Is Democracy Divisive?

India is the largest democracy in the world. The country has a bewilderingly multifaceted  demographic profile. The country  is peopled by followers of several religions including Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism & Jains.  While Hindus constitute over 80% of the population and Muslims over 13%, the followers of other religions too have significant presence and political relevance in pockets. While this religious  divergence has its political dynamics, the situation is made more volatile by the division of Hindu society into thousands of castes and sub-castes.. Of these , certain castes, listed by the Government as scheduled castes are historically oppressed and deprived due to  social discrimination. These constitute a little over 16% of the population. Then there are scheduled tribes comprising a little over 8% of the population who are also historically backward. The Indian Constitution, recognising the need for special measures for accelerated economic and social uplift of these historically deprived classes, provided for reservation in government jobs (at recruitment stage) and in higher educational institutions roughly in proportion to their component in the population viz. 15% and 7.5%.for a period of 10 years from 1952. This period, however, proved to o little and has been extended from time to time and the reservation continues till now.

2. Apart from the division into religions,castes and communities, the country is also divided on linguistic basis. Boundaries of different states in the Union have been determined on a linguistic basis. Language has become an important factor in Indian demographics. People become emotional as much on issues of language as on issues of religion/caste/community.

3. It is expected that each religious, caste and linguistic group will have its own special or unique interest, some times in conflict with the interests of other   groups. The multiplicity of groupings and their interests in India occasionally manifests itself in conflicts, localised or pan-India. The conflict over Babri Masjid and construction of a temple  for Hindu Lord Ram at the same location, for example, has,   persisted for several decades and has given rise to several bloody riots and disturbances at several places in the country. Economic issues have also been at the root of major upheavals with significant segments of population facing each other.

4. Unemployment being  a dominant and distressing problem in the country, some major conflicts have centred around this issue. Taking a cue from the constitutional provision for reservations for scheduled castes and tribes, various caste groupings started raising demands for reservations in governments jobs on grounds of being backward. With struggles assuming law and order  dimensions and a Commission, named Mandal Commission,   . recommending reservations for some castes termed as ‘other backward castes’, the Government conceded the demand. and thus opened flood gates for similar demands from more caste groupings, such as Jats in Haryana , Uttar{Pradesh & Rajasthan and Patels in Guajrat.(which were not included in the original OBC list)  The agitations by Jats and Patels , who are viewed as relatively prosperous groups, claimed reservations on grounds of being backward, caused huge law and order problems, claimed a number of lives and huge destruction of public property.

5.Times when people were exhorted  to ask “not what the country can do for you but what you can do for the country” are long past. The democratic nature of governance perhaps encourages people to think that it is for the government to sort out and solve all problems. What is worse, people demanding solution of problems do not even wish to compromise and make space. Examples are river water disputes in the country. Punjab pledges to spare not a drop of water for Haryana, never mind how Haryana will manage. Similarly,  various caste groups demanding reservations do not care whether any thing is left for those not entitled to reservations.

6. But are the people to blame or their leaders? I think the leaders have a greater responsibility since they know that people are emotional when it comes to matters of religion, caste, language or state. In fact most leaders exploit this fact.  The leaders in the government, who have it in their power to take decisions on demands raised, also represent particular party or parties,  have to safeguard interests of their own party by ensuring not only that the continuance of their party government is not threatened  but is also ensured in the next election. Decisions  taken with such factors in mind are not necessarily in overall interest always. This is why the judiciary has had to step in several times to reverse the decisions of the elected governments.

7. In India, particularly since independence, political parties have tended to be formed  around religious, caste, linguistic or regional lines apparently as it was found that the sectional interests are better safeguarded, served and promoted by having parties on these lines.      This approach has thrown up many  narrow minded leaders and divided people into fragmented groups. Parties aspiring to form governments have to  do a lot of tight rope walking to win the support of as many sectional groups as they can and do a lot of balancing acts after they get elected. A lot of fire fighting has also to be done to curb or contain sectional conflicts which continue to flare up from time to time.

8. While democracy in India has thus resulted in some divisiveness among  people it goes greatly to the credit of people at large that the federal character of the country has been maintained . This underlines the over-riding nationalist mind-set of the people which involves keeping the country united even while keeping alive some conflicts of sectional nature. However, these sectional conflicts cause considerable damage to life and property and what is required is to revive the spirit of give and take and to revert to ” ask what I can do for the country rather than what the country can do for me.”.

































































































































2. Democracy is essentially a game of numbers. Those who command the support of majority

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