India@75: Politics, Ideologies and Diversity Dividend

Democracy has to move beyond empty promises to become the voice of the voiceless  

By Prof. Manoj Kumar Jha

India is entering her 76th year of independence, an important milestone for us, as a nation. The journey towards independence was a long-drawn battle and many ideals and values have defined the freedom we cherish.

Over the years, independent India has witnessed several divergent political ideologies. However, in the 21st century, India along with the world has been taken over by the wave of right-wing populism. As an outgrowth of neoliberalism, right-wing began as an attempt to change the power dynamics of a country. Neoliberalism seeks to minimize state interference in economic and social activities and gives leeway to capitalism – essentially it privileges private interests over the public, be it in the field of health or education.

However, in terms of governance, the right-wing embrace conservative ideologies, religious political doctrines, nationalism, and intolerance to dissent. The resurgent ideology has mostly enriched the dominant classes and has led to the oppression of the marginalized on the basis of caste, race, religion, and, of course, class.

A Global Phenomenon

In the last two decades, right-wing politics took the center stage in many countries such as the United States, Brazil, Hungary, Turkey, Poland, and India. While the rightward shift could be felt differently in different nations, the core of it has remained the same. Across these nations, the dominant classes are made to believe that they are the victims and in need of protection.

Reminiscence of past glory, traditional values, nativism, misinformation, and disruption of free media and academic institutions have become common tools to achieve the larger self-serving goal of right-wing politicians. Majority appeasement and identity politics have been instrumental in helping political parties rise to power across the globe.

An Indian Perspective

In India, neoliberalism has always been a part of the country’s political order since the 1980s. With over 700 languages, 9 major religions, 8 ethnicities, and around 3000 castes, India is recognized as the most diverse country in the world. On the other hand, the country with its massive population suffers from extreme poverty, unemployment, and malnutrition. In such a situation, the rightist politics that disproportionately affect the deprived and marginalized in society could prove to be a catastrophe in India.

For several decades our founding fathers and mothers longed for a strong, inclusive, and caring Indian state. But the idea of “unity in diversity” could never properly seep into the Indian fabric. Though Indian society is heterogeneous, diversity in itself does not necessarily mean a problem. However, by propagating the notion that certain people do not belong to society, the right-wing aims at India’s diversity to slaughter its unity.

Rise of the Right in the US

The significant implications of segregated societies could be understood from the example of the United States and Canada. The USA has recently witnessed massive protests and uproars over racial discrimination, reproductive rights, and gun laws. On the other hand, racial and linguistic harmony in Canada has paved the way for cultural tolerance and equality in the country.

In this context, the political hegemony of right-wing leaders has also magnified India’s economic miseries. While neoliberalism as an economic theory has immensely helped in the accumulation of wealth in the West, its impact has always been the opposite on the poor of India.

Social Impact

Ultimately the distribution of resources is a political question, and whether the market mechanism fits the bill for every sphere of life has to be answered politically. Thus and so, everyday politics gravely influence people’s bread and butter and is the only transformative tool at our disposal.

Any problem on a national level could be addressed by a combination of sound economic policies, political will and intervention, and science and technology. Sound economic policies help in building a powerful nation and to a great extent provide solutions to the problems of poverty, income inequality, unemployment, inflation, migration, etc.

However, in a pluralistic society, economic measures cannot effectively address religious differences, casteism, and communal disharmony. Only politics has the bandwidth of accommodating multiple solutions to problems of a diverse population. The most vital and sensitive aspects of a country are decided by its political spectrum and therefore only political initiatives can turn around the troubled socio-economic environment in India.

Diversity Dividend

India is a largely young country today. We often hear about the massive potential of its “Demographic Dividend”. However, merely a large number of young people is not automatically going to shore up our economic prospects. It depends on leveraging another dividend that India can proudly boast of. Capitalizing on the ‘Diversity Dividend’, the Indian politicians can largely benefit from the creation of social stability and reduction of communal tension in the country. The better political solutions they offer, the easier it becomes to govern the country. Effectively leveraging Indian diversity would entail economic growth and satisfaction among the masses.

Despite opposing political and religious differences, the commitment of our founding fathers and mothers to constitutional democracy remained intact during the post-Independence nation-building phase. Such strong devotion to the development of Indian society is required from contemporary Indian politicians.

Politics and Social Media

Apart from divisive politics, social media by design has also brought far-reaching and irreversible changes to Indian democratic life. Illiteracy and lack of awareness have significantly contributed to the irresponsible use of social media and this is capitalized by those who attempt to create the narrative.

Sensationalized fake news powered by ‘WhatsApp University’ without any fact-checks has been detrimental. The role of social media in human rights abuse cannot and must not be ignored. We are all aware of how radios, posters, film, and media were the first institutions to be captured while establishing an autocratic rule in certain countries.

Propaganda and rhetoric divide us, and media outlets and fact-checkers will have to rise to the occasion to denounce the ecosystem that spews conspiracy theories, hate, and hysteria. In a scenario where the Indian democracy stands at a critical juncture, ethical media and journalism must rise to the occasion and address the threat rigorously and counter the misinformation.

The Way Ahead

The journey into 76th years of independence should be marked by a greater commitment for our citizens and a firm conviction to eradicate poverty. The values enshrined in the preamble of the Indian Constitution should be realized as we had envisioned our country as a secular, equal, and just society.

Democracy has to move beyond electoral promises, and it must encapsulate the voice of the voiceless and strive toward an equitable society. Independence will be an empty promise without the rights that we promised at the stroke of the midnight hour.

(The writer is a member of Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian Parliament. He is also the national spokesperson of the Rashtriya Janata Dal.)

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Disclaimer: The views expressed are not necessarily those of The South Asian Times 

Images courtesy of (Image Courtesy: Digitally learn), (Image Courtesy: Freepik) and Provi

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