AAP and the Inner Crisis of Democracy

There is a crisis in India’s democracy and the Aam Aadmi Party is its consequence. Excerpts from a panel discussion
Mohan Guruswamy Delhi 

Modern India today has over two thousand ethnic groups. Most of the modern languages in India have evolved from the world’s four language families: Indo-European, Dravidian, Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burman. India has 1,652 individual mother tongues. The 2001 Census tells us that 30 languages are spoken by over a million each, and 122 by over 10,000 each. 

India has almost 1.2 billion people, and the Union of India consists of 31 States and Union Territories, with some more being currently midwifed. Population-wise, the biggest of these is Uttar Pradesh with 199.6 million people, or 16.49 per cent of India’s. It is as big as Brazil. The smallest political unit is Lakshadweep, which has just 64,000 (0.01%). Quite clearly, the omnibus term India, incidentally derived from the name of a river that hardly flows through it, masks a diversity of nations. 

In late 2012, India became the world’s third largest economy in PPP terms, and has grown at an average rate of over 7 per cent since 2000. Between 2008 and 2011, it grew at more than 9 per cent. In consonance with global trends, India’s growth, too, has tapered off these past two years. Clearly, it’s a country of great heterogeneity and complexity. Its diversity makes it unsuitable for any other form of government but democracy. 

There is a crisis in India’s democracy and the Aam Admi Party is its consequence. Most conventional social scientists did not anticipate the AAP phenomena, as most of them did not see the challenges posed to Democracy, as it evolved, particularly in India. 

According to Aristotle, the underlying principle of Democracy is Freedom, since only in a democracy can freedom be shared. There are two aspects to freedom: being ruled and ruling. And since everyone is equal, numbers matter. 

We in India have equality in the sense implied in a democracy. We have periodic free and fair elections – at least reasonably free and fair, an independent Media, an independent Judiciary and all of us enjoy all the freedoms we believe to be essential to be a ‘free people’. 

But why then are we unhappy with the system of government we have?

To begin to understand this, we must first understand what kind of a democracy we have evolved into.

We were intended to be a hybrid democracy combining direct democracy at the local levels and representative democracy at the regional and national levels. To facilitate the installation of a direct democracy at the lowest levels, we needed to dismantle the traditional institutions of local governance. While in most parts of the country, institutions such as the Khaps, Jaati Sabhas and Gaon Sabhas continue to stubbornly exist, their powers and influence has been considerably whittled down by state systems in anticipation of a new system of Government called the Panchayati Raj, a system based on elections by equals and not based on tradition and birth. The PR system never did take root. As a matter of fact, local governments, even in the cities never took root. The distribution of salaries explains this phenomenon vividly.