The commemorative lecture on Sardar Patel by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval should normally be treated as a formal speech.
But it raised debate and controversy because its content included some signals about Indian democracy and the country's future. An examination about the real interests behind the thoughts that impinge on the core of democratic culture, takes us to some unpleasant facts. Doval says that what India needs for the next ten years is not the fragilities of a coalition government; instead a stable government with decisiveness and strength should rule India. His speech may at first glance appear acceptable. It has to be admitted that democracy itself contains some inherent weaknesses, and in the way democracy is applied in our country there are quite a few failings too. The citizen's democratic right is limited to the vote he casts during elections. For the crores of poor, illiterate people, even that is subject to the dictates by others. It is also true that corruption, political vested interests and money power together make democracy a farce and an impediment before right decisions.
But how rational would be the inference that the solution for the failings in the functioning of democracy lies in strong and centralized government? As Doval himself pointed out, it is not individuals but law that should rule. The right course is for rule of law to be flawless. The government of Modi that took office in 2014 has been the most stable, one-party strong regime in a dcade. But viewed in the angle of rule of, and subservience to law, the 'fragile' coalition governments before it were far better. What Modi has done is to destroy existing rule of law in several institutions including parliament and bureaucracy. An example would be Modi's decision of demonetization. The Reserve Bank, ministry of finance and other institutions were rendered silent spectators at that time. What made that blunder possible is only the fact that there was ample 'strength' for such a big decision. When Doval says that for the next ten years a strong and stable government capable of taking hard decisions is required, many would smell emergency in that. Recall that Indira Gandhi had declared emergency with slogans of hard decisions and efficient governance. And dictators including Hitler and Mussolini also had invoked the name of democracy when they grabbed 'strong government'.
Doval also says that for realising the goals of the country, a strong government is needed. But who are to decide the 'goals' of the country? We are familiar with the totalitarianism that is clothed in the wrapper of 'Benevolent dictator', in which it will not be the people who decide their fate but the rulers. Elections will be held there – and if even five per cent voters do not cast their vote it will still be valid. There, it will be the government that decides even one's citizenship. And the country has been experiencing over the last four and a half years the consequences of the strong and decisive government Doval's dreams are made of. 'Rule of law' where mob runs amok, dominance of hidden interests that torpedo even the right to information law, economic recession and inequality, the return of casteism, succumbing to corporates – thus goes the long list of 'achievements' all around us. Unemployment and the depreciation of the rupee are other facts of the 'strong' government.
There are examples of 'strong government’ - that comprises Doval himself - from the friction in relations with China to the surrender in Wuhan. The alienation of people in Jammu & Kashmir by the strong arm methods applied under his supervision, is another instance. When Doval harps on the need to be cautious about fake news, it sounds as though he does not mean the social malaise of throwing ordinary people for mob attacks, but the legitimate allegations raised by the Opposition. Behind the theory that coalition governments are harmful, isn’t there a concern about the threat posed by opposition unity against BJP? And between the lines, isn't there that streak of portraying political dissent and media's criticisms as anti-national? The question raised by many is whose security the National Security Adviser has in mind – its implied criticism being quite fair.