Indian Democracy Laid to Rest


Many government efforts to subvert democracy are “legal” in the sense that they are approved by the legislature or accepted by courts. They may even be portrayed as efforts to improve democracy – making the judiciary more efficient, combating corruption, or cleaning up the process… write Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt in “This is How Democracies Die.”

10:55am: It was October 30, 1922. A thin fog was hanging in the air. Clad in black suit jacket, a black shirt, and sporting a matching black hat, a gentleman got off an overnight sleeping car in Rome. The city was in great turmoil.
The man walked up to the king’s Qurinal Palace. He had come to take the premiership from the King and bring the unrest under control. The gentleman was none other than Benito Mussolini. He brought the law under order. And the Italian stock market soared. The rest is history. He was an outsider to Rome.
A group of political outsiders – Adolf Hitler, Getulio Vagras in Brazil, Alberto Fujimori in Peru and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela – came to power by winning elections. Even America, considered father of modern democracy, could not pass the test when elected a President with a little loyalty to democracy.

India, too, has witnessed such politicians and had her share of experience of a totalitarian government. In 1970’s the people of India saw the rise of Indira Gandhi, and in 2014, cashing in on the popular mandate (though there are allegations of EVM management), an outsider to Delhi took over the reins of power.
Unlike blatant dictators, elected autocrats maintain a veneer of democracy while eviscerating its substance. The Constitution and other nominally democratic institutions remain in place under them. People, blind to the backsliding of their political masters, do not immediately realise what is happening. They still vote them to power, believing they are living under a democracy.


There is no single moment in which the regime obviously “crosses the line” into dictatorship, nothing may set off society’s alarm bells. Those who denounce government abuse may be dismissed as exaggerating or crying wolf. Democracy’s erosion is, for many, almost imperceptible.

Newspapers still publish but are bought off or bullied into self-censorship. Journalists who try to bring forth the truth before the people are brazenly being threatened with life allegedly by government-sponsored “fringe elements”, because they don’t want to hear anything against the ideology of their party. Citizens continue to criticise the government but often find themselves facing tax or other legal troubles. This sows public confusion.
The situation in the country is alarming. Democracy, which was on its deathbed since long, particularly after the general election and Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Goa, Manipur, Meghalaya and Nagaland assembly elections, has finally been laid to rest following the assembly elections and its aftermath in Karnataka State. But, thank God! The BJP’s two-day chief minister BS Yeddyurappa has, after delivering an emotional speech in the House, breathed it to life while relinquishing the seat to HD Kumaraswamy, the claimant from the Congress-JDS combine.

Given to the present political condition in the country, the resurrection of democracy is seems to be very difficult, but not impossible. Let’s hope for the best, for “hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: You don’t give up.”
Assembly elections in Karnataka state have produced a fractured verdict with no party getting a clear majority. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with 104 seats has emerged as the single-largest party, while the ruling Congress got 78 seats and the JD(S) 38. Two independent candidates have also emerged victorious in this election.

The cliffhanging situation had left everybody guessing that who will form the government in Karnataka. Both the BJP, which is short of eight seats to reach a simple majority, and the Congress-JD(S)-combine, which has 117 MLAs, have claimed to form the government. However, setting aside the Congress-JDS’s claim, Governor Vajubhai Vala, who still has his lien in the RSS, gave the BJP chief ministerial candidate Yeddyurappa a chance to rule the state with an uncommonly inordinate time of 15 days to prove majority on the floor of the House.
Once bitten, twice shy. The Congress, which had cried “murder of democracy” after the BJP cobbled up post-poll coalitions in Goa, Manipur, Meghalaya and Bihar, this time played smart by swiftly making a post-poll alliance with the JD(S) and has paid back to its opponent in the same coin.

Appalled by the Congress alacrity, the BJP leaders this time found the tables turned in Karnataka. “More surprising was HD Kumaraswamy whose party benefited from our strategy… and then he agreed to go with the Congress,” a BJP source said.

The mood in the BJP, which was euphoric when trends during the day suggested it was going to cross the half-way mark in Karnataka, turned sombre once it became clear that a simple majority would elude the party.
It is true that “Cheaters never win and winners never cheat”. There was a feeling in the BJP that it had been outsmarted by its rival despite holding the “advantages”. And it was true also. If you sow wind, you will reap whirlwind. How can you expect good from others, when you have done evil to them through and through?
Instead of justifying the injustice done to others, leaders of political parties should introspect what went wrong with them. Leaving the attitude of what we have done is ethical and the opponent unethical, they should accept their failures, for failure is nothing more than a chance to revise your strategy.

Addressing party workers at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the Karnataka results was an “unparalleled and unprecedented win” and “I want to assure the people of Karnataka that the BJP will not allow the state’s development journey to be trampled upon”.
Though the BJP did not have the simple majority, the party leadership with the explicit approval of the Governor formed government under BS Yeddyurappa. As the party has failed to buy the required member of MLAs within the 24- hour time given by the Supreme Court, the government lasted only for two days and Yeddyurappa has to make a shameful exit on the third day.

After a tougher-than-expected victory in Gujarat last year, the Karnataka poll result is seems to be not much impetus-giving for the BJP, considering the tactics and sources the party has used in the state. The party had deployed over 40 ‘star campaigners’, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who addressed 21 rallies in the state, the BJP national president Amit Shah and droves of Union Ministers, besides the Bellary brothers.
The Karnataka results, ahead of three tough state elections later this year in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, may well energise the party cadres. The BJP is in power in all three states and faces the challenge of overcoming anti-incumbency.

The general perception among pollsters and political pundits going into the 2019 elections is that the BJP may not hit the majority mark of 272 in the Lok Sabha as it did in 2014, and may therefore have to depend on its allies to cobble together a majority. But even if that happens, Modi’s political clout might ensure that he remains the prime minister.
Among a host of challenges, rising global crude oil prices and a depreciating rupee in particular threaten to derail to government’s fiscal math and it could miss its fiscal deficit target of 3.3% of GDP for the current financial year.

Role of cash in elections
The recent seizure of fake notes worth Rs 7 crore in Karnataka’s Belgavi has highlighted, once again, just how big a role cash plays in elections in India. The fact that the Rs 7 crore fake notes were seized just days after the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) seized fake notes valued over Rs 10 lakh in Vishakhapatnam from a train en route Karnataka, should be sufficient to send Election Commission’s flying squads on a high alert.
Trading cash-for-votes, however, is not new. And whether it’s fake or real currency notes, the history of elections in India would suggest that the Election Commission faces a monumental task is not just making arrangements for polls, but also keeping a close eye on the miscreants bribing voters to ensure free and fair elections.
A classic recent case was the RK Nagar Assembly bypoll, which was cancelled by the Election Commission after the Income Tax Department searched properties and offices belonging to Tamil Nadu health minister C Vijayabaskar.
According to reports, searches on premises of an associate of Vijayabaskar by sleuths of the Income Tax investigation wing revealed routing of Rs 89 crore for “distribution to voters” in RK Nagar Assembly constituency. But the seizure failed to stop cash-for-votes during the re-election in December 2017.
Even during last year’s Gujarat Assembly elections —the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi — over one million litres of alcohol worth Rs 23.68 crore was seized, and Rs 1.71 crore in cash and gold and jewellery worth over Rs 8 crore were seized by the Election Commission-appointed surveillance and expenditure monitoring teams by the first week of December. According to IANS, the DRI recovered demonetised notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 to the tune of Rs 49 crore.
The Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre had demonetised old notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 in November 2016 with an aim to stop corrupt practices. But despite the note ban being announced just four months ago, during the run-up to polls in five state Assemblies of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, Manipur and Himachal Pradesh in early 2017, seizures of cash, liquor and drugs went through the roofs.
According to a PTI report, till February 27, Uttar Pradesh has seen a record seizure of Rs 115.70 crore cash, 20.29 lakh barrels of liquor worth Rs 57.69 crore, and narcotics weighing 2,725 kg worth Rs 7.91 crore by the Election Commission-appointed surveillance teams. The state went to polls in a phased manner between February 11 to March 9, 2017.
In Uttarakhand, Rs 3.40 crore suspected cash, 1.01 lakh litres liquor worth Rs 3.10 crore and over 81 kilos of drugs worth Rs 37.88 lakh were seized. These were more than double of what was witnessed in the previous Assembly election.
In Punjab, where the Congress won under Captain Amarinder Singh, the cash seizure stood at Rs 58.02 crore, five times what was witnessed in the previous polls. Whereas, 12.43 lakh litres of liquor worth Rs 13.36 crore were seized as compared to over 3,2978 litres worth Rs 2.59 crore during the 2012 Assembly polls.
Goa, where the BJP formed the government under former defence minister Manohar Parrikar, too, witnessed Rs 2.24 crore cash being seized at the end of one-phase polls on February 4.
At a time when cash is in short supply, that political parties could manage such huge amounts of cash, shows that when it comes to cash-for-votes, the Indian election system has no clear solution.
215 Crorepati MLAs in Karnataka House
Karnataka Election Watch and Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) have analysed the self-sworn affidavits of 221 out of 222 newly elected MLAs in the Karnataka 2018 Assembly Elections. One BJP MLA namely Harshvardhan B from Nanjangud constituency has not been analysed as his affidavit was poorly scanned. The elections in two constituencies namely Jayanagar and Rajarajeshwari Nagar have not been held.
Out of the 221 newly elected MLAs in Karnataka Assembly 215 (97%) are crorepatis, whereas it was 203 (93%) in 2013.
Party wise crorepati MLAs: One out of 103 MLAs analysed from BJP, 11 (14%) out of 78 MLAs from INC, 3 (8%) out of 37 MLAs from JD(S) and 1 (100%) MLA from Karnataka Pragnyavantha Janatha Party have declared assets valued more than Rs 100 crore.
The average assets per MLA in Karnataka assembly is Rs 34.59 crore. In 2013, the average assets of 218 MLAs analysed was Rs 23.54 crore.
The top three MLAs with high assets are – N Nagaraju (MTB) from Hosakote Rs 1015 crore; DK Shivakumar from Kanakapura Rs 840 crore and Suresh BS BBMP (North) Hebbal Rs 416 crore.
The three MLAs with the lowest assets are – SA Ramadas from Krishnaraja, Mysore Rs 39 lakh; AS Ravindra from Shrirangapattana Rs 68 lakh and N Mahesh, Kollegal Rs 75 lakh.Criminal BackgroundOut of the 221 MLAs 77 (35%) MLAs have declared criminal cases against them. Out of 218 MLAs analysed during Karnataka Assembly elections in 2013, 74 (34%) MLAs had declared criminal cases against them.
54 (24%) MLAs have declared serious criminal cases including attempt to murder, kidnapping etc, whereas the figure in 2013 was 39 (17%).
Six MLAs have declared cases related to Hate Speech such as promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony (IPC Section-153A); deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs (IPC Section-295A) etc.
Party wise MLAs with criminal cases:42(41%) out of 103 MLAs from BJP, 23 (30%) out of 78 MLAs from INC and 11 (30%) out of 37 MLAs from JD(S) MLAs have declared criminal cases against themselves in their affidavits. Party wise MLAs with serious criminal cases are – BJP 29, Congress 17 and 8.Education qualification of MLAs:

80 (36%) MLAs have declared their educational qualification to be between 5th pass and 12th pass while 135 (61%) MLAs are graduate or above. One MLA has declared himself as just literate while another one has not given his educational qualification in his affidavit.

Age details of MLAs:

16 (7%) MLAs have declared their age to be between 25 and 40 years while 138 (62%) are between 41 and 60 years. 64 (29%) MLAs are between 61 to 80 years of age while 3 have declared their age to be above 80 years.

Gender details

Out of 221 MLAs, 7 (3%) are women. In 2013, out of 218 MLAs, 5 MLAs were women.



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