India wants a different policy – and a leader to implement it
In a deepening of India’s electoral democracy, voters in the recently held parliamentary elections scripted a new political narrative, catapulting Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as a challenger to a Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP) resurgent led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The BJP’s success in forging cross-caste alliances across states, underpinned by the seductive appeal of Hindutva and nationalism, has enabled it to dodge anti-incumbent sentiment against the Yogi Adityanath government. The “fate of an idea”, touted as a promise of development and ensuring national security, and assiduously communicated and publicized by the Prime Minister, added to the BJP’s appeal as the preferred choice of voters in four of the five states, further cementing its position as the central hub of Indian politics.
But it was the dramatic victory of the AAP in Punjab that captured the national imagination, alongside the stunning electoral defeat of Parkash Singh Badal, Sukhbir Badal, Amarinder Singh, Navjot Singh Sidhu and the then Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi from both constituencies. Their defeat represents a decisive outcome of the Old Regime and its policy. The victory of the AAP in Punjab naturally fueled its national ambitions. Its ability to lead or co-lead a possible alternative national coalition will test the sagacity of its leaders, their negotiating skills and the extent of their long-term vision. Clearly, the party’s victory in Punjab will last only if it results in a stronger constitutional democracy in which the exercise of state power is accountable to the community’s sense of justice and institutional constraints. And for the AAP to succeed as a party of change and renewal, it must embrace and expand a politics of dignity that empowers citizens to become moral agents of their liberties and liberties.
The nation yearns for a break with debilitating political discourse and an affirmation of the inviolability of the standards of testing good and evil. To recall Lord Hailsham, a former Lord Chancellor of Britain, in another context, “We have to face the questions, old and new, to which prohibition and the injunctions of conscience give rise, and we can note that new questions are constantly arising”. The need to interrogate our democratic processes to ensure that majority voting is a guarantee of freedom and fairness in a just society, rather than a legitimization of state encroachment on fundamental freedoms, goes from self. After all, elections are the signposts of democracy, not its destination. It is therefore imperative to reject a “manipulative conversation about our future,” to affirm the centrality of idealism in the pursuit of politics, and to affirm the power of truth as the ultimate justification for democracy.
The time has come and history turns a page. The resilience of our democratic politics to achieve the broader national goals of unity and inclusion will define our date with democracy. And electoral victories as a symbol of democratic resurgence must produce leadership defined by breadth of vision and generosity of heart, equal to the challenges of our time. The discredited processes of political democracy that destroy collegiality and frustrate consensus building must give way to an overarching national aspiration for politics as a cooperative enterprise of national renewal. The ultimate goal of democratic politics is to create the conditions to widen the “circle of human dignity”. A democracy in perpetual conflict does not serve this noble aspiration. The assault on individual liberties spurred by intolerance, bigotry and fundamentalism, a weakened commitment to constitutional ethics, less empathy for the marginalized and a twisted definition of nationalism that pits freedom and dignity against national security as if they were mutually exclusive, challenge the presupposed fundamental principles of democracy. The nation needs an accommodating democratic politics, based on conciliation and consensus rooted in a constructive contest of ideas, as part of an ongoing national conversation. Obtaining a bipartisan commitment to this end will be the test of leadership.
It is also incumbent on the victors to recognize that “democratic triumphalism” is not an invitation to transgress constitutional constraints on the exercise of executive power. In the finer traditions of parliamentary democracy, both winners and losers are challenged to restore the credibility of a currently dysfunctional system and to reinforce a larger construction of democracy in which people “construct their own ideal and reject the personalization of power. Those who aspire to lead the nation must recognize the indivisibility of justice, freedom and dignity in the service of democracy. They must take the initiative to invest politics with a greater moral compass and reverse the intellectual amorality that has deprived our democratic experience of its elevating function. Nurturing a faltering democracy to vigor is an “endless journey, guided by lights, warnings and ideas”, which will require a demonstrative commitment to man as “the measure of all things”. Those who scoff at this “unrealistic utopian dream” may wish to remember that the truth of a belief is best tested in its repeated affirmation, and that vindication of the ideal of democracy compels us to proclaim our beliefs loudly. voice.
Finally, leadership cannot be inherited or willed, nor be based on a misunderstanding of national sensitivities on issues that touch the heart of the nation. Compulsive cynicism and the routine personal targeting of political adversaries diminishes leadership, which, as Hegel reminded us, is about understanding the will of the times, telling the times what their will is, and carrying it out. Indeed, the leader of the nation must also be the leader of the times.
This column first appeared in the print edition of March 24, 2022 under the title “The will of the time”. The author is a former Union Justice Minister. Opinions expressed are personal