Kolkata: P Chidambaram, the Rajya Sabha member and former home minister of India today claims in present democratic India or the ‘New India’ Muslims, the largest minority, are non-citizens. He also mentioned that non-Hindus are half a citizen. In his lecture on the Future of Democracy, the former finance minister bluntly stated many facts about the present Indian democracy, in which according to him most people are living in fear. The former law minister also batted for the collegium system and pointed out that the kind of government India has, the interference will create havoc in the country.
Chidambaram, the senior Congress leader was in Kolkata to launch the book—Development, Decentralisation and Democracy by St. Xavier’s University Vice-Chancellor Felix Raj and Professor Prabhat Kuma Dutta.
During his 45-minute-long speech and speaking to audiences, the seasoned politician, talks about many important aspects of democracy and what ails it. The senior leader, who assumed many portfolios believe that most of the Indians are living under fear and at one point he cited an example of Bilkis Bano’s case where she had to demand from the Supreme Court to give her back the right to live without fear.
Chidambram began his lecture by saying, “If Abraham Lincoln were alive today, he would be called old-fashioned. 106 years back, Lincon said Democracy is of the people, for the people and by the people. But today he apologized for saying it.”
Soon he mentioned, “I am cautious that I am addressing an audience at an education institution that is run by Jesuits, and Jesuits preach Christian faith. I should be very careful not to utter any word that sounds political and partisan. But the fundamental message to be conveyed. And the fundamental message today is, over the years, democracy has been hollowed out in this country. The superstructure is intact, but inside it is practically hollowed out.
Then he mentioned what are the factors that are hollowing democracy. And the foremost he mentioned was money.
Today, 1760 crores of unaccounted money have been seized this month as five states are undergoing polls. Today one state (Rajasthan) has votes and one more is left.
In the initial days of the election, Rs 5000 was sufficient. A few decades ago a candidate could fight an election with Rs 50000 but today money and vast amounts of money are being distributed during the election.
A rally today is a glimpse show. Hundreds of people, with promises of food, drink, song, dance, television screening. And a rally today cost 1 crore.
The second factor he mentioned is that religion is being used in elections, which is hollowing out democracy.
Religion has no role in the election; you vote as a citizen, not a particular faith. But today religion is omnipresent in the election.
There is a political party which consistently refuses to nominate any candidate other than Hindu in state after state. Although in many states, the proportion of the Muslim population is as high as 20 percent, 15 or 10 percent, the party refuses to nominate a single candidate from the Muslim community, election after election.
The third reason why democracy is being hollowed out is, we are undermining the institutions that support democracy. We all think that the four pillars of democracy—parliament
We are moving towards centralism, which is the antithesis of democracy.
Secularism has become a bad word as appeasement
Secularism is so discrete today it has got another name called appeasement. It is a code word to discredit secularism.
If you are a non-Hindu, (pardon me for being blunt) you feel today, that you are half a citizen and if you are Muslim, you feel, you are a non-citizen that is because secularism is being systematically discredited.
UCC, NRC, NEP are anti-democratic
In my view, the Uniform Civil Court is anti-democratic, it will be majority-driven. NRC, the New Education policy is another drive towards centralism.
Today may not know that appointments of the Vice Chancellor, including state-funded universities including DGP require central approval of one or the other agencies of the central government.
State-made laws are ineffective unless the President signs them.
Parliament has made agencies, several agencies, which enter states in the pretext of investigating a crime, a new crime under the new law. And virtually takes over the administration of criminal law from the state government.
Police and law and order are essential state subjects. But usually, you will find that the central agency takes over cases.
Electoral bonds are another way of central power.
Centralism is anti-democratic
Then there is the famous oneness project. One Nation-One Ration Card, One Nation-One Language, One Nation-One Food Habit, One Nation-One Culture, One Nation-One Model Code
All these oneness projects are completely anti-democratic.
He detailed one ration concept and informed that there are 45 million people in India who are internal migrants. “Technically, his ration card should get him ration in another state. But if a migrant goes from Bihar to Tamil Nadu, he will not get ration there.”
Changing government and not going to the people for a vote but changing government by engineering government is hallowing democracy.
The last state was Goa, which could be the next state, I do not know. Because it can happen in any state.
Racial or cultural supremacy
A leader said we all belong to the Aryan race and that we must aggressively combat Love Jihad and conversion.
A student of a Jesuit school himself, the politician asked the audience, has anyone attempted to convert you? Have you come across in life that Hindu girl who is being abducted by Muslims and Christians? Has it happened to your village and neighbourhood?
Watch the video
Watch the video of Chidambaram replying to audience questions
Living without fear
Finally, remember what Bilkis Bano said. Twelve of her family members were killed. When her rapists and murderers were being released from jail, she had to hide. She went to the Supreme Court and said, “Give me back my right to live without fear.”
Imagine if a citizen of India has to appeal to the Supreme Court to live without fear, ask yourself, how many people in this country live without fear? I know that journalists, the anchor, and media houses live in fear, government officers at the top level live in fear, Members of Parliament live in fear, and ministers live in fear.
Living in fear is an antithesis of democracy, you must be able to live without fear.
You can count on hand how many people are living without fear.
For all these reasons, India is being termed an electoral autocracy.
India on non-economic matrix
Chidambaram also pointed out the indexes in which India slipped down between 2014 and 2022
On Human Capital Index 100 to 116, Global Hunger Index, we are today 107 out of 111 countries, on the Human Freedom Index- 106 to 115, on the Environmental protection index we have 155 to 180
Gender inequality 114 to 135, on the human 130 to 132, on the Press freedom 140 to 150.
These are non-economic matrices. It will not make us a more developed country.
Among G20 countries, we are the 20th in per capita income and in every other matrix.
Inflation eroded incomes
Inflation has eroded your money, by at least 24 percent. In India’s own statistics, in the 2017-2023 period, in six years, inflation is averaging about 6 percent. There are three categories of people in India who are working self-employed, casual daily labour, and regular job holders.
Self-employed income increased from Rs 12318 to Rs 13347. Applying the inflation, it is negative. The casual labour increased from Rs 6969 to Rs 7899. It is hopelessly negative and regular job holders (Rs 19450 to Rs 20039) are hopelessly negative.
So the average Indian has not become richer. The standard of living has not improved. This has also been reflected in the Family Health Group Survey.
A true democracy is like a high tide, it must lift all, but it is not happening. But our democracy does not lift all.
The bottom fifty percent of India does not have 3 percent of national assets or wealth or 10 percent of the nation. If over 74 crores of people have to share 10 percent of the total income, you can imagine why the way we practice does not lift all.
We have to rediscover democracy, he added.
If govt alone appoints judges, it will create havoc
Later replying to a question, on which system is better? Collegium or non-collegium, the former law minister claimed that at least collegium is able to stop the excessive use of the government.
“Imagine, in the state of democracy that we have, if the government alone have the exclusive rights to appoint judges, what kind of havoc will happen this country,” he said and added, “Therefore while the collegium has not improved the system, I think the collegium is a prevent against rapid decline of the system.”
In answering another question, he mentioned that a coalition government delivers better than single party government.