Nation — 11 January 2012
Democracy, Dil Se

Coalition politics and a hung parliament may be touted as the curses of the modern Indian democracy but they mean something entirely different to those parts of India that have always been handed the short straw

Terrorist Chief: Over the years, many promises have been made to us.  Promises: never to be fulfilled.

Journalist: But still, this is your country, isn’t it?

Terrorist Chief: No! You think only Delhi is India.  Regions like ours have no significance.  Do you know why?  Because it is a small region, not a big vote bank.  Delhi’s eye is where the votes are, we have been left to die. 

The above is an English translation from a scene in the movie “Dil Se” where Shah Rukh Khan, who plays a journalist for AIR, interviews a terrorist chief in some unknown region in India.  Although not one of the most memorable scenes in the movie, it does compel one to think of the democracy that we are all a part of.

When most people are asked “What would be the most desirable result of the national Lok Sabha election for you?” the usual answer is, “I don’t care who wins, but one of the national parties should get a decisive mandate.”  The stock market reacts very positively to such an occurrence.  For most of the nineties our country has suffered due to political uncertainty stemming out of a divided mandate.

But is a divided mandate so bad? 

For the first fifty years, as India started its “tryst with destiny” as Pandit Nehru put it, the leaders faced a problem of (dare I say it) biblical proportions.  It was a vast country with the poorest people in the world.  As the country’s leadership set about building a nation out of the erstwhile British Empire, it was tough enough to build the mainstream, one could not even think of the diverse hinterlands. National parties, by the mere nature of their existence, fulfilled the demands of the majority. But what about unique indigenous demands?  What about the gentleman in the above conversation who feels his small region is neglected?  Slowly, local movements started taking shape. Be it the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha which voiced the concerns of the tribals, the Naxalite movement which started in Bengal, or the Telangana Rastriya Samiti in Andhra Pradesh.  But in a parliamentary election where 700 million people voted, their voice did not really count.   Then, in the nineties, as the major national political parties lost their dominance, the 5 Lok Sabha seats that the JMM had been winning for so many years, suddenly became golden. The TRS with its three seats was a powerful ally.  Agreed, this brought with it instability, horse trading and unscrupulous leaders.  However, it suddenly brought the trials and tribulations of these small indigenous communities to the fore.  It became important for the central government to suddenly announce relief packages for the North East states and accede to demands of state hood for states like Jharkhand.

This is the beauty of the parliamentary democracy.  In certain instances, even the voice of small minorities can be powerful enough to make or break governments.  It is imperative that every democracy passes through a stage where even two seats in the parliament really matter.  This way the terrorist chief in “Dil Se” can be heard without resorting to handing weapons to children and turning beautiful women like Manisha Koirala into bombs.

The author, Kartik Gupta, is an alumnus of IIT Bombay and IIM Lucknow and holds a keen interest in the governance of our nation.

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