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Demagogues harm democracy

Last week I was in Istanbul to participate in a conference on the future of democracy and the liberal order. The subject made me think of these ideas in an Indian context. And, as my thoughts wandered back and forth through the pages of history, I found myself thinking about whether in those early decades after Independence we had real democracy or demagoguecracy. We had regular elections but we elected time and time again a prime minister of whom it was said that under his magnificent shadow not even small plants survived.

Then came a short interlude in which a very tiny plant (physically speaking) bloomed for a moment only to be replaced by another demagogue. His daughter. And, she ensured that the only person worthy of being her heir was her son whose only reason to be in politics was his bloodline and the untimely death of his more political brother. Today Indian democracy is so deeply infected by demagoguecracy that there is hardly a political party left that is not totally controlled by a demagogue and his family.

The latest outing of baby demagogues was in Bihar two weeks ago when the venerable patriarch, Shri Lalu Yadav, paraded his sons proudly as his political legacy at a public rally. He may not succeed in letting them inherit Bihar though, because thanks to our vast and growing middle class, estimated already to be larger than the population of the United States, it is no longer so easy to pass demagoguecracy off as democracy.

Middle-class voters are a demanding lot as we saw during Anna Hazare’s movement. They demand probity and public services and even the right to recall elected representatives. I was no supporter of Anna and his movement, but I fully share their concerns and long for the day when there are enough middle-class voters in India to put an end once and for all to demagogues because they nearly always mislead guileless voters.

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