Democracy, as a system of governance, stands resilient in India despite political fluctuations. These fluctuations, inherent in democratic processes, are vital for the smooth functioning of diverse societies like India. However, when political uncertainties escalate into negativity and divisiveness, they threaten the nation’s social fabric and cultural harmony.

Poll officials at a counting centre on Tuesday. The recently concluded 18th general elections since Independence showcased the country’s democratic strengths and maturity. (HT Photo)

The recently concluded 18th general elections since Independence showcased the country’s democratic strengths and maturity. Though marked by allegations of unfairness, including claims of electronic voting machine (EVM) tampering, these elections highlighted the relentless pursuit of power among incumbents. However, despite their vehement claims, they have not secured a majority and would need the support of pre-poll allies to form the government. The people seem to have disliked majoritarian authoritarianism and opted for a coalition government.

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The electorate acknowledged the strength and decisiveness exhibited by the leadership of the incumbent government over the past decade. Despite its alignment with Hindu interests, the outgoing government emphasised national unity and integrity. While allegations of intolerance, constitutional impropriety, and authoritarian governance persisted, the nation managed to avert significant societal damage.

India’s social complexities, characterised by linguistic, socio-cultural, and religious diversity, make governance intricate and challenging. Striking a delicate balance between discipline and authoritarianism is paramount. Past leaders such as Indira Gandhi and Morarji Desai faced similar accusations, highlighting the perpetual challenge of navigating governance efficacy and democratic principles. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was often compared with Mrs Gandhi’s governance style, underscoring the need for vigilant oversight and the preservation of democratic values.

Historically, the absence of political and bureaucratic discipline fostered corruption and governance inertia. Slow economic reforms and growth, often attributed to political instability and coalition governments, prompted a decisive mandate in 2014. While critics perceived discipline within the ruling party as autocracy, those in government considered it necessary for efficiency and decisiveness.

Stability and decisiveness

Caste, class, and religion-based reservations, subsidies, and grants often served as expedient governance tools rather than instruments of social equality as envisioned by the Constitution’s framers. The debate on reservations for underprivileged groups was contentious, as it sometimes appeared more political than aimed at genuine social equality. Repurposing these measures to focus on long-term solutions and socio-economic reforms is imperative for India’s enhanced resilience in the face of globalisation.

Accelerating efforts to capture global opportunities to make India a manufacturing hub is essential, but ensuring agricultural transformation with renewed thrust is equally important. Addressing basic issues of farmers to raise their incomes and living standards through value addition, farm gate processing, improving the quality of agricultural services at affordable costs, and assured marketing holds promise in the agricultural sector.

Long-term solutions encompassing social, economic, administrative, and judicial reforms are necessary to mitigate the impact of political vicissitudes. Strengthening institutions, codifying rules, and accelerating job creation are paramount. Innovative laws are required to make these unbreachable. Promoting universal access to health and education is foundational to cultivating an informed and productive citizenry, essential for the sustainability of democracy.

The stability and decisiveness demonstrated by the government over the past decade testify to the potential for effective governance amid political turbulence. However, the country needs enduring solutions and fortified democratic institutions that mitigate the pervasive influence of political vicissitudes, ensuring a more robust democracy for future generations.

Inclusivity in governance

True inclusivity in governance transcends mere acknowledgment of diversity; it necessitates active participation and representation of all segments of society. Marginalised communities, including Scheduled Castes, Adivasis, and religious minorities, particularly subalterns in these groups, continue to face systemic barriers that impede their full participation in democratic processes. Ensuring their inclusion requires proactive measures such as affirmative action policies and new social contracts that empower these communities.

Furthermore, gender equality remains a pressing issue that demands urgent attention. Despite progress in recent years, women continue to be underrepresented in politics and public services, with their voices often marginalised. Implementing measures to enhance women’s political participation, such as reserving seats in legislative bodies and providing targeted support for women, should be hastened to achieve true gender parity in governance.

Moreover, the inclusion of youth voices is vital for the future vitality of democracy. Young people represent a significant portion of the population, yet their perspectives and concerns are often overlooked in political decision-making processes. Engaging youngsters through civic education, youth-led initiatives, and platforms for meaningful participation can invigorate democracy and foster a culture of active citizenship among future generations.

Ensuring inclusivity in governance requires a commitment to social justice and human rights. Addressing systemic inequalities, combating discrimination, upholding the rights of all individuals, regardless of race, religion, caste, or gender identity, and removing criminals from politics are fundamental requirements of a truly inclusive democracy.

While democracy may face challenges from political vicissitudes, its resilience lies in its ability to adapt and evolve. By embracing inclusivity, fostering diversity, and upholding democratic values, nations like India can navigate through turbulent times and build a more equitable and just society for all its citizens. It is through collective effort and unwavering commitment to inclusivity that democracy can truly thrive and endure for generations to come. [email protected]

Suresh Kumar (HT file photo)
Suresh Kumar (HT file photo)

The writer is a retired Punjab IAS officer. Views expressed are personal.