[op-ed snap]The point of having democracy


Mains Paper 1: Social issues | Secularism

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Issue of nationalism, secularism in democracy and how to revive vision of prosperous India.




While elections may be an integral part of democracy, surely they are not its end. The people, and the content of their lives matter more. However, going by the actions of political parties when in power and their pronouncements when they are not, the end of democracy gets overlooked in the political process in India.

The relevance of  Nationalism and secularism in democracy

  • Two constructs have repeatedly been projected by the main political formations in the country. These are nationalism and secularism.
  • The concepts of nationalism and secularism have proved to be quite that in the use to which they are put by India’s political parties.
  • Actually, it is possible for nationalism and secularism to be part of state policy even in the absence of democracy.
  • Thus both Iran under the last Shah and Iraq under Saddam Hussein ran a secular state, though they were both dictators.
  • The People’s Republic of China is so nationalist that even its socialism is said to be imbued with ‘Chinese characteristics’.
  • Its state is not just secular but avowedly atheist. However, it is not a democracy.
  • What is at stake here is that democracy is meant to be something more than just nationalism and secularism.

Nationalism and securing the national interest

  • Once we have imagined ourselves as a democratic community we must defend our national interest.
  • Threats to India come from two sources.
    • There are authoritarian regimes in the region that are hostile to India.
    • Second, the western powers have captured global bodies to promote their economic and political interests, for which think of the multilateral agencies that attempt to prise open India’s market without yielding the West’s to migration.

Secularism and its maintenance

  • A democracy cannot allow any religious influence on the state’s actions.
  • However, there is a reality in India today that requires a contextual understanding.
  • This would require the secular state to go beyond this limited brief to protect religious minorities.
  • The relevance of this is brought home by an incident that took place on Holi day when a gang of hoodlums, attacked without provocation, a Muslim family including young children with iron roads in broad daylight in Gurugram outside the national capital.

History of Political response to construct of nationalism and secularism

  • Nationalism or national pride has shown itself to be a means to establish Hindu majoritarian rule, a project with potentially destructive consequences for the country.
  • For its part, over the past 30-plus years the Congress party has often resorted to a sham secularism, the high mark of which came in the form of its response to the Supreme Court ruling on the Shah Bano case.
  • Some years earlier, at the moment of the ending of colonial rule, Nehru had stated that it was an opportunity to create a “prosperous, democratic and progressive” India.

Is Just society a possibility for India?

  • In the close to three-quarters of a century since, the goal of Indian democracy had been articulated prosperity is not in sight for the vast majority.
  • On the other hand, a section of Indians has surged ahead economically.
  • For the rest of the country, however, it is an ongoing struggle to earn a living.
  • A just society must seem far away to these Indians.
  • But a just society by just means is no longer a pipe dream, it is entirely feasible, and in our times at that.
  • The pathway to it lies in adopting the right public policies, and it is in the hands of India’s political parties to do so.

Addressing economic Growth

  • Public policy should now shift gear to launch an assault on the capability deprivation which underlies India’s low human development indicators.
  • The poorly educated millions are helplessly caught in the eddies of a market economy.
  • Their skills do not match what is required for them to earn a decent living.
  • Overcoming this requires two actions to be undertaken.
    • It would require committing resources to education and training and then governing their use.
    • The second task of public policy in India at this moment is to raise the tempo of economic activity. Jobs are an issue.

Way Forward

  • The government cannot create jobs directly but it can create the preconditions.
  • It does so through public investment and macroeconomic policy.


Amateurish economic management is responsible for rising unemployment. India’s political parties cannot say that the pathway to the ends of democracy has not been shown to them. If they fail to take the country there, they must assume responsibility.

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