Temple of Psephocracy

Temple of Psephocracy

Aheli Moitra

Chief Minister of Nagaland State, Neiphiu Rio, has crowned the Nagaland Legislative Assembly (NLA) as a “Temple of Democracy” for the State. He was addressing the last sitting of the 13th NLA’s Budget session held from February 21 to 26.

Encouraging “debates” that unfurled at the session, the Chief Minister praised predecessors for their “discipline, decorum and the highest standards of parliamentary conduct;” the NLA has given the Naga people some of their “most exemplary leaders,” he upheld. The opposition bench soaked in the pat on their collective backs.

Neiphiu Rio did not invent this misnomer. When he first entered the Parliament as Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi called the Indian Parliament a Temple of Democracy (probably not his invention either).

Political scientist Larry Jay Diamond proposed four key elements that constitute a democracy: a political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections; the active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life; protection of the human rights of all citizens; a rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.

Surely a Temple should be a place that actively seeks to achieve all these tenets with institutions at its disposal. Yet elite men constitute the NLA, there is no representation of minorities, elections are a time for the rich to make investments, post election a time to harvest, human rights remain suspended and which ‘rule of law’ applies in the State remains contested. If there is no real democracy, then what is the temple or its high-priests for?

Political psychologist Ashis Nandy provided a better definition more than a decade ago when he suggested that democracy in India has “degenerated” into a psephocracy—a system “totally dominated by electoral victories and defeats.” The moment you enter office, Nandy had said in an interview to Outlook magazine, you begin to think of the next election.

Sound familiar?

A fleeting glance at how welfare schemes for the poor or war for the middle class (or, really, the opposition’s gimmicks) are used for presumed electoral gains in India is enough to state that a Temple of Psephocracy is well established in New Delhi. In Nagaland, this is even more visible when elections to the alleged Temple of Democracy happen and the drama of portfolio allocation unfolds thereafter. Its ugliest form emerged during the previous ‘oppositionless’ government. The kind of ambiguous positions that currently elected members and the government has often taken from the pulpit of, and power drawn from, the NLA point to empty rhetoric that can only be employed by a psephocracy.

Merely having the requisite (State) institutions does not make a democracy. It is in applying its principles that make these institutions democratic. Till that happens, the NLA should be recognized for what it is: a Temple of Psephocracy.

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