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Power to the People

January 12, 2012

As a nation we are proud about the democracy we have maintained in our land for nearly 62 years of the republic. Except for an interregnum we call an aberration. We compare it with the record of our twin across the border, born at the same time. Someone there has created a kolaveri-like wail on what democracy they have, when they have it.

Pakistanis, during their periods of democracy have also been strenuous in denying that what they have is half a democracy and half a theocracy. For long periods they have had pure stratocracy, rule by the military. But look at the latest episode of memogate where the elected government allegedly sought a foreign power’s help to avoid drifting back to military rule. And also the hullaballoo about Musharaff’s  National Reconciliation Ordinance that granted amnesty to the corrupt. By contrast, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa was not just about granting amnesty to perpetrators under apartheid.

There are different brands of democracy.The City States of Greece are reputed to have had direct democracy where every citizen participated and voted. Only, most of the population were not citizens. They would be slaves, women and other assorted undesirables. That reduced their number. Any of us who has attended the meeting of any housing cooperative society or residents’ association would know the sort of circus or tamasha that the meetings become and appreciate that direct democracy is, well, well… But I am told the Swiss have found out a way of having referendums on almost everything every other sunday, where everyone votes, so they have almost a direct democracy.

And we have proportionate representation where a party has the voting power in proportion to the votes they garner. So everyone who has voted for the party is, without any question, assumed to side with the party boss’s views in making decisions.

Or we have first-past-the-post types of elections like ours. So candidates who get the votes of even 25% of the registered voters become representatives. Not that it makes much of a difference, because they are any way obliged to vote according to the party whip, according to the wishes of their own party boss.

The party boss’s post could be a hereditary one quite often. In some cases, they are all images of characters on the “silver screen” or screen writers who created them. Life could imitate art, could it not? In some parties, the boss comes to be just like a boss comes to be in any of Mumbai’s underworld gangs.

Or like the French have, there can be repeated rounds of elections till one person gets more than half the votes, to become President. So they have several weekly picnics to the polling booth once every few years.

In my growing-up years and youth, I had always wondered how the Americans with their democracy managed to support oligarchies all over the world. Paraphrasing the foul-mouthed Harry Truman, one could say they might have been supporting bastards, but they were their bastards. At home, they have the mysterious (to me) electoral process that decides upon an executive President who then rules for four years, with a very slim possibility of being impeached. But they have had massive impeachment moves. And the Justice Department has demonstrated that it could seriously investigate the President, regardless of the hurdles the incumbent creates.  So also, Cameron seems to be facing an investigation in the UK now.

It is only in India that the worthies in the bureaucracy and government cannot be prosecuted without special permissions. The Prime Minister seems to be a holy cow who can’t be investigated at all, as proposed by some.

Even the judiciary of Pakistan has shown some chutzpah, in the circumstances, to ask the government to write to the Swiss for money-laundering records about the President. Could we imagine anything similar in our unpolluted system?

Tailpiece: The Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China also had and have elections. It is only that enemies of the people are not permitted to vote or contest elections in such places. Or write blogs about it.


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  1. Induchoodan permalink

    I have a theory why democracy did not get derailed here unlike what happened in Pakistan. It could be that we did not have any adventurous (misadventurous ?) characters either among the politicians or in the army. If we look back into our history, we hardly find leaders who exhibited the will to unify the country. Chandragupta Maurya was originally from Gandhara (the present day Afganistan). We had to wait 1800 years for the next adventurer who could take over India and he was a Mughal named Babar. He was possibly half Turkish and half Mongol. The great Maratha Shivaji does not belong to this league. Possibly, we Indians lacked the machismo to even think about a military coup. Thank God for that. We know what happens to a country when the macho emotions get a free ride. Look at that God forsaken country called Afganistan. Pakistan is not far behind.

    • I was trying to say that democracy is a sort of amorphous (or is the word fluid?) thing that takes the form of any container. Not about India being one nation, or being superior in any way.

      Regarding India being or not being a united state, or society, I have a theory that India is not a nation in the way the nation states of Europe were or are. Yugoslavia, or the Balkans in general, is the prime example of the quandary about nation states in Europe too. The reason for the quasi-unity in Europe to form a pseudo-super-state like the European Union is more economic, more because of competition with the US of A and the East Asian enigmas. Not social identity at all. And it affects the ruling classes more. If the Maurya or the Mongol Mughals unified the land, it is more in the sense of an administrative unification. There are so many subcultures and nationalities in the land, and the failure of our political theorists and practitioners is their inability to recognise this plurality. What is often flaunted as the concept of India from pre-historic times is a myth. Any cultural similarities there are between the peoples of India is more because of commercial contact. The south of India was mostly populated by an ocean-route migration over the currents in the Indian Ocean, rather than the Indus Valley people being pushed down by the Aryan hordes from the northern steppes. A notion that came about after the 1921 excavations. Bolstering this theory is recent DNA evidence about the people of Madurai having similar DNA to those in the African mainland. Thor Hyerdahl had to say more on it.

      Well, that’s another story. And I think the fact that Hindu culture not being regimented at all, unlike the Middle Eastern culture spread by the Judaic religions may be responsible for our not having military rulers.

  2. Ravi permalink

    Those interested in and believe in the political process in the US vote in a primary. Essentially that is an election within the party. Of course there are backroom deals! Of course heredity counts! And people in the US are as disillusioned as we are of the political process! The Tea party and Occupy Wall Street are both expressions of this frustration. But when the Tea Party had tried to use the political process to gain traction, it has faltered and is becoming accused of fostering politics as usual!
    But imagine how it would be if anyone could contest within the party! In the US, people who get elected to city level or state level minor positions often have not been career politicians. In the Indian system, it is impossible to not be a career politician and get elected – or it might help if your ancestors were career politicians 😉

    Btw, there was some fuss in the US about the hypocrisy of “leading from behind” in Libya while keeping mum about the atrocities in Bahrain. But it died down pretty quickly. Oil trumps morals any day.

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