Bhopinder Singh | The LS election of Amritpal, Rashid may prove a boost for our democracy

The Asian Age.  | Bhopinder Singh

Opinion, Columnists

The victories of Engineer Rashid, Amritpal Singh, and Sarabjeet Singh in the Lok Sabha are seen by some as a threat to democracy.

Engineer Rashid. (AA File Image)

Some doomsayers point to the election of Engineer Rashid, Amritpal Singh and Sarabjeet Singh to the Lok Sabha as proof that “democracy is in danger” in this country. Some even go as far as saying that “democracy itself is dangerous”.

Such assessments are too simplistic and bereft of the instructive lessons of history. The bombardment of constant fear-mongering has made many citizens impatient and alarmist. On the contrary, the poll victory of such voices may just turn out to be the most ameliorative outcome for the troubled regions they now represent as Members of Parliament.

Democracies are about the dominant national narrative. In recent times, this had undeniable portents of majoritarianism. Majoritarianism is not just of religion and ethnicity, but also of opinions. It is predicated on “either with us, or with them” binaries. At such times, the consequent instinct of “othering” those who don’t conform to dominant narratives is nurtured. Only a large-hearted and inclusive leadership can stop the resulting societal alienation. If it is left unaddressed, the alienation can metastasize the disaffected “others” to make extremist choices on the rebound. Such electoral choices may not always be rational, but rather emotional. These three winners represent those extremist choices of a frustrated and possibly slighted populace, who are sending a larger “message”.

That larger “message” can be gauged by the contrasting performances of the candidates from the ruling national party (still the largest party). In Khadoor Sahib, first-time incarcerated and “Independent” candidate Amritpal Singh got 4,04,430 votes compared to the BJP’s 86,373. In Faridkot, the till-then electorally unsuccessful candidate (lost once for Lok Sabha, four times for Assembly) Sarabjeet Singh got 2,98,062 votes, compared to his nearest rival, popular musician and parliamentarian Hans Raj Hans, who got only 1,23,533.

In both Punjab constituencies, the nation’s ruling party candidate came fifth.

Jammu and Kashmir, which has been among the most bandied “success” stories of the ruling party, was surprisingly left uncontested (not even by other NDA constituents). Their strong claim of “normalcy” and the end of local disaffection with many announced investments, etc -- yet, for all its purported achievements in the national imagination, the ruling party did not feel the need to prove itself towards electoral validation.

The Baramulla seat had political heavyweights in Omar Abdullah, Sajad Gani Lone (widely believed to be a proxy of the BJP) and the locked-up “Independent” candidate, Engineer Rashid. Yet, despite the incredulous claims of spending only Rs 27,000 on the election (though whatever the actual expense, it would never match the spending by Omar or Sajad), Rashid got 4,69,574 votes, as opposed to 2,66,301 for Omar, and 1,71,582 for Sajad. The reality of ground emotions and frustrations was implicit when the electorate denied a mandate to the relatively moderate Omar and Sajad.

The backgrounds of all three unlikely winners don’t suggest any major achievements (even from an extremist perspective) to warrant such thumping endorsement, other than the sheer symbolism of sending someone with such a railing presence to the Lok Sabha. It is tantamount to sending a clear signal to the powers-that-be. If Omar was truly as unpopular as the Baramulla results show, then his National Conference’s candidates would not have won the only other two seats in Kashmir. Similarly, the Congress, which is widely believed to have contributed to the regression in Punjab in the 1980s, would not have won seven out of 13 Lok Sabha seats (the BJP won none). It would be highly naïve of the electorate to imagine anything substantial from the three MPs in a practical sense, other than sending an invaluable “message”, that the unheard and diminished voices of the “others” needs to be heard.

It is a counterpoise to the metaphor of “bulldozer” politics. Looking positively, the entry of these three, who have held simply unacceptable positions earlier, is an opportunity to engage, thaw and win over the disgruntled. To suggest that unfiltered and unheeded grouses from the outlier border districts are unworthy of tabling in Parliament is sheer hubris. Such a cavalier attitude had ensured the presence of such forces in the first place.

These three could put forth certain genuine grievances (along with the unacceptable), and the redressal of the fair ones could only strengthen the country. There is also a subtle yet progressive message that is sent across when they take their oath: “I will bear true allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established, that I will uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India…”. It implicitly suggests healthier recourses in a democracy for the disenchanted, instead of picking up the gun.

Democracy is also brutally auto-correcting. Ultimately, if these three do not work for the socio-economic betterment of their constituents, they will not get re-elected. Many were similarly concerned when Simranjeet Singh Mann won the byelection from Sangrur in 2022, yet he was relegated to third position within two years as his vote share crashed from 35.61 per cent to 18.55 per cent this time (all 10 other candidates from Maan’s party also lost their security deposits). It appears he had not fulfilled the electorate’s long-term aspirations, but it offered them the opportunity to express their dissatisfaction with the purported “normalcy”. Later, they course-corrected. Only the denial of such course-correction opportunities is a legitimate cause for concern that indeed “democracy is under threat”. Democracy must persist, always.

The permitted expressions of distrust with “Delhi” may even be healthy for democracy as it acts as a societal ventilation that disallows tinderbox-like suffocation. The participation of the disillusioned is the key to secure future peace and prosperity. Democracy, for all its failings, is still devoid of any better alternatives. However disagreeable the current positions of the three MPs, their victory can be an opportunity for inclusion and nation-building.