Born to no privilege in the hinterland isolation of the temple-town of Gorakhpur, he was raised in no metropolis, educated in no sequestered school or ivy-covered college. But being sharp-witted, he turned social stagnations into political steroids and taking his town’s eponymous dedication to cow protection seriously, became not just a priest but head priest of the temple. And then, as such head priest, offered himself as a parliamentary candidate, becoming the youngest member of the Lok Sabha to which he was first elected, winning each of the five subsequent elections that he contested as a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party. More, MP Adityanath remained that quintessence of parliamentary democracy — the private Member, the back or middle-bencher, sometimes of the party in power, sometimes in the Opposition, speaking the language of his people, the language of the masses as their chosen MP, the legislative digit that really counts, that makes up the numbers, the ‘body’ that gives that august body not its augusta meaning, in Latin, ‘majestic, grand’, but its body, its bones, sinew, muscle and flesh.
He studied, one discovers, at the Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University in Uttarakhand for his BSc., not music or philosophy (both courses being on offer there), but mathematics. And so he knows his numbers, knows that numbers count and that in a democracy they are all that count — apart from money. Yogi Adityanath deserves to be congratulated, and I do so, for rising to the pinnacles of our legislative architecture from its very foundations, not being air-dropped on its carpeted terrace from a helicopter.
This is where factoids and their theoretical master, empiricism, end. Where chronology, ‘plain’ narration, retires. And where another stony reality stares us in the face, the reality that is our democracy’s subversion, distortion — in fact, its perversion.
Of the many forms of government — old, new, and still in the making — electoral democracy, the system which enables people to choose their law-makers, their leaders and lodestars in freedom and without fear, is only the least imperfect. It is far from, very far from, being perfect. Worse, it can and does recoil to shapes and forms that are in their nature and impact, un-democratic, anti-democracy. This process can be called counter-democracy. India holds a doctorate in democracy; it is doing a post-doc in counter-democracy.
Ours is, of course, a global classroom.
West to east
Few persons can be as different as Donald J. Trump is from Yogi Adityanath. The President of the United States, according to a Forbes listing, has a net worth of $3.7 billion, or nearly ₹24,000 crore. The new Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, according to National Election Watch and Association for Democratic Reforms, has assets amounting to a modest ₹72 lakh. Thrice married, part owner of the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants from 1996 to 2015, Donald Trump is hedonism personified compared to the celibate head priest of the Gorakhnath temple. But there is the great connect between them: the inter-leaved action of democracy and counter-democracy.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Adityanath are, both, their people’s gifts to themselves. They are the creations of the people’s own choice, their own voice as counted in numbers. They are the sum of the vox populi — enumerated. They are where they have reached by wholly licit procedures in the exercise of legitimate, constitutional, democratic choice. No one can question, let alone challenge, their democratic accomplishment. In this they are as twinned by the popular vote.
They are also where they have reached, by the skilful, adroit managing of the processes of that same legitimate, constitutional and democratic choice to do something that is wholly counter-democratic – polarise the electorate. “Skilful?” an admirer of political bi-ceps might interject. “Is being skilful a crime?” Of course not. But not being criminal is not the same thing as being innocent. Adroitness is a skill, not a virtue. The creation of the bogey of the ‘Other’, an entity to be feared, hated, isolated, ostracised, intimidated, blocked from entering, perhaps hustled out, is a technique of emotional branding that is adroit; it is not clean. And so Mr. Trump and Mr. Adityanath are also twinned by the polarised vote.
But this article is not about Mr. Trump and Adityanath, twinned or separate. It is about India, united or divided. It is about an India that is a Republic in which all its citizens are constitutionally equal and a democracy in which they are politically unequal. Our Constitution separated politics from religion. Today they are becoming co-extensive. ‘Hindus vote Hindu’ is cunning, it is not clean. “Clean?” the same interjector will put in. “Does the law define ‘clean’?” No, it does not. But it does talk of something that is the opposite of clean, namely, ‘corrupt’.
The Representation of the People Act, 1951, declares in its Section 123(3) as “corrupt practice”, “The promotion of, or attempt to promote, feelings of enmity or hatred between different classes of the citizens of India on grounds of religion, race, caste, community, or language, by a candidate or his agent…” It is for the courts, if moved, to say whether in the U.P. elections that section of the Act was offended or not. But it is for us to ask, is it democratic or counter-democratic for a State of which 19% are Muslim to be ruled by a party that did not put up a single Muslim candidate? Is it democratic or counter-democratic for a State to have a Chief Minister said to face charges of promoting enmity between different groups on the ground of religion, injuring or defiling places of worship?
Beyond U.P.’s election and its Chief Minister, a grim anomaly, a bitter truth, about our political selfhood faces us. Introducing the draft Constitution to the Constituent Assembly on November 4, 1948, B.R. Ambedkar said: “Democracy in India is only a top-dressing on an Indian soil which is essentially undemocratic.” Notwithstanding this diagnosis, he went ahead and introduced the text. With his associates in the Assembly, Nehru foremost among them, and with Gandhi’s eclectic spirit brooding over the proceedings, he looked ahead to a future in which a truly representative democracy would percolate India’s soil. With setbacks, for half a century almost, its tender roots did deepen, protecting ethnic minorities and strengthening the ground for gender justice, Dalits, tribals, for free-speech, dissent.
Today, will India’s democrats let majoritarianism lift that topsoil and plant in its place seeds of a counter-democratic biochemistry? I believe they will not. Wherefrom this optimism? It comes not from anything hopeful that I find in our country but because in Mr. Trump’s America, a statue of that little Fearless Girl has just come up facing, four square, the flared nostrils of Wall Street’s Charging Bull. And how she inspires!
By Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and Governor