The Indian democracy — much admired around the world — is in recent times showing again, why it is respected and feared even by the ‘thickest skinned’ politicians.
After 15 years of a single party government, voters in the local state election of New Delhi recently voted the ruling Congress Party out in an absolutely awe inspiring cleanup.
This has catapulted a brand new Party called the Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man’s Party) into government — a party that didn’t exist seven months ago and that had mobilized and tapped into the frustration that many Indians had been feeling about their Government in specific and Politics in general.
This democratic coup comes amidst a backdrop of an almost unending and high profile series of scams since 2010, an economy that sharply declined and is sputtering, a currency that has sharply declined over the last few months, and a decade of almost jobless growth. Corruption had become brazen with public policymaking becoming opaque and crony capitalism rising to epic proportions. Indeed, it seemed at one stage that business and investments could only be successful with political patronage. Bad news for a country that has a demographic of 80%+ of its population under 35, all driven by the dream of entrepreneurship and enterprise — their dreams being blunted by the crony capitalist stranglehold on opportunities.
In 2011, young Indians gathered in thousands under the banner of India Against Corruption — in several cities ranging from the capital Delhi and others around the country. This ‘uprising’ was occurring against a backdrop of similar youth and social media fueled movements for democracy in the Middle East, including in Tahrir Square, where the call was for democracy.
Ironically in India, where democracy had flourished for over six decades, the youth were demanding cleaner politics and government. I wrote then that Jantar Mantar (the scene of the demonstrations in New Delhi) was going to be India’s Tahrir Square. I, as were others who supported this movement, were expectedly met with scorn and derision. The establishment in India (just as the establishments elsewhere), dismissed these protests as a short term elitist movement, predicting that they would sputter and fizzle in the face of conventional politics of big money and populism.
Fast forward to 2013 — Not only have they been proved wrong, but traditional politics has been turned on its head and the players after the scratching of heads are scrambling to evolve their playbook into one that is competitive with these new politicians.
These new crop of politicians bring with them a new fresh perspective into the traditional political discourse. Already, they have shaken up the establishment on issues of corruption and the privileged lives that are led by traditional politicians in India. They bring a very simple proposition that has gained significant traction within citizens and are forcing traditional Political parties to scramble and react to.
They have proved, much to the consternation of the establishment, that elections in democracies can be won with powerful ideas and promises of better governance, and not just money and divisive politics of caste and religion that have plagued India’s democracy for several decades. Most significantly, their promise to dismantle the elaborate system of perks and privileges that had morphed Indian politicians into a new Elite, resonated strongly with young and old Indians. India’s political parties for long have lived in delusion, and have been dragged kicking and screaming into the reality of peoples’ anger, frustration and exasperation. Symbols of political power like red beacons atop official cars, convoys and security cordons are being dumped fast by politicians that have caught on to the mood of the nation!
As the sceptics will point out, such a change isn’t without its risks. They will say that these new political forces will tend to be more left of center than the current political balance of India. Sceptics will also point to the lack of experience in governance and running a government amongst this new group. Both these aren’t unlike the concerns we have about other countries where revolution has occurred in recent times. But the difference in India, of course, is that there is a built-in administrative structure that is a safety net against total political failure.
This is the stage set then for parliamentary elections in April 2014. I certainly believe that these are the most important elections since 1947 when India became Independent. It is an election that will challenge the conventional politics of populism and handouts and division, that have caused serious structural damage to the Indian democracy. It is already an election that has started talking about governance and governance ideas as the main issues on which votes are going to be sought! This is the real sign of the maturing of Indian democracy.
This is the new reality of the politics of India. After several decades of being dismissed as superficial and uninterested, the young Indian is asserting himself/herself. They are seeking a new direction for the country and for their own future. And they are prepared to decimate the traditional political formations and back new untested ones if need be.
So it is that a street protest movement that started three years ago and a political movement that started seven months ago have caused a seismic change in Indian politics. Tremors and aftershocks of that will continue to the next elections! And so, to all those who watched India’s moral and economic plummet in dismay over the last few years, I say this (with apologies to Bob Dylan) - The winds of change, they are a coming!
This article appeared on The World Post on January 23, 2014