Tuesday 19 October 2010

Imperial Democracy

Before the idea of India was concocted, it was not as though civilized society did not exist. There were kings and chieftains and their cronies of various sizes and flavors.  

When the Mughals and British took over, there wasn't much of a change. It was a monarchy, plain and simple. Just that now there was an emperor - a super king who ruled over other kings.

As long as the British were calling the shots, 'Indians' had no say in how things were run. In the interest of survival, Indians proceeded to work for the Ruler and learn the ways of the world according to the ruler's guidebooks.

Then, when the British left, we had to figure out a system of governance for ourselves. What that meant in the most practical of senses was that a document had to be written. This was a natural consequence of 300 years of British rule. The British perfected the art of colonization by contract - their true contribution to modern society. You walk into a a stranger's house, make a deal that is favorable to you and get him to sign on the dotted line. when he protests, you unleash your entire machinery of judges and the military on him. So, having got used to doing everything according to a document, Indians proceeded to write that document that would define how India should function.

There were two glitches. Firstly, since India had never existed until 1947, there was no precedent for a system of government, for a giant pudding of city states, other than a monarchy. This meant that the document creators had to create a theoretical model of a system of government that would be a near fit to the problem at hand. This lead to the second glitch; the people who could write were the ones who were trained at the universities of the colonial rulers.

Thus it happened that India became a representative democracy. On paper.

In a country where half (even more just after independence) the people don't know where their next meal will come from, people would be willing to do anything, let alone vote, for the person who comes along and doles out some rice. How on earth could anyone have expected that a model like representative democracy would work in a newly constituted nation like India?

Coming to think of it, the concept of electing an individual who will represent a bunch of people at a group of other representatives is actually quite complex. More so because Indians did not have a chance (thanks to incessant invasions) to learn what election, representative or government meant.

Perhaps the hope was that the country would grow up and mature into a democracy.

How well the theoretical model fits reality is demonstrated by the workings of India's establishment today:

Political parties are exclusive clubs, elected leaders are not accountable to anyone and leadership is inherited
Doesn't this smell exactly like a monarchy? The only apparent difference is the quadrennial charade called an election. But with <50% of the population participating in it and 90% of the participating lot being coerced into voting for one or the other political party, the election is nothing more than an expensive coronation.

Monarchies can be good too; if there is a 'just' leader at the top. But that feeling of justness can be easily eroded if the populace are made to believe that they were the ones who elected the king. By participating in an election and electing a leader, the people are stating that they know what's good for themselves and their country. The leader is subliminally absolved of all responsibility. Once the people have made that commitment, it would be difficult for them to doubt their own choices, and hence they entrench themselves deeper into the political game to try and get closer to the king. This is exactly what is happening in India today.

Politicians and the businesses that prop them up hide behind veils of civility
The rule of law is but a facade created to fool the general populace into complacence so that the looting can continue.

The government expects me to pay taxes. If I fail to do so, it threatens me with violence. If I pay up, I have no way of finding out where the money goes, but I have a faint suspicion that it goes straight into the pocket of the guy driving the inordinately large car, who has not done a single day's honest work to date. How am I to think this is not exactly similar to what the mafia does?
Ah , yes. The mafia does actually protect you when it says it will.

Scams get bigger but our ability to tolerate them seems to grow proportionately
A ruffian in some corner of the country aligns himself with a political party. He gets himself elected by threatening the people into voting for him. The party, consisting of other such ruffians aligns with a bigger party which has more such unsavory specimens. The coalition of parties 'wins' the election and crowns the monarch. our friendly neighborhood ruffian gets to decide what the country's telecommunication strategy should be. Remember that he is a person who has no clue about anything other than taking what does not belong to him. No wonder we are not too surprised by the magnitude of the scams that unfold almost every day. We believe that 'we the people' put him where he is - and have no way of evicting him.

We have started taking inefficiency and slip shod work in our stride
Trains crash into each other more often than they arrive on time, even as a strange and angry woman in a white sari goes around acting like the railways portfolio is her birth-right. Her full time job is politicking. Pure politics unadulterated by work of any sort.

The pavement tiles that were laid (only along the routes which the athletes were ferried over) in haste during the CWG-2010 have not even been cemented in place and await the next monsoon to float away. And the elected leaders claim that the infrastructure created for the games will be Delhi's pride.

After 60 odd years of trying self rule, we are now left with a situation where chieftains and minor kings are roaming free in a capitalist economy and plundering the country from within.

Rather than continuing to imitate a western system (that does not work too well even in the west), we should seriously try and invent a system of government that we can comprehend and implement, keeping the Indian reality in mind.

Perhaps a mix of chieftains and kings is what works in India. We should then just formalize that system and start building this nation for real.

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