Multiculturalism is a state of mind in India, and it is in perfect sync with the democratic spirit of mutual accommodation and cooperation.
India’s unity in diversity has sometimes been internally challenged. If one million people are involved in such an endeavour, it might seem like a gigantic number; but when it is pitted against India’s total population of a billion plus, it pales into insignificance.
Now for the other side of the picture. On paper, in a parliamentary democracy like India, it is the people who indirectly rule through their elected representatives, and thus everybody’s voice is heard. Time and again, however, the fairness of elections at many venues in India has been called into question. As against this, it is also true that parties have been repeatedly removed from power at both the state and national levels.
Another subject for debate is the capacity of the average Indian voter to make the correct choice, to recognise worth and shun bias and demagogy. This requires not only an educated electorate, but also one that has been trained for citizenship. It is strange that, even sixty-four years after independence, India is woefully lacking in both these respects.
As things stand, in many places in India, if a voter belongs to Caste A, oftener than not he will vote for a candidate who also belongs to Caste A, irrespective of whether this candidate is a thug or an idiot; and irrespective of the qualities his election rival possesses. And so it may easily come to pass that the least-deserving electoral candidate gets the largest number of votes by virtue of belonging to the numerically superior caste. The anachronism of class- consciousness apart, this is not how a proper democracy should function.
It would be unfair, though, to play down the many positives that have emerged from the Indian democratic process. The people enjoy a measure of freedom, the judiciary and the Fourth Estate are independent and powerful, and citizen activism has been on the rise. Also, India is one of the world’s fastest growing economies.
A person who enters a monastery to lead a religious life may straightaway be termed a monk, but it may be years before he attains any spiritual realisation. Similarly, when a nation enters the democratic process, it is too much to expect it to run as a perfect or near-perfect democracy from the word go. Even sixty odd years may not be enough for it to function as a full-fledged democracy. But so long as the intent is there, so long as there is an overall commitment to democratic values and institutions, there is hope that one day success will be achieved.