Seeing the meltdown in so many countries across the world, leading to violence and deaths, one can only attribute it to failure of governance and related institutions. India’s relative stability, in contrast, despite its great diversity and historic baggage of successive foreign invasions and colonialism, needs necessarily to be praised and upheld as a model for the world. The credit obviously goes to the continuum provided by its ancient civilisation, which has made it possible for its people to adopt and internalise the conventions of its democratic constitution. This does not mean, of course, that it is a perfect system not requiring improvement. The 104 amendments to the constitution since its adoption – some good, some not so good – are testimony to the fact that changes are necessary.
The foundation of the nation-state, of course, is its vibrant democracy. The manner in which the people have participated must have come as a surprise to many across the world. Even the relatively brief stumble during the Emergency served to strengthen people’s commitment to democracy. However, as is very evident nowadays, the challenges are not few, of which many have not existed before. The already considerably sophisticated voter behaviour needs to be honed further to cope with the new ‘influencers’, such as social media, use of Artificial Intelligence to find triggers in the behaviour of individual voters, etc. While traditional factors still matter in India, the developments in nations like the US provide early warning of what is to come. The dependence already seen on organisations like Cambridge Analytics by political parties as a substitute for actual political leadership indicates the need for inoculating voters against hidden manipulation.
One easy instrument for this would be informed debates on mainstream media, which still commands overwhelming readership and viewership. As issues at the national level are too general and focused greatly on armchair perspectives, the debates should be as close to the grassroots as possible, regarding specific subjects impacting immediately on the local electorate. The debates could be held between the local candidates in a town hall kind of environment – the kind seen, recently, involving Trump and Biden. This would greatly help the voters sort out their priorities, while revealing the leadership qualities of the contenders. Sometimes, people need to be given a perspective on how national policies manifest at the local level, or not. There is, without a doubt, a pressing need for even greater democratisation of Indian democracy for it to function as smoothly as the future requires.