Delhi was quiet yesterday — the lull before the storm that the final results of this general election may bring into our confused lives. The packaging of the prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party has been managed deftly and its success percentage will be clear once the votes are counted, particularly in states and constituencies that have always voted on caste and community lines. Has this norm been transformed into something else? Will voters support an individual who they believe will alter the status quo that they have been accustomed to? Is there a determination to throw the Congress and its alliance out of office, regardless of what replaces them? Is this because of frustration over the reneging on promises made by the Congress and other erstwhile strong regional dispensations over the decades? Why is India so angry at so many different levels? Is it anger that is driving this election into the realm of the unknown?
The fear is always the hidden socio-cultural-political agenda that, invariably, is never an intrinsic part of the pre-poll discourse. Its many dimensions would raise too many hackles because of the complexity of our plural cultures, faiths and philosophies. To ban the eating of beef, as one small example, in a modern federal democracy where citizens would want to make the many choices that life and living throw up, is a signal that makes liberal India uneasy. Likewise, any ban on how to dress, what to eat, whether to drink alcohol or not, what to write, and much more, is unsettling. Restrictive regulations, laws and rules, breed corruption of diverse kinds, starting at the point of enforcement. Such practices assault personal freedoms. Sooner than later, individuals will fight force and authoritarian positions in this new age of information and transparency. Diktats, dictatorial in nature, can only be short-lived and will leave a bad taste in the mouth.
Minority belief, customs and practices must be honoured in any modern civil society. Any attempt to please one and hurt the sentiments of the other has no place in a modern, free society where respect for diversity is part of social structures. Why should diversity be disregarded? The true challenge for governance in the broadest definition of the term is to be able to ‘appease’ all, equally, by being a just and truly liberal ruler. The majority should have the confidence to embrace all, not segregate any. If India is to compete within the region and take on the larger world powers with its extraordinary pool of human skills and intellectual strengths, its leaders will have to be magnanimous and all-embracing to give India a level playing field.
If a party, or a leader in a party, or a bandmaster of an alliance of parties, gets into the seat of power in New Delhi, and begins to polarize ideas, India will most definitely revolt against that kind of intervention. In this new millennium, its patience will wear out faster than anyone in the political firmament can imagine. There is not one, single cardinal truth in the larger public and political domain, but many inter-related realities. Therefore, it is imperative for all leadership to hear, listen and be open to the layered truths that make up an energetic polity.
India knows that ‘development’ is the easy slogan for change and it also knows well that forward movement, economically, cannot be at the cost of the cultural plurality that is the inherent strength of the sub-continent. We lost the strength of the collective South Asian nations that could have led us into a new economic world with an agenda that was strong and productive. We failed to do that. Let us not lose sight of our diverse vitality as we venture into a new phase with a new generation.