Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Indian democracy and the people’s will are being badly mocked

Organising Freedom! by Anirban Ganguly anirbangan@gmail.com
Indian democracy and the people’s will are being badly mocked this summer. As the race for the presidential elections gathers momentum one sees how helpless and overruled the people can be in the largest democracy in the world. Never before has the presidential race been so disjointed and so isolated from the hopes of millions who strive to make this so called ‘democracy’ functional. The awakening of the masses and their participation in the formation of national life is a principle pre-requisite for any nation to maintain Swaraj and thrive, as Sri Aurobindo pointed out-when he was himself in the process of awakening the ‘political sense’ of the masses to the need of acquiring swaraj and transforming the struggle for freedom from an elitist intellectual protest movement to a more spontaneous grass-roots mass upheaval – in one of his column in the Bande Mataram,
“…this is the age of the people, the millions, the democracy. If any nation wishes to survive in the modern struggle, if it wishes to recover or maintain Swaraj, it must awaken the people and bring them into the conscious life of the nation, so that every man may feel that in the nation he lives, with the prosperity of the nation he prospers, in the freedom of the nation he is free…”
At the stroke of midnight sixty years ago the masses were indeed awakened to the chimes of freedom and a whole programme after much debate and deliberation was drawn up to make grow in them a greater political sense and to bring them in a more substantial way into the ‘conscious life of the nation’. It is evident that in spite of the numerous hurdles and deliberately installed roadblocks the consciousness and the political awareness of the masses have grown to previously unexpected heights and their participation at various levels is increasing. The irony of that increase in conscious participation is becoming sharply evident this summer and one is compelled to think aloud whether ‘democracy’ as practiced in this country is truly representative, whether the people’s will can at all and finally prevail and whether or not things have started increasingly going down-hill. Some will assure you that all is quite well with Indian democracy and that it has succeeded in a way and that as long as democratic institutions last and as long as the country is organised around them things shall be fine and people will be partners in national progress and nation building. But events of this summer starkly speak otherwise and point to a degenerative process which has by now gnawed quite deep into the present Indian body politic.
The present President’s term of office has been after a long fallow period an exemplary one. Endowed with deep knowledge and breadth of vision – it was evident when in one of his first public speeches he called for ‘religion to graduate to spirituality’ and thus begin ushering in a whole new era of harmony, progress and growth – he has proved to be acceptable to a vast cross-section of the population cutting across opinions and affiliations. A non-party man, he has always striven to be above party and division and represented the face of growth, the face of an India which seeks to dream, to dare, to excel and thus moving towards achieving its rightful place in the world community. It is his value as a man; it is his importance as a representative of a dynamic India that has made him acceptable to the majority of his countrymen. He was India’s one good chance to rise at least in one issue and area above the bickering, divisions and antagonism of parties and give shape to a united national hope. But it is here that the ‘summer mockery’ is evident, the people’s representatives, those supposed to reflect the people’s will have decided otherwise, they want a party man, however limited his acceptability, however surface in his depth of vision and however stunted his capacities. They want somebody pliable and moldable who would play the game to their whistle. Thus one of the first attributes of democracy, the people’s will, stands negated and no institution can step in to reverse the process. The question which arises at this juncture is whether the present democratic institutions are sacrosanct or can they be and need to be altered, whether or not this whole issue strongly questions the representativeness of our democracy and whether the time has indeed come when a serious quest for an alternatives must begin. The Mother once pithily remarked,
“…The Government should be run by people who are selfless, unegoistic, scrupulously honest and capable. Their allegiance should be to the whole country; they should serve the interests of the whole country and not of any party. If the present Constitution does not permit such men, irrespective of parties, to be in the Government, then the Constitution should be changed.”
The present incumbent on the presidential chair approaches these criteria to a large extent and that is probably why he did not find favour with the present tribe of politicians The existing system, with all its good, has certainly failed to facilitate such possibilities as pointed out by The Mother. In fact, the current presidential race, party interests, increasing criminalization of public life, divisions of caste and religion have proved that the ‘allegiance to the whole country irrespective of parties’ is impossible to achieve within the present framework. The first step then-though it is considered these days blasphemous even to utter such a thing - is to have a thorough reappraisal of the working of the Constitution and to suggest & push through radical alterations to start making the Indian polity truly representative, & dynamic and which would eventually allow persons of quality to emerge regardless of colours of ideologies and parties. As we enter the sixtieth of freedom a radical effort, keeping in mind the clear-cut exhortations in this regard is indeed a pressing necessity in this I believe Savitri Erans will have to take the first steps in redrawing the structures inspired by those demanding words.

A number of Sri Aurobindo’s conversation & his letters reveals as one of his constant pre-occupations, thoughts of ‘organizing swaraj’ & the question as to what is India going to do with her freedom, on what lines will she develop & evolve it? As early as January 1920 he wrote to Joseph Baptista a co-worker of Tilak who wanted to organize a social democratic party & who wanted Sri Aurobindo to take up the editorship of the party journal,
“…What preoccupies me now is the question what it [India] is going to do with its self-determination, how will it use its freedom, on what lines it is going to determine its future…Now I believe in something which might be called social democracy, but not in any of the forms now current, and I am not altogether in love with the European kind, however great an improvement it may be on the past. I hold that India having a spirit of her own and a governing temperament proper to her own civilisation, should in politics as in everything else strike out her own original path and not stumble in the wake of Europe. But this precisely what she will be obliged to do, if she has to start on the road in her present chaotic and unprepared condition of mind…”
The condition & state of mind was indeed chaotic when India began her journey to organize her freedom and as a result she evolved her institutions as second-hand copies of western models which themselves, with a few exceptions, were undergoing a phase of restructuring in the land of their birth and growth. The ‘striking out of the original path’ was never deeply or seriously attempted maybe it demanded too much of an effort and a great degree of selfless thought and application. Our colonial subjugation and its sapping effect had probably nullified the capacity to exercise these qualities in a sustained manner. In creating the structures to uphold her polity India did not reflect her ethos, her uniqueness and her originality. The attitude of over-centralisation introduced by the colonial administration to keep tab on all movements in the country continued to pervade the spirit of new governance and as a result negated and made extinct the flexibility, plasticity, variety of the ancient structure. The case here is not to advocate a move to revive ancient structures and systems, which in any case shall prove impossible to replicate in present conditions, but to evolve alternative structures in the positive spirit of the past. In one of his conversations with his attending-disciples Sri Aurobindo once remarked,
“…In India the communal freedom was very great. The communities had great powers and the State had no autocratic authority. The State was a kind of general supervising agency of all the communities…it is the European idea that makes you think that the parliamentary form or constitution is the best. We had great communal liberty and communities were the centres of power and of national life…I don’t understand why everything should be centralized as in the parliamentary constitution. We must have different, numerous centres of culture and power, full of national life, spread all over the country and they must have a political freedom to develop themselves…it is not necessary that you should have today the same old forms. But you can take the line of evolution and follow the bent of the genius of the race…”
The system enforced was based largely on the existing colonial structure and as result put an end to the possibility of each particular region or area developing along its own lines and temperament. The domineering central presence in all aspects of growth and development and refusal to acknowledge the presence of sub-nationalities and the necessity of a looser federal functioning gave rise to regionalism, separatism and insurgency and accentuated the various regional divides. Sri Aurobindo’s occupation continued with this thought of organizing freedom and it can be traced right up to his last public message in 1948. In 1935 he wrote to his attendant the legendary Nirodbaran, who had asked him about India’s independence and pleaded with him to bring it about with his spiritual power,
“…Have I not told you that the independence is all arranged for and will evolve itself all right? Then what’s the use of my bothering about it any longer? Its what she will do with her independence that is not arranged for – and so it is that about which I have to bother.”
Again in a conversation in 1938 when he was asked whether India’s independence was developing along his lines, his emphatic answer was,
“Surely not. India is now going towards European socialism, which is dangerous for her, whereas we were trying to evolve the genius of the race along Indian lines, and all working for independence.”
The country has passed through its phase of ‘European socialism’ and experienced an existence on the brink; though even now it is experimenting with other models and remains oblivious to the necessity of evolving an indigenous one for growth. But it is becoming evident with each passing cycle of national growth that unless a whole hearted and concerted effort is made to ‘evolve the genius of the race along Indian lines’ our national life will keep bouncing from one structure of governance to another and from one model of growth to another each to be rejected or seen to be inadequate after a period of time And each leaving in its residual trail greater complexities. The experiences of the last six decades can only fortified this perception.

The sixtieth year of freedom loudly calls for a national- reappraisal, in all fields, especially that of governance. In a letter to Sri Aurobindo in 1935 another disciple expressed his anguish on the communal situation in a certain Indian province and said, ‘with the coming of Independence I hope such things will stop…In your scheme of things do you definitely see a free India?” Sri Aurobindo’s bolt-like reply was,
“That is all settled. It is a question of working out only. The question is what is India going to with her Independence? The above kind of affair? Bolshevism? Goonda-raj? Things look ominous.”
Things continue to look ominous as in the last sixty year we have passed a numerous times through the above mentioned situations, the last one in fact is set to become a way of being in our national public life. The organizing of freedom in vast areas of action in national life continues to remain disrupted, devoid of will, vision and genuiness. In all this We the people, who gave unto ourselves this Constitution years ago with the faith & hope that India shall at last be allowed to be herself and to find expression find instead ourselves quite helpless and watching, relegated to the sidelines. The odds are so-overwhelming that we are gradually sinking into a self-induced torpor of hopelessness. The only question then to be asked, reflected and acted upon in this hour is Sri Aurobindo’s question, rephrased for the present,
what have we done with our freedom and how have we organised it’.
A national debate in this light is called for and the pressing issue to be debated is whether the people of this nation have actually found their true voice and self-determination & how alternatives to the present systems of governance can be evolved to give them that not only substantially but wholly. And this can be but the first step, the questioning must stretch to all walks of our national life. The debate must begin in right earnest or else the mockery of democracy – as witnessed this summer can only get more acute & India may well go beyond the grasp of Indians themselves if it stretches for too long.

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