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Casteist choice of election candidates, Article 15 and saving Indian democracy

I am listening to the Congress party president of Gujarat talking about the logic used by Congress in picking up its candidate for a Vidhansabha seat.

He candidly confesses from a public platform that Patidar and Koli communities were looked at for choosing the man and, after due considerations, it was decided that a person from Koli community should be given Congress ticket.

Let me make it clear that this is not about Congress (or BJP). It is no secret that across India, EVERY political party uses caste-based, communal, racist, religious or any other discrimination-based logic in picking its leaders for elections.

The recent novelty is, this worst kept secret is getting openly spoken about by politicians without fear or stigma as they, just like Gujarat Congress chief think that there is nothing wrong with this.

The question is, is it wrong of the Congress chief to state the fact, the truth, the reality of Indian democracy?

The problem here is that we have a written constitution, and that too, written by a bunch of idealistic chaps who had real faith in the concept of democracy and they wanted to give it to their beloved nation. So, if there is any tricky area of constitutional debate, it is Article 15 that enshrines (or maybe, once briefly enshrined) the spirit of true democracy.

If you pick up Indian constitution and read Article 15, it states, “The state shall not discriminate against any citizen on the grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.

This exists because if there is any fundamental requirement of democracy, it is acceptance of universal equality of all men and women, and our founding fathers wrote Article 15 to ensure that Indian state is prevented discriminating its citizens on any grounds. The way it is phrased clearly indicates that they knew what was coming and they thought that they will prevent it by mentioning this explicitly in the main body of the constitution of India.

I would not like to go into the history of constitutional amendments of the Article 15 and have a legal debate here as they too have their own logic and justifications.

Indian situation, especially the rigid and ancient caste-system that has led to economic and social backwardness of a large part of the population is unique and as-is implementation of equality would have its own problems in terms of social justice.

I accept that the dilution of Article 15 was a practical requirement and constitution not being a Holy Book can be and must be amended on need bases.

My problem instead is about the way we have interpreted the spirit of these amendments.

The fact that Article 15 needed to move from pure equality to a compromised one is not a matter of pride for us as people. We needed to do it because we were and are a society of extreme inequality.

But, that acceptance simply doesn’t mean that we can forget the original intent of our founding fathers who wanted us to have a true democracy.

If we have institutionalised caste or community-based reservations today on various fronts, it is only to reach a point of equality and move away from discriminations in future.

The fact that a state president of the oldest party of the nation starts taking community-based discrimination to be a norm that he can candidly accept from a public forum is harbinger of the kind of democracy we are heading towards. His honest admission is a clear indication that we have stopped looking at the objective of having a future democracy of equality and have mentally accepted the dilutions to Article 15 as a permanent idea enshrined in the constitution.

If you are a pragmatic person, you may find this to be nit-picking, especially because we all know that we are a polarised nation where castes and religion are now deciding forces.

Why should there be any problem with accepting and speaking the truth?

Modern politicians may or may not have a problem with this, but I as a citizen hoping to have a true democracy at some point in my beloved nation have. And that is because I always feel that social acceptance is the final frontier for any change.

The fact that political parties are communal or caste-based is a reality now, but as long as public opinion considers it to be wrong, we have a hope.

The day people start feeling that there is nothing wrong with it, original idea of democracy once enshrined in Indian constitution is doomed.

The public admission of having used community-based logic by a politician is an evidence that we are almost there in terms of social acceptance of the idea, but I would prefer to not be negative and, instead look for the actual reason behind this, now very common phenomenon.

Let us understand that politics is not a profession that one enters after due training. Most politicians we have may not even have bothered to look at the constitution they are expected to abide to. So, what they say is not an informed opinion but what they think is right.

The net result is, we have politicians with very little idea of even the central ideas of Indian democracy.

So, not just this faux pas of congress leader, there is a lot more.

Equally irritating is that, just after every Panchayat elections, all across India, we see both BJP and Congress coming out to claim a thumping victory without realising that our nation was formed around the core principle of keeping all Gram-Swaraj institutions away from party-based politics.

The fact that these antics of politicians are getting more common is due to equal uninformed-ness of general public about the concept of democracy.

If we want to save Indian democracy, we need to wake up and wake up now. And the way to do this is to insert a lot more of these core concepts in our education system.

We don’t really need the kids to be filling the right answer in an MCQ sheet about the age of eligibility to become a president.

We need them to know about the dream that their forefathers had.

A dream of India as a flag-bearer of true democracy for the entire humanity.

A dream of India that hopes to reach a point of equality for all.

It is a big dream, but worth having.

I am happy to admit that I have managed surviving till now with minimum effort as all my intellect has be used to avoid doing anything meaningful. As I needed to while all the free time I generated in course of being lazy, science has been my favorite muse that I have enjoyed company of. As an effort to kill time (in a way, to get even with it) one fine day I decided to write a science column, more for my personal amusement than to attract readers. After getting educated about the attention span of modern readers from my editor, it became more like a challenge to tackle esoteric subjects in 600 words that I have managed to remain interested in for more than a year now. I do not want to add my worldly profile here as these are ideas that need to be considered only on the merits they carry and not as an opinion of a certain human being.

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