The Indian Parliament inherited a Nation mired in economic stagnation, divided by deep rooted social inequalities and bludgeoned by a violent Partition that displaced fifteen million people and killed more than a million. Most political observers believed that the great Indian democratic experiment was doomed to fail. That today the peoples of this country remain committed and unified by the text of the Constitution remains one of the most remarkable stories of modern history.

An important reason for this is the successful representation of a plurality of identities and ideas by political parties. It is the taking up of social, cultural and economic issues through political debate in the public sphere that has kept our democracy vibrant. It is this process, critical for a democracy to function, that I understand as the act of politicising. Former Planning Commission member Mr. K.S. Krishnaswamy in the winter of 1990 argued in the Economic and Political Weekly that the term “politicisation” serves an important purpose in a democracy. However increasingly it is becoming a word that is devoid of any virtue, bereft of the larger values of decency and social justice. He rightly feared that it would be a matter of time that politicians and political parties would be seen as anti social and unfair.

More recently in November, 2016 senior journalist T.K. Arun opined that there is nothing wrong in politicising issues. In fact this is the role political parties ought to perform- i.e. mediate between the people and the State. The Opposition parties have a duty to pressurise the State on issues affecting people. He relied on Amartya Sen to argue that famines would less likely happen in a democratic republic since free speech gave rise to a vocal opposition and media which would instantaneously take up issues such as famines thereby forcing the State to immediately react.

The Government of the day and sections of the media have argued that to politicise an argument would defeat any credible claim being made. That such an argument would fail to be reliable for the reason that it interprets an issue through the prism of an ideological framework . This logic is deeply flawed and runs counter to the idea of a representative democracy, one where political parties ought to reflect on contemporary issues through their philosophical beliefs. Let us look at some recent happenings where the validity of arguments have been challenged on the grounds of politicisation and why such attempts at delegitimizing alternative views is harmful to a democracy.

One flags of three unfortunate incidents from the recent past : the bail order granted to Col. Purohit in the Malegaon case; the investigation in the Pelu Khan case exonerating the accused mentioned in the dying declaration; and the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh. These incidents have seen the opposition make two points, first that the State seems to provide ideological support towards groups which belong to the Hindutva family and this has emboldened such collectives to take up violence and vigilantism in the name of ideology. Second, this is leading to the justice delivery system being compromised, as seen in the above incidents the administration seems to be failing in fair and free investigation. These raises doubts amongst the people on the impartiality of the legal system and this can not be afforded by a nation state that believes in the rule of law . Several Supreme Court rulings have reminded us that in a modern state an important component off justice is that justice must not only be done but must also be seen to be done.

In opposition to the above arguments the Ruling Government and some committed members of the media have attacked these political voices (INC, TMC, CPI(M) etc) arguing that these entities and people are ideologically against the ruling parties and therefore have no credibility and can’t be taken seriously. The question is that does an opinion ideologically different from that of the State render it null and void ? The answer is a clear No. On the contrary the oppositions arguments stemming from an ideological premise brings to the forefront voices unable to find representation within the party in power. In fact, the ideas behind the political entities are what connect the people with the parties. It is the duty of political entities to put forward their views on the problems faced by our country.

Interestingly on the issues of growth, employment, the implication of the GST regime on small businesses and the issue of high fuel prices the media is slightly restrained on claiming politicisation. This I assume is because these issues have a direct negative impact on the the primary viewership of these channels, which largely consists of the middle class. Another reason is that these media personnel’s do not adequately understand economic issues and therefore cannot give such an issue a sensationalist spin. I presume it would be difficult to claim national interest as reason for falling GDP numbers.

It is essential for the well being of our democracy that political parties across the spectrum continue to formulate plural political positions based on their ideological beliefs. It offers Governance alternatives to the people. More importantly it allows space for diverse political voices that makes sure that no citizen of our country feels politically disenfranchised and alienated from the representative democratic process of our country.

Of course, It is important to make a distinction between the legitimate role of ‘politicisation’ in a democracy that I try to argue above and the deliberate and the malafide use of ‘partisan’ political interests to destroy democratic institutions. It is unfortunate that this has happened in the past whether it be the Governor’s post or shoddy treatment of educational institutions, of course, today these acts have acquired gross proportions . One can clearly see efforts by the ruling party attempt to ideologically infuse divisive politics in institutions such as the Army and the Free press. The point being made is not that these two institutions are ideologically neutral. But that the ideology that defines them is one that the Constitution enshrines and for the large part (sans few serious violation that have been justifiably critiqued) the last seventy years have strengthened. These institutions are meant to serve all, irrespective of ideology and faith. They cannot be seen to be politically coloured. It is only this form of bigotted politicisation that goes against the very spirit of the Constitution that must be avoided at all costs.