When Leadership Fails and Democracy Cracks! 

It is time to wonder whether democratic significance of United Stated and India is limited to paper and rhetoric at several levels. One cannot ignore questions being raised on whether real democracy is really practiced by these two countries. Sadly, while noise made by United States about spreading democratic norms beyond its borders has lost its value, democratic norms fractured within Indian nation are being exposed again and again.

The so-called Arab Spring policy, initiated by Washington to spread “democracy” in targeted countries is hardly talked about now as a “democratic” venture. The after-math, marked by use of weapons, forcible ousting of several governments, has been being called Arab Winter, a far-cry from the democratic revolution initially painted by Uncle Sam. Little importance was then given by most, including media blowing trumpets about this democratic ploy, to how can democratic revolution – which begins from grass-roots – be exported into any other country? That too into nations with fairly different cultural norms.

And, pray, wherein lies the linkage between democracy and use of weapons- whether by internal or by external sources? One understands democracy as voice for the people, of the people and for the people. Not as that of powers, “targeted” communities don’t recognize as theirs and cannot be identified with.

Democratic pangs and threats are also strongly visible within borders of countries fairly intensely despite the same being viewed as illegal as per their own constitutional norms, including India. What else can said be of numerous innocent persons reportedly held behind bars as alleged criminals, even labeled as terrorists? Or of certain extremist elements taking law in their hands to target communities they have socio-religious bias against? Paradoxically, the aggressive criminals tend to indulge in such activities if they are confident of being spared severe punishment. It is also believed that such “criminals” are “paid” for indulgence in such violence. Who knows as to what is the real picture? But clearly, these may viewed as strong symbols of democratic pangs and/or cracks.

Ironically, these cracks may not have begun assuming alarming proportions if leadership handling the same had not faltered on their own ground. Yes, if power-holders and/or leaders exercised, that is used their power giving prior importance to democratic ethics, the question of latter being abused may not have risen. Not much needs to be said about about abuse of democracy in the name of Arab Spring. But what needs greater attention is that practically most nations chose to support what was then propagated by one and only Super-Power. US had the advantage of spreading manufactured news and gaining support on account of its powerful status. Democratic leadership does not permit abuse of power. But it happened and happens time and again raising questions about the difference between what is projected to gain support and that which actually takes place.

When most powerful leaders choose to depend extensively on manufactured news, it only is suggestive of the weak support that they appear to rely on. Manufactured news cannot be dependent upon for too long. And weak support cannot always give the needed strength to however powerful various leaders may appear to be. Alarm signals suggesting weakening of democracy demand focus on weakening of power-holders. Signals suggesting abuse of power at any level need to be viewed as signs of power holders lacking confidence in their democratic potential and therefore turning to misuse the same to probably create a manufactured hype about their “prowess” which has temporary relevance.

When viewed from this angle, it isn’t astonishing that indulgence in democratic rhetoric bears little relevance for quite a few Indian leaders when they choose to silently, tacitly and/or openly support communalism targeting certain communities. Paradoxically, communalism of this nature appears to gain greater importance whenever elections, whether national or of any level, are around the corner. Prior electoral aim is to apparently promote polarization of vote-banks along communal lies. Little importance is accorded to sufferings of innocent persons only on account of their identity, decided by caste, religion, color, region, etc. Is democracy decided by polarization along such lines? No. But this practice tends to be followed when leaders/power-holders have little or no confidence in their own political importance for voters.

Voters or the people the so-called leaders choose to exercise their dominance over, cannot be fooled by manufactured news for too long. Diplomatically, what has US proved by its stay in Afghanistan for around two decades? It has lost the war there. Washington’s democratic bid in Afghanistan, except for regional factor, is not much different from its so-called democratic experiment, described earlier as Arab Spring.

When the present Indian Prime Minister first decided to join national politics and contest 2014 parliamentary elections, he donned a “secular” mask. But he didn’t take the same risk in 2019 parliamentary polls for apparently he believed that this rhetoric wouldn’t carry much appeal for voters. His party’s victory (with less than 40% votes) is hardly suggestive of it enjoying support of majority of voters. But hype continues to be created about this.

Clearly, being convinced by democratic rhetoric at any level is equivalent to chasing the mirage, leaders losing confidence in their own power try to promote. So, when signals about cracks in democracy start surfacing, it is imperative to focus on leaders and governments blowing too many bubbles about their “prowess”!

Nilofar Suhrawardy is a senior journalist and writer with specialization in communication studies and nuclear diplomacy. Her latest book is Modi’s Victory, A Lesson for the Congress…? (2019). Others include:– Arab Spring, Not Just a Mirage! (2019), Image and Substance, Modi’s First Year in Office (2015) and Ayodhya Without the Communal Stamp, In the Name of Indian Secularism (2006).