Disconnect between elite and mass concerns has made the future of Indian democracy uncertain. Several institutions, including the Supreme Court, the Election Commission of India and the Central Bureau of Investigation, which are constitutionally mandated to be autonomous agencies, have recently come under a cloud because of their perceived inability to work independently of the political executive or because of the lack of transparency in their performance.
The Congress party’s pursuit of “soft” Hindutva, as against the BJP’s “hard” Hindutva is a thing of concern too. The discernible rise in populist and authoritarian tendencies in the country is reminiscent of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency that threaten to reduce India to merely a procedural democracy where elections are held primarily to anoint populist leaders.
While the liberal intellectuals have been fixated on subjects such as the erosion of institutions, the rise of majoritarianism has led to most voters being unconcerned about these issues. The vision of the majority is limited to three types of issues: jobs and livelihood; caste and communal considerations; and demonstration of Indian strength especially vis-à-vis Pakistan.
One factor that appears to cut across caste and linguistic divisions is the attraction for many voters to hyper-nationalism, sometimes bordering on jingoism. Hyper-nationalism has always been the favourite strategy of populist leaders seeking to retain or to attain power.
A combination of the factors outlined above — lack of concern for institutions, preoccupation with livelihood issues, obsession with caste and community benefits, and the propagation of hyper-nationalism — taken together facilitate populism, which, as history shows, can easily lead to authoritarianism.
A minority section of Elites look at Indian democracy. Unfortunately it does not reach the vast majority of non-English speaking audience. It is only when one loses the taken-for-granted freedoms that one can appreciate its importance. But then it will have been too late.