youth cohorts to the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s. In “Coming Anarchy”, Robert Kaplan argues that anarchy and the crumble away of nation states will be attributed to demographic and environmental factors in the future”.

The British Development Economist Paul Collier states that if young people are left with no alternative but unemployment and poverty, they are increasingly likely to join a rebellion as an alternative way of generating an income”.

Political Scientist at MIT, Nazli Choucri argues how large “youth cohorts facing institutional bottlenecks and unemployment, lack of political openness and crowding in urban centers may be aggrieved, increasing the risk of political violence”.

These theoretical frameworks are sufficiently supportive of the arguments advanced by Yashwant Sinha in his analysis of Indian politics.

Today the situation is that Indian economy cannot provide enough jobs for job seekers. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CFMIE) in the month of January released the unemployment status report of India for December 2021 as 7.91%. It was 7% in November.

The highest unemployment rates were reported in Haryana, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Bihar and Jammu and Kashmir. These are also the states which witness greater polarization and communal feuds erupting on daily basis. Nelson Mandela once said:

‘’When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw”.

A study on criminal activity analyzing incidence of FIR reporting in Bihar, the state with the lowest population to police ratio in the Covid-19 pre-lockdown, lockdown and post lockdown periods.

The results show that as the lockdown transitioned to a phased system with certain areas being classified as high restriction red areas and others as low restriction orange and green zones - there was a higher incidence of economically motivated crimes in the red zones attributed to the higher number of job losses and business closures.

The labour force participation is 60 percent in USA and over 70 percent in China. It is today only 40 percent in India, lowest in South Asia for the first time. The MNREGA is four times the size it was in 2013 which only shows that Indians want work but there are no jobs.

A few days ago, the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister released a report and recommended an urban equivalent of MGNEREGA and also introducing Universal Basic Income. The report prepared by Institute of “Competitiveness” provides detailed examination of the existing disparity in society.

The essay by Jayant Sinha on ‘’we are a dharmic democracy “ has evoked reactions the same way as other formulations viz, “ India is a civilisational state” by some academics.

These concepts have sprouted at a time when in the midst of majoritarian upsurge in society and state the rule of law and accountability of executive have considerably declined.

There is a legitimate case for attaining swaraj in ideas but there is equally a case for practicing what we preach. The larger political practice and dharmic democracy must have a meeting place.

The advocates of Indianisation of legal system in India refer to Manu and Kautliya but they are not basing it on equity and egalitarianism. They draw selectively from sources keeping in view the imperatives of their own ideology.

Prof Sudipto Kaviraj, Political theorist at Columbia University in a recent lecture addressed these ticklish questions. The lecture titled “Anthropology of the Self” is a candid analysis that while we have overcome political colonization and addressed economic subjugation we continue to suffer from cultural and intellectual colonialism.

We exemplify a self, “a colonial self, studying itself as if it is studying a stranger”. Sudipto Kaviraj traces it to a double estrangement. We think about our society through concepts that were meant for a very different type of society. And we think in English, not in the languages used by the ordinary folk who we theorize about”.

There of course is an additional layer of institutional dominance of western theories and paradigms which privilege the western knowledge. Significantly, Yogendra Yadav, founder of “Swaraj India” is more than correct by stating that “decolonization is about cultural and civilizational confidence in asking our own questions and searching for answers that work for us.

A good theory or concept is one that helps the practitioners to make sense of and see their way forward in the language and the world that they operate in”.

What flows from the above exhortations is that the ultimate test of a dharmic democracy lies in its potential to provide a framework workable in a complex society like India. It has rightly been said that scholars have so far interpreted the world, the question is how to change it.

I recall my college day lectures when we were told that for forms of government let fools contest whatever is administered best is best. India can find its legitimate place in the comity of nations if the framework of governance meets the aspirations of all who inhabit this huge country.

We need to understand the power and potential of our own example of working a participatory democracy in a poor country. The future of power rests on: sound economic growth, social inclusion, democracy and liberal constitutional framework.

Meanwhile academics and practitioners can make forays into politics of a country like India where an ancient society has a daily encounter with a modern state.

Prof Gull Mohammad Wani Teaches Political Science At Kashmir University.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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