EPW Editorial


The NDA’s refusal to engage in argumentative politics results in the violation of democratic norms.


It does not bear emphasising that the very acts of protests and dissent by the marginalised groups who want to lead their lives with security and dignity are indeed the ones that promise to uphold the democratic norms and enrich the democratic content of the Indian nation. These protests are inherently democratic inasmuch as they are aimed at seeking freedom from poverty, unemployment, rural distress, anxiety, fear, and frustration. The content of these protests is persuasive and deliberative or argumentative. The arguments in the case of the common people may not necessarily originate from written texts, but flow essentially from the necessity that underlies the truth. This necessity can be, for example, that of getting employment, howsoever dangerous, archaic, and obnoxiously alienating it may be. Most of the members of the Valmiki community are forced to get down into manhole to clean it, such is their helplessness. It has to be understood, first in terms of the non-availability of decent work, and second as the fear of losing even such a job to others. Even the distress migration of footloose labour is a forced move in any direction that will give them any kind of work.


Whichever be the ruling party at the helm, in order to guarantee freedom to its citizens, it is duty-bound to minimise if not totally remove the conditions that entail distress, anxiety, and frustration. Any government that claims to be committed to ensuring freedom to its citizens and upholding democratic norms, cannot seek to be exempted from taking part in arguments about its direction and functioning. A democratically formed government must be enlightened enough to see an element of rationality in the argumentative mode. Engaging with an argument promises to make its claim for electoral support stronger when it is approaching voters. The unilateral defence of its “success” in fulfilling its promises or riding on the success of the nation’s defence forces results in an unreflective endorsement of the government, despite its failures in many crucial spheres, because it has been reached by avoiding arguments. The main question that we need to ask is: How much, during the last five years, has the central government led by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) sought such an exemption from argument that is at the core of deliberative democracy? Is not this government then a free rider of democracy?


The deliberative mode involves reciprocal conversation with the electorate and is an essential democratic practice. However, much-touted practices like the “Mann ki Baat” conducted weekly by the Prime Minister on the radio hardly guarantee the achievement of such a democratic ideal. This radio programme lacks reciprocity basically because it was initiated with the assumption that the Prime Minister has the special power to read the minds of the “millions.” It actually eschewed the need to converse with the press that is interested in holding a critical conversation with him. While it may give one the feeling that the Prime Minister is talking to the people, in essence he is talking down to the people from atop a high pedestal, and asymmetry is but inbuilt in such a “conversation.” This is also evident in the calculated conversations that the Prime Minister is having as part of his “I am chowkidar” campaign.


In a deliberative democracy, it is the responsibility of the leaders of the ruling party to engage with and, in fact, invite opposition leaders to an argument. Instead, what one increasingly came across in the last five years was attempts by the government and its supporters to drastically diminish the spaces of argument by trolling opponents on social media, using morally offensive language, and physically eliminating the voices of argument. Some supporters of the ruling party, after using morally offensive language, were found making the following statements: “I was misunderstood,” or “I was quoted out of context.” Such expressions, however, involve ethical mistakes, which are not legally punishable. These repeated mistakes corrupt the moral capacity of others as it forces them to repeat such language. The fear of argument has also been evident in the government’s attempts to prevent important data from entering into the public domain.


The question that one has to raise is: Why do they use such morally offensive language? The answer lies in the fear of argument that has gripped these leaders. In fact, they tend to block the argument by putting symbolic politics before argumentative politics. For example, the overuse of symbolic politics that was built up by the NDA government around nationalism succeeded in pushing the vibrant notion of nationalism—which entails the symbiotic relationship between the nation and its citizens—into a frozen mode. The nation’s standing as a “powerful” entity depends on the standing of its people. The idea of a responsive nation depends on where its people are in terms of their access to health, education, employment, and housing. The failure to provide a convincing argument can claim no exemption. However, such a party, without making any contribution to enriching democratic content, would use electoral democracy to seek a second term in power.



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