Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Indian Elections and Social Transformation

Recently concluded general elections practically made the two major parties polarized so much to the extent that the BJP has casted itself in Hindutva in an iron mould; whereas the Indian National congress party literally was made a party of the Muslims. While this type of polarization at the level of the religion is not only detrimental to democracy but also the development of the nation.
The political leadership should have no role in promoting or even supporting a religious identity. It must be made clear that religion as is manifest in rituals and place of worship must be set aside from the high ideals that come out of the grand Indian ethos and culture. It is a fact that all citizens irrespective of the religious affiliation are part of Indian culture and ethos and it is not feasible and also not warranted to differentiate between them.

Muslim mind set, however, still in the realm of protecting themselves and their identity. Their vision that Indian is a democracy and that their presence and democratic participation must herald a comfortable and respectable aura to others is not yet fully articulated and understood.  It is hard to find a political leader at any level of governance, especially at the national scene who could present the positive side of the Muslim community and their contribution to the nation building during the recent past.

Many believe that the ten years of UPA rule failed in promoting and sustaining economic development of the nation. While India was until recently at the incipient stage of ‘development threshold’ and that it has been crossed over only recently; the exogenous external factors have impacted India’s economic development during 5-6 years. Yet it is a feat of a sort that India could maintain a 6-7 per cent annual growth average during the difficult period of global recovery.  What is relevant, however, is as to how such a growth has impacted the psyche of the electorate. 

Sociological and applied economic analysis has supported a trend that religious assertion and glorification of social identity increases as the income levels increase. This is neither good nor bad in itself. Households with money to spare do perform religious rituals as well self-assert themselves in the local environment. The cumulative effect of such social and economic interaction is a concoction for social segregation and competitive religious assertion. Yet a country as diverse and as large as India has to deal with this situation with great care so as to ensure a peaceful coexistence of people professing varied religions and multiple social classes as expressed in the Indian caste system. It is also hypothesised that this intricate relationship between household income and social assertion will change for better as economic transformation continues and sustains itself for a longer period of time. The relationship can be described as an inverted U shaped curve – that is the religious assertion which increases as income increase and reaches a peak and then declines before normalizing itself at a certain lower level. Essentially continued economic development will be the driving force for secularization of communities since not only will the competition for resources are subdued but also that the labour market gets harmonized based on the transformations of the skill sets that will evolve over time and some of them could become essential and therefore subject to no competition.

The unfortunate situation however is when politically and electorally the voters are charged in directions which polarize communities and then supported by the new found income growth the dominant view not only prevails but also damages the ethos of the Indian culture and society.  Let us recollect that it is the modern education, and associate technological and scientific skill sets which led to modernization and secularization of the developed world as we know today. During this process of transformation the religion got separated out from civic and public life and governance became independent of the religious influences.  On the other hand, it appears that in India, the electoral democracy in fact is pushing communities in the direction of religious confrontation and the mechanism of education and scientific temper can wield only limited impact thus leading to a situation of chaos and annihilation. This situation can snowball in geometric proportion at various lower levels of governance and electoral process such as the elections of the States, panchayats and municipalities, community participation in program implementation and civil society formations. 

It is therefore, the responsibility of the new government to understand this unique and intricate relationship and ensure that the future social and economic transformation must happen through the process of education and cultural change. In this context two noteworthy situations that inevitably evolve needs to be highlighted. Sectoral (economic) imbalances favouring the modern technology-based and large manufacturing will receive a much needed boost. Yet what may happen is that millions of workforce trapped in low productive sectors such as farming, traditional artisanship, small business and manual labour would face an extraordinary risk, should the new government ignore their plight in its immediate policy formulation. Secondly, the fiscal pressure and also some ideological difference may promote frugality of social services and social subsidies. This will be an immediate threat to millions of the vulnerable and deprived communities who will face increase in hunger, deepening of poverty amongst selected social groups and geographic areas as well as continued health vulnerabilities. After all the so called Gujarat model of development could not deal with such issues to the satisfaction of the electorate either.