Democracy??


Last couple of days saw high drama at the Ramlila grounds in New Delhi. Baba Ramdev launched his much publicized sathyagraha to bring back black money stashed away in foreign banks. Thousands of his followers who understood little about the issues at hand, thronged to the Ramlila grounds and Jantar Mantar to support his cause. Of the many issues he has raised some were totally ridiculous and the others were definitely valid demands that needed to be addressed.

His demands were such.

  • Abolishing Rs.1,000 and Rs.500 currency notes
  • Disabling the operations of any bank which belongs to a country that is a tax haven
  • Replacing the British-inherited system of governance, administration, taxation, education, law and order with a swadeshi alternative – Half the constitution and the executive system is borrowed from the British. He cannot expect a complete overhaul of the constitution. It is definitely not hurtful to the nationalistic sentiment to borrow certain good features of governance from foreign countries. Making such a demand only betrays his lack of maturity.
  • Reforming the electoral system to ensure that the Prime Minister is directly elected by people
  • Promoting Hindi at the expense of English – Certainly not possible. Most of the scientific advancement that happens worldwide is in English and translating everything to Hindi is a tedious and unnecessary task. Besides, if promotion of Hindi is taken up, a lot of other questions, of promoting the many regional languages such as Kannada,Bengali, Tamil etc. crop up. The same issue was raised during the formation of the constitution of the country, when the members had to decide on a national language. The decision was taken by people whose nationalistic sentiments had much more credibility than that of the Baba. The Baba should probably look up this chapter in the history of India. Promoting Hindi and other regional languages is a must, but abandoning English as a medium of communication is not possible.
  • Tough Lokpal Bill, with a provision for death sentence for the corrupt, especially corrupt officials – Death sentence might be too harsh. Maybe for really huge scams like the 2G, life sentence can be meted out.
  • Immediate return of all black money stashed away in tax havens abroad to the country.
  • Declaring all wealth in foreign countries being held illegally by Indians as national property and charging those with such accounts under the sedition laws.
  • Ensuring that all citizens declare annually their incomes.
  • Bringing income-tax details under the Right to Information Act.
  • Increasing substantially the Minimum Support Price of grains.
  • Making wages of different categories of labourers uniform across the country.
  • Revoking the Land Acquisition Act, as farmers should not be deprived of their land for industry.

People went out in large numbers to support him, but I wonder how many understood the consequences and practicality of the demands being made. How many thought of the economic repercussions of abolishing notes that are already being circulated in huge numbers(currency counterfeiting etc.). How are we to cancel transactions with tax haven banks when half the business transactions and capital flow in the world is through these banks(?).

This is probably the biggest folly of democracy, the system depends on the masses and the masses are invariably ignorant, and easily deceived.

During the national and state-level elections we are hardly aware of the ideologies of the leaders we are voting for. We are ignorant about the stand our leaders take on some of the major issues relevant to the society. Let alone the local constituency leader, we do not even get to hear the opinion held by some of the most prominent leaders in our country. Be it Sonia Gandhi, L.K Advani or Rahul Gandhi, all of them, in their election campaign, indulge in mudslinging at the other candidate and nothing else. The BJP blames the Congress for the 1985 anti-Sikh riots and the Congress holds BJP responsible for the Godhra riots. No policy matter or social issue is ever discussed in these campaigns. This fact hit me hard when I went to vote, for the first time, in the 2009 Lok Sabha election and was not sure why I was voting for the person that I did vote for.

The situation in the US is probably better. The citizens know that Barrack Obama, a Democrat is in favour of a stronger social security system and will push for the health care reforms, and he is more concerned about the many software jobs being outsourced to foreign countries than the Republicans. George Bush, a Republican was less inclined to hurry the process of removing US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and ending the war. The voter goes to the polling booth knowing much more about the leader he is voting for. I wonder how many of us are aware whether Sonia Gandhi is in favour of FDI in various commercial sectors or not, or what Rahul Gandhi has to say on the amount of regulation necessary in the Indian economy.

Let alone leaders even the parties do not have a definite ideology and agenda. For instance the BJP led NDA government was pursuing the nuclear deal with the United States when they were the ruling party( 1999-2004). The same deal when taken up by the Congress in their first term( 2004-2009), questions about compromising on the sovereignty of the nation was raised by the BJP, which was now the opposition party.

Also there is the problem of too many regional parties, almost one for every caste and social sect present in this diverse country. Perhaps things would improve if there were a cap on the number of parties allowed – The Left Wing, Right Wing, and the Centrist and any new politician can be asked to join one of the parties depending on what matches his ideology the best. Atleast this way the parties might be prevented from becoming a family affair.

We can also have the system of Shadow Cabinet. A Shadow Cabinet is cabinet formed by leaders of the opposition party. Each leader is given a portfolio similar to the actual cabinet. Whatever policies the government is pursuing, the opposition party with the aid of their shadow cabinet can form their version of the policy and present it in the parliament for discussion. This way the debates will be more meaningful. This system is already implemented in Britain. But I guess the Baba will have something to say about a British practise being adopted by India.

Also check out this link on Deliberative Democracy. It is a research carried out by Stanford University. It is a system where a small sample of the actual voting strength is chosen, a microcosm of all the voters. They are provided solution options for a certain issue and are asked to vote. Their votes are recorded, and the consequences of implementing the various solutions is discussed with a panel of experts( not politicians).After the discussion, the sample is asked to vote again. There were considerable number of people changing their opinions after the discussion( check the statistics given in the link, it is very interesting). We could have a modified version of this in our own country, and the whole event could be telecast, similar to events like Big Fight etc.. so that the voters will be more educated. This way democracy will be more meaningful.(Atanu Dey has written about Deliberative Democracy, and he has done it better)

We have seen the public blindly support various causes without giving it much thought. In a democracy the only incentive for a politician to push for a particular policy is to gain appreciation of the voters. So when faced with a question he will always choose the answer that is most popular. Unfortunately popular answers are not always the right answers. So to make democracy more efficient the voters have to be made aware of the issues at hand and their various consequences. Herd mentality and lack of awareness are probably the biggest threats to democracy.

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4 Responses to Democracy??

  1. hbhatnagar says:

    Valid suggestions. The noly question I have is that in such a divided polity like India, where every group/caste/sect has learned to manipulate the existing system to its own ends, will there ever be a wide-based support for any major overhaul of the electoral process? Part of what you say strikes at the heart of the democratic process itself. As Iqbal pointed out, “Jamhooriyat woh tarz-e-hukumat hai ki jisme,
    Insaan ko ginaa kartey hain tolaa nahin kartey”

    Democracy is the system of governance where people are counted, their worth is not considered.

    • True. Putting a cap on the number of parties will probably receive a stiff resistance. But the shadow cabinet seems implementable. As for the Deliberative democracy part, where an issue is discussed with an expert and telecast in a popular channel, this is something the Election Commission has to press for in its campaigning regulations

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