People are being alienated from democratic processes
Indian democracy has a bad record when it comes to helping women and the poor get their rights
The brand of politics being practised these days has begun to alienate the people from democratic processes. A good example of this is the just-concluded elections in the three northeastern states. Here, I will desist from analysing the victory or loss of any particular party or leader and, instead, focus on analysing the tendencies that have nurtured the gun-tantra (culture of guns) and dealt a number of blows to ganatantra (the republic).
Let me begin with Nagaland. This extremely sensitive part of India has been struggling to overcome poverty and backwardness. The annual per capita income here is Rs89,607 as compared to the national per capita income of Rs111,782. Now consider the average income of candidates from Nagaland. Of the 196 poll warriors in the fray, 114 are crorepatis with an average personal wealth of Rs3.76 crore. As many as 60 candidates have personal riches of more than Rs50 lakh.
The story doesn’t end there. Only five of the 196 candidates who’ve filed their nominations for the 60-seat assembly are women. An indicator of the sorry state of women in the state’s politics is that not a single woman candidate has been elected for the assembly, ever.
Rano M. Shaiza did become the state’s only parliamentarian in 1977 but no other woman has had this honour since. In a state that believes in giving equal rights to women, there was fierce resistance to reserving 33% seats for women in the municipal elections.
The condition of Meghalaya and Tripura, part of the Seven Sisters, isn’t any better. There’s a predominance of the Khasi community in Meghalaya. It is a matrilineal society that believes in the pre-eminence of women in society. In the Khasi community, the husband has to move into the wife’s ancestral home after marriage and their progeny take the mother’s name. Not just this, the recipient of ancestral property is the family’s youngest daughter. If a daughter is not born in a family, they adopt a girl child. There cannot be a better place in the country to be a woman, but look at their share in politics—Just 33 of the 372 candidates fighting assembly elections are women.
Here, too, 152 crorepatis with an average wealth of Rs3.5 crore are fighting elections. The richest among these is Ngaitlang Dhar, the National People’s Party candidate from the Umroi constituency, with assets worth Rs290 crore. Researchers from the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) say that Tripura is better than other states in this regard. Thirty-five of the 297 candidates are crorepatis and the average wealth is Rs46.92 lakh. The representation of women is negligible here, too. Just 24 women candidates had filed nominations for the assembly polls.
It doesn’t matter which of these candidates wins or loses. The question is—can such an assembly be considered a fair representation of an entire population? Has the politics of vested interests not worked against the region’s socio-cultural traditions? How can an assembly full of crorepati legislators hope to take decisions in favour of the downtrodden? The disconnect between society and politics is dangerous for democracy.
These three states are also facing separatist movements. Therefore, for a long time, power from the gun has ruled in the name of democracy.
While travelling through the remote areas of Manipur and Nagaland in the 1990s, I discovered that billions of rupees allotted by the Centre were not utilized for development, instead, they lined the pockets of bureaucrats and politicians. Rather than stopping them, the local police and paramilitary personnel were in cahoots with the corrupt.
That’s why the issue of tribal rights has been relegated to the background in the North-East by the power brokers. If you so desire, you can compare this pristine region to Kashmir, known as heaven on earth. Here too, gun-tantra has trampled on the rights of the common man in equal measure.
The consequences are clear. Indian democracy has a bad record when it comes to helping women and the poor get their rights. But the conditions in these states, located in the lap of the Himalayas, are going from bad to worse.
So, before I congratulate the newly elected legislators from the North-East, I’d like to ask them—What will they do to change things? It is politicians who’ve pushed these states into this quagmire. Only they can pull the North-East out of this morass.
Shashi Shekhar is editor in chief, Hindustan.
His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin