Democracy is now a spectator sport

By Shamsul Islam. Dated: 3/5/2021 1:32:51 PM

“The Narendra Modi stadium is a symbol of how citizens have become mere spectators to politics, which is, increasingly, a game controlled by corporate sponsorsand fixed matches. We have gathered enough wealth to afford and build Motera-like symbols of our wealth. But they do not mean anything to our collective future.”

A Tale of Two Monuments

By Harshvardhan Purandare and Sandeep Pandey
Ahmedabad hosts a Sabarmati Gandhi Ashram, the iconic monument where values and foundation of Indian democracy evolved through decades of Freedom movement. Now the city also hosts five star Narendra Modi stadium at Motera ground, a new monument named after our seven star prime minister. One can say, Indian democracy which grew at Gandhi Ashram is now ceremoniously buried at Modi stadium, both separated by just 14 minutes of car drive and 66 minutes walk if you were to march in Gandhiji’s style.
What are our objections to the new Modi monument?
Is it about the leader naming a cricket stadium after him while he is alive? Partly, it is. Because it does not behoove our culture, we like to celebrate our leaders after their demise. And practically, it is difficult to evaluate the achievement of any prime minister while still in office. From Nehru to Manmohan Singh, all prime ministers have made their mark. Modi is yet to find a place in history. There is enough evidence to believe what his opponents say, Modi now represents the downfall of the economy and divisive religious politics. There is absolutely no hurry to immortalize Modi by giving his names to stadiums.
Is it about the fact that Prime Minister’s publicly adored role model Sardar Patel’s name to the stadium was dumped? Partly, it is. They need Patel for destroying Nehru’s legacy. The very project of Integration of our diverse geography which Sardar Patel oversaw is falling apart as several parts of India are disgruntled with Delhi. The damage to federal structure appears irreversible as center-state relationships have been falling off the cliff under the so-called ‘Strong Prime Minister”. We need to remember Patel more in this phase of disintegration of minds across the length and breadth of India. Unfortunately, the iron man is now largely cast in a metallic statue at Kevadia just as Gandhi has been framed in his spectacles in the Swachch Bharat Abhiyan.
The most worrisome fact about the Modi regime’s progress that Motera symbolizes is that citizens have become mere spectator to politics which has been reduced to a sport with corporate sponsors where most matches are fixed. While globalization has died on us after 3 decades of journey, we have gathered enough wealth to afford and build Motera like symbols of our wealth. But they do not mean anything to our collective power and future. Megalomania and narcissism is a hallmark of these wealth symbols. In a quest for money, we have subscribed to the political economy where we have to bathe in the shining illusion of our power with no real transformative proposal. The democracy is supposed to distribute the wealth that capitalism brings in. Our democracy might have failed in doing so, the weaknesses of our society might have gotten exposed in this journey of becoming super power and we might have even paid the price with our democracy for all foreign exchange surpluses we have. All these possibilities are staring at us. What we have now is ‘election only’ democracy, with people vanishing from the intervening democratic process day by day. The cost of popularity of the leadership is it’s disconnecting with life struggles of the average Indian.
While the democracy survived the death narrowly in last US elections as Democrats marginally defeated Trumpism, India might be a case of a next challenge where democracy will have to evolve to reverse itself from divisive incompetent religiously aligned autocracy that our electoral processes have let us slide into.
The best way is to understand the health of our democracy is to observe the political processes around us and cross check them with the rule book: our Constitution. Like US democracy defines itself by “Life, liberty and pursuit of happiness”, the pillars of Indian democracy are “Liberty, Justice, Equality and Fraternity”.
Liberty is now subject to where you stand in power hierarchy, if you are a prime minister you are not answerable for the internal and external misgovernance. The ruling elite, combination of rich and religious, can suffocate you if you are raising your voice, while they can sell the country in the name of reforms and condone religious vigilantism. Your tweet can land you in jail. While you can still practice your own religion or faith, the parliament is now clearly discriminating on the basis of religion. Triple Talaq, Kashmir division, CAA-NRC, one after another, there has been an organized effort to demean the Muslims.
The equality is no longer the relevant value; we don’t mind a hierarchical society with feudal mindset. There is growing support to ideologically accept the inequality to be the ‘real truth’ of life in the name of religious nationalism. Competitiveness and individualism is the grand experiment of the globalization era of last three decades. But India is no America to digest these values. It is still the country of communities as made amply clear in public protests or solidarity exhibited with walking migrant workers both supported by the spirit of service in the form of langars. NRI culture and American dream has captured the minds of our upper middle class and they dominate the political narrative as a New India. Their narrative is proving to be a misfit for our 130 crores people. The rustic farmers’ movement has ruptured Smart India.
Justice has become a distant dream. While billionaire raj and corporate lobbies drive us away from any possibility of economic justice, social justice has gone out of political debate in the name of meritocracy. And we better not comment on arbitrariness of the judiciary and systems of justice. There are no ‘angry young men and woman’ asking for justice and those who do, are either ridiculed or jailed.
Fraternity is the value attacked most. It is replaced by indifference towards the sections of Indian society that we do not belong too. We are not ready to connect with each other anymore and have become disconnected internally as society. The Coronavirus has arrived almost as if to provide justification to this alienation. Farmers agitating around Delhi can be simply ignored. Beyond indifference, there is growing hostility on the basis of religion and class. Nationalist sermons have failed to generate any new spirit of fraternity.
Gandhiji’s premise was: “India is a country of poor, belonging to poor”, Modi regime’s premise is “India and Indians are destined to become rich and powerful”. Our per capita income and the middle class does not reflect the aspirant India as advertised. We are falling back to Hindu rate of growth of the ‘60s.We no longer can assume that one day we are going to become a developed nation. The economy and democracy have been consistently sliding downwards in the last few years or so.
Narendra Modi stadium now stands as a symbol of excluding people from a political process and no democracy in the world has ever survived without people truly shaping it with consistent effort.
Motera test match ended on the second day, the test is supposed to last five days. The joke that made rounds was: The stadium might have been named after Modi, but the way pitches performed they must be secretly named after Amit Shah. And we don’t want test matches to end in two days just as we don’t want our parliamentary debates to be short circuited. Neither do we want our democracy to end after 73 years of experiment.
The remedy for our society is to walk back to Sabarmati values from hype around Modi stadium. It may turn out to be the smallest yet most important march Indians can ever take up.
By Harshvardhan Purandare and Sandeep Pandeyare associated with Socialist Party (India).
e-mail ids: mumbaikar100@gmail.com, ashaashram@yahoo.com

 

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