India at a Crossroads, An Introduction
by Medha Singh
Indian democracy, it is said, is the largest democracy in the world. It grants its Members of Parliament (MPs) the freedom to whack Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) with flip flops in public to settle the odd disagreement, rename gravitational waves after their prime minister in case Einstein and Newton got it wrong, steal money from the Indian Air Force and give it to crony capitalists, shoot down their own helicopters and, while we’re at it, blame climate change on the incapacity of the human body to endure the cold as it ages.
All things considered, people still go out in droves, and vote.
This election has been, and is an ongoing comedy of errors, or a tragicomedy in seven parts, if you will. Throw into the mix faulty and rigged EVMs (Electronic Voting Machines), deflecting MPs, the odd islamophobia, repeated and gross violations of the Model Code of Conduct and voila! You have a cute little recipe for a pot au feu of proto-fascist broth.
India is a peculiar example of paradoxes. It was Congress MP Dr. Shashi Tharoor, who had perhaps quoted British economist Joan Robinson and said, if you can imagine it, there is porn of it. Oh, wait, that was someone else. Or perhaps he’d conceded, “it’s often jokingly said that whatever you say about India, the opposite is also true.”
Alas, here we are, the largest democracy in the world, a subcontinent riddled with problems that are unique, and then, they aren’t at all: corruption, a major agrarian crisis and a job crisis with an employment rate at a 45-year all time low. These, along with a growing Hindutva hyper-nationalism would be detrimental in the outcome of the coming elections. Say what you will, the rhetoric is fascinating. Call it what you will, poverty porn, power porn, wealth porn, it all exists with little to no regard for ethics. In fact, there is an entire website dedicated to keeping a track of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s lies.
The last national elections saw the end of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime led by the Indian National Congress, after ten years. India had seen an all time high in GDP growth rate at 10.8 % under former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, the absolute absence of terrorism in the disputed Kashmir area, and the expansion of trade with Pakistan, for the first time Pakistan had been conferred the Most Favoured Nation status. Things were fine and dandy except that they lost, because there was no end to the scams riddling the party, and an anti incumbency fueled by a flagrant nepotism.
Today, it looks as though UPA government lost for the same reason that the BJP will not get a clear majority (as they did the last time), but may come to power again with the National Democratic Alliance: corruption, the agrarian crisis (also known as the farmer debt crisis), and jobless growth. The two major things particular to the BJP, that will cost them are their poor policy choices – a massive blow to the Indian economy by way of Demonetization and the Goods and Services Tax. Approximately 146 have people died due to Demo, and the GST destroyed the bulk of Indian medium and small businesses. Dr. Manmohan Singh had warned that there would be a 2% drop in total GDP after Demo, and that is exactly what happened.
While we may have two major parties vying for power, unlike Britain, we have party coalitions. They may not always be ideologically similar. Parties form strategic alliances in states under a federal setup. Speaking of which, can Aam Aadmi party and Congress just stfu and form an alliance in Delhi? We have a fascist Behemoth to fight.
A little background
Our parliamentary and election system are not so different from that of the British. 200 years under the crown will do that to a nation. We have a bicameral parliament, the Lok and Rajya Sabhas (lower and upper houses), to which MPs are elected and sworn in.
Each constituency has the general public elect one representative who then becomes a member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA). Each state has between seven and nine MLAs for every MP that it has in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of India’s bicameral parliament.
The Rajya Sabha members are elected by the Legislative Assembly of States and Union territories by means of a Single Transferable Vote through Proportional Representation. It also has twelve members who are nominated by the President of India.
Both major parties have a very problematic past, and are guilty of whatever bad behaviour you can accuse any other party of on this continent. Let’s not consider that for the moment, and have a clear eyed view of the contemporary setup and where we are headed.
With all this in mind, let me take you through the ramblings in my head, the sexiest fantasy there is: what if all the fascists in the world just died? What a clear and beautiful morning that would be.
However, a girl can dream up some absurd things, a girl has addictions. One of them is the news.
Here are a few sources I’d be using in the coming few weeks (the best ones in India if you ask me, but no one asks me): The Indian Express, The Wire, Scroll.in, The Hindu, The Quint, The Print.
I get my international news from DW, The Guardian, RT news, Al Jazeera, NowThis and the BBC aren’t all that bad, but I read their website like I read the Daily Mail or The Sun, with a pinch of salt and some mosquito spray (this stuff can bite).
Opinion and criticism hence: Salon, Jacobin, TruthOut, DemocracyNow, NewsClick, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Indian Cultural Forum, The Caravan, Foreign Policy and Asia Times. The Wire’s international commentary is top shelf too.
I follow the Twitterati, though I hesitate to count myself as one among them.
See you in the next few weeks as I take you through the lies, blunders and social gaffes of our public figures. I hope, in the meantime, we can cover some key issues.
About the Author:
Medha Singh functions as India Editor for The Charles River Journal, Boston. She is also part of the editorial collective at Freigeist Verlag, Berlin. Her first book of poems, Ecdysis was published by Poetrywala, Mumbai in 2017. She took her M.A. in English literature from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and studied at SciencesPo, Paris through an exchange program, as part of her interdisciplinary master’s degree. She has written variously on poetry, feminism and rock music. Her poems have appeared widely, in national and international journals. Her second book is forthcoming. She lives inside the eternal eye of the New Delhi summer.
Photograph by B Balaji via Flickr (cc).