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Is Indian Democracy getting healthier?

December 9, 2013

The country has just seen something remarkable and it has left the entire nation wonder-struck! One party, which was dismissed off as insignificant by its political opponents, quietly upset all calculations. The election results may have offered hope and solace to the BJP in three states and to the Congress in one, but what has left everyone impressed is the fact that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) did so well. And the credit for this rightfully should go to Arvind Kejriwal and also to the thousands of ordinary men and women of not just Delhi, but to all those who believed in the cause and worked tirelessly on the streets of Delhi for more than two months. This result stunned the political pundits, shocked the political class and has given a sense of hope to the common man. For people who were skeptical that change in the Indian political spectrum would not be possible, this should serve as a reminder of the power and potential of what can happen when people who believe in themselves get together and work with the conviction that we saw.

The Delhi results are an indicator of the winds of change that are blowing. It surely is hope for the Nation that is longing for transparency and good governance. It is something that the youth of the country are now seeing as possible and achievable. One must surely thank not just the AAP, but also the Anna-led anti-corruption movement and the experiments of the Lok Satta Party and other people’s movements around the country. All of them have served to ripen the issue of change and the demand for clean politics in the country.

For a party that is just a year old it speaks volumes and is a fabulous attainment. AAP is now redefining the rules of the game – a game which many of us thought that was impossible to play for the well-intentioned; a game that had too many barriers to entry for the competent and honest men and women who wanted to participate in electoral politics. Some experts may argue that this is only an isolated phenomenon with Delhi being mostly urban and a smaller state than all others. But then the change that urban voters have ushered in – be it the rich, the working class or the middle class – has proven to be the game changer. The question that needs to be asked is not just ‘will the rural voters follow suit?’ but ‘how can this fire be made to spread across the length and breadth of India?’

Many experts on TV are calling this result as the anger against the political class. But we also need to appreciate the fact that there is a genuine desire for clean electoral politics. This desire, driven by the demographics of a young India needs to be capitalized and reflected in the next parliamentary elections too.

I had met Arvind a few months ago at the Bangalore launch of AAP. He exuded confidence and told me that the AAP would do exceedingly well in the Delhi elections. At that time, I had felt that it was misplaced optimism. I must now confess that I am happy to be proved wrong. I can also appreciate that his confidence stemmed from a correct assessment of the mood of the people in Delhi. This mood now needs to be turned into a national process. It needs to be translated into ‘call for action’ across India, especially in rural areas. It needs to be the tipping point in making India a healthy and vibrant democracy.

The AAP has also proved that personal connect matters a lot. Once people, especially the poor and the marginalized, are met and explained about their role and need to participate in strengthening the democratic process, they demonstrate their conviction through the ballot box. Arvind Kejriwal and the AAP have not just given hope to the millions of Indians, but have also given back the voice to the common man, to whom power should rightfully belong. Arvind is surely a master strategist and a passionate leader. He is also described by a few as stubborn and individualistic. But then change makers have to be this way for things to start moving. The present reality too demands some one like him, for change is not easy and needs people who do not just have the conviction but are also ready to take the heat and dust of living those convictions. As he reaches out to others across India, he will surely understand that he needs to be more visibly democratic in order to build an effective coalition of like-minded people.

We also need to appreciate why this milestone is important for the nation. Why does making Indian democracy healthier matter at this point of time? The answer could lie in what has been the situation till now. The Association for Democratic Reforms has analyzed 62847 candidates who have contested either Parliamentary or State Assembly elections since 2004 and the highlights of this analysis are:

  • 18% of them who contested have declared criminal cases against them.
  • There is a 23% chance of winning if you are a candidate with a criminal background.
  • Amongst those with a criminal background only 27% of them had a graduate degree.
  • 30% of our sitting Lok Sabha MPs are facing criminal charges (162 out of 543)
  • All the political parties without exception have given tickets to candidates who have declared criminal cases against them.

Analysis of 8790 out of this 62847 who were elected as MPs and MLAs (since 2004) showed that the average assets of the winner was Rs 3.83 crores and the runners-up was 2.47 crores. The average assets of those with criminal background was 4.31 crores. Analysis also showed an average increase of 134% in declared wealth in less than 5 years of candidates who were recontesting the elections. All this shows how the chances to win an election in India are higher if you have money and a criminal background. It also shows how little chance one has if one is clean, honest and doesn’t have much money to contest the election with. We need to see the achievement and success of AAP against this backdrop.

While the recent Supreme Court judgments are further facilitating this change, we also need to ensure that all good and like-minded people come together and expand on the momentum built. We need to make sure that Delhi is not just a flash in the pan but also a harbinger of what is in store for the Indian Polity and Democracy. The next Parliament elections is not just an acid test for these values but will turn out to be a watershed in Indian politics. For too long has the center stage been occupied by the same set of people with questionable values. Now it is time they are swept aside by well-intentioned, honest and transparent people who are true representatives of the common people of India.

- Balu

Categories: Musings
  1. Anand Narayan
    December 10, 2013 at 1:12 pm | #1

    Kudos Dr.Balu for the wonderful analysis of Democracy getting healthier, Since Arvind Kejriwal made his actions come true in Delhi, now it is your turn to do something more to Mysore/Bangalore/Karnataka, not necessarily to plunge into politics/elections. Your organisation can become more vibrant and spread the message of participatory democracy from all people, educate people the value of vote without comprising from any political parties by not accepting any freebies from any one. My request is that contribute regular articles to leading english dailies in bangalore.

  2. December 9, 2013 at 11:21 pm | #2

    Thanks so much for this well analysed and also optimistic conclusion. I endorse your view very much.

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