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Democracy Bollywood Style

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Bollywood is a great replica machine often plagiarising Hollywood and giving blockbusters a masala makeover. Pensionable actors prance around as lead actors and scantily sari clad women perform Michael Jackson style dances. But then almost all of India is a big Bollywood set. Life, religion, education, commerce, law and even politics are one great theatre mimicking western civilisation with chutney twists. And so it is with Indian democracy, a proper Bollywood performance.

There are a few regional states in India undergoing elections through phased timetable. It is pure entertainment with family feuds, dynasties, castism and communalism, the stuff of medieval Kingdoms albeit without the bloody massacres and palace murders. The first election is in Punjab on 30 January. Punjabis in the west are fixated too. The results will be announced in March.

India is the world's largest democracy. This delights western liberal evangelists no end. Western civilisation's greatest triumph. Half a billion people voted at the last general elections in 2009. More people in India can vote than can eat a decent meal a day. India adopted a policy of voting right over food right at decolonisation. What fun to be able to dip your vote card into a ballot box every few years. Worth going undernourished, forego medical care and live in a slum. Boring old China set about enabling every citizen a daily meal instead.

India's is a proper masala democracy. The real leader is Italian turned Indian lady, Mrs Sonia Gandhi. She wins elections and makes all important decisions. The opposition parties, Hindu revivalist BJP and secular Janata, couldn't stomach another white person ruling India after 200 years of British colonialism. They threatened self sacrifice and legal challenge respectively.

So she enthroned unelected Dr Manmohan Singh as head poncho, prime minister, of the 'largest democracy.' He got there via the Indian version of House of Lords, Rajya Sabha. A Sikh from Punjab, his residence was backdated from another strife worn state, Assam. Only Bollywood India could come up with a mutant democracy, an unelected PM representing democracy.

But we shouldn't tut tut. After all, our Frau Merkel has Xeroxed India and installed super bureaucrats in democratic Italy and Greece. You never know, one day, Her Majesty, Queen of England (after Scotland and Wales leave) might finally summon Lord Mandelson to Downing Street. Bollywood sometimes gets to Hollywood.

It gets more enthralling. India became a secular democracy to weed out its alleged inflictions of communalism, religious politics and faith based castism. All Indians are equal, says the Indian Constitution (articles 15 and 16).

But with every passing year, electoral divisions in India have become communal, religious, caste based or ethnic based. The ruling Congress party is largely Hindu secularists, Muslims and other minorities scared of the main opposition, Hindu revivalist party, BJP. The BJP accuses Congress of pandering to Muslims. Some parties, like Bahujan Samajvadi, are based on the traditional lower castes accusing the main parties of castism. This spicy secularism is 'Indian secularism', as many Indian academics proudly assert.

The democratic pantomime gets further curried. Democracy is supposed to end feudalism, monarchies (not always, in Britain mother of parliaments is still not trusted with sovereignty, hence HRH) and dynasties. But then democratic philosophers never wrote a Bollywood version.

India's ruling lady, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, allegedly put Dr Manmohan Singh as a stop gap to keep the seat warm for her son, Rahul Gandhi. She is president of the Congress party and he is general secretary. She is the wife of assassinated ex prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, who was the son of assassinated ex prime minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi, who was the daughter of India's first Prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Out of a billion people, the Indian Congress Party can't find an electable leader outside the dynasty Royale.

Dynastic, feudal and royale is played fully in the Punjab elections too. The incumbent Akali Dal Party, the party of the Sikhs, the most democratic of Indian communities, has a feudal father-son duo leading it. Current leader senior Badal has sloshed money around to ensure junior Badal ascends the throne. Junior Badal's wife is MP at the national level and her brother at regional level. The family decide everything in Sikh politics. Badal's nephew, Manpreet, who fancies himself as the clever one and family's heir apparent got a little miffed. He set up his own political party, the People's Party of Punjab. His father, nephew and brother in law are standing from it. His party's slogan is to end nepotism. No irony lost there.

The main opposition in Punjab is led by an ex maharajah, Amarinder Singh. Although leader of the secular Congress party, he puts himself as the true leader of religious Sikhs. His wife is India's Foreign minister. His son is also standing hoping to inherit power. Amarinder's brother, neglected, defected over to Mr Badal hoping to stand against his sister in law next time. And just in case Sikh politics does succeed in creating an independent State, Amarinder Singh's brother in law, Simranjit Maan, is leading the Khalistani party.

Punjab's Hindus will largely vote for the BJP and some for Congress to prevent Sikhs dominating everything. The traditionally lower castes have the Bahujan Samajwadi Party, although many vote for Congress. The cultish holymen, who have even mushroomed in Sikhism, a movement that went about banishing God's intermediaries, have all negotiated privileges with different parties. They will give holy instructions to their faithful to vote for the party that promises to hand over acres of Government land grab for a rupee. Religious funparks are a growth industry.

If anyone has got confused with the plot, not to worry. It's all about which family dynasty will rule. Indian elections, like Bollywood films, are 'fantastical' dramas that make little sense. Like Bollywood films, the script is passed around the regional States and nationally in India, albeit different families and communal fissures. A proper chutney democracy. There are political dynasties in most democracies including UK and USA, but few where leadership is monopolised by families. America eat your heart out.

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