Saturday, June 5, 2021

WHY INDOCRACY? Vol-3; INDIA MUST CHART OUT A NEW COURSE OF DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE

 

ERODING CREDIBILITY OF DEMOCRACY

 By the 1st quarter of 21st century, the democratic political systems, in their current shape, have appeared increasingly incapable of effectively pursuing some of their own promises. These include universal access to security, opportunity, dignity and justice. Challenges in this direction may be quite profound in the developing world, but developed nations too are not entirely immune to some institutionally inbuilt discriminations or inequities. Howsoever, subtle or even discreet these may be but their own people have been quite vocal about these.

 One cannot deny the fact that life for average humans is far more safe, secure, just and fair today, in most parts of the world, than at any other point of time in the past. Yet, an overwhelming majority of people, continue to face wretched, miserable, unjust and grossly unfair conditions. These deny them not only a secure and dignified existence but also impede collective progress of societies and states. 

Democracy has helped improve plight of people across most divides but its benefits have not percolated to all strata of society and universally. Marginalised sections even in some of the rich and powerful democracies continue to be deprived of the fruits of wealth and prosperity that their societies boast of.  

 These only suggest that the idea of democracy has to cover a long distance to realise some of the goals and objectives that the world leaders had set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the perceived cornerstone of the modern representative humane democracy, in the aftermath of 2nd world war (1948). In this context, sustained governance under-performance of major democracies, especially in face of resurgence of an authoritarian China, and steady erosion in norms of probity in most open societies, can derail the larger human advancement towards a fairer and just world. 

 Democracy’s advances, since the end of the second World-war, have been accompanied with persistence of many of the existing, and emergence of several newer forms of, conflicts. These are negatively impacting governance output of open societies across a wider divide. The larger consequences of this anomaly is going to impact even elite in these societies, unless remedial measures are initiated. The real test of democratic leadership- whether in the realm of ideas or actions- would lay in their ability of to find newer and innovative ways and means to address or negotiate these conflicts or challenges.  

 A little deeper analysis of issues, and awareness of the contexts, awakens us to possibilities of viable and sustainable institutional innovations to foster greater cooperation, collaboration and even competition among people. These can be potentially harnessed to enhance the quality of governance in open societies, with larger focus in the developing world. The idea of Indocracy is only an effort in this direction. It envisions refinement - and not dilution - of the core ideas, institutions and promises of democracy.

 

DEMOCRACY’S PROMISES

 Modern representative democracy promises a social order that is universally just, fair and secure. It pre-supposes a high degree of communication, trust and collaboration among people. This is possible only if social behaviours and institutional processes are driven by higher levels of integrity and empathy.

     The biggest hindrance in this direction comes from continuation of some of the basic survival or combative human instincts. These include insecurity, anxiety, aggression, greed or dishonesty, or even sheer absence of self-restraint or self-belief, in large sections of citizenry. In the post-colonial states, these challenges have been further compounded by continuation of some of the oppressive and repressive practices of the state institutions, which were devised during colonial era by external occupiers. Sadly, in most contexts, even the new local ruler have found these immensely convenient to secure themselves and oppress their political opponents. 

The governance output of most democracies in the developing world remains way short of their potentials and capacities. This has been pushing the popularity of surveillance and coercion driven Chinese model, especially in fragile democracies where rulers are keen to quickly showcase some of their accomplishments to obtain popular approval. They find many of the instruments and processes of representative government, devised and perfected in the West, incapable of meeting their requirements. 

Many of the existing democratic instruments and processes, despite their universal orientation, do carry several cultural, social and behavioural connotations. Their efficacy to pursue some of the fundamental promises of democracy in social, cultural and economic contexts other than West, appears a little suspect. Governance challenges and priorities of the post-colonial developing societies differs not only with their counterparts in the developed world but even amongst themselves. Hence, the need for innovation in democratic institutions may be quite serious and substantive with appropriate variations in different regional-cultural contexts.

Over the past few centuries, the idea of democracy, as well as many of its institutional practices and procedures, have substantially evolved  from their medieval moorings even in the west. From a power-sharing arrangement among an exclusive club of property-owning adult males, democracy has assumed a more universalistic character as symbolised by universal adult franchise. Nevertheless, these appear inadequate to transform societies and states in the developing world or create optimally secure social spaces that are conducive for collective betterment of people.

A careful evaluation of the past suggests that sustained and comprehensive progress of communities and states have been driven more by persuasion, trust and collaboration. Coercion, fear and intimidation may have been critical, and even unavoidable under certain conditions, for building vibrant societies and robust states but these had their limitations. The ideas of justice, fairness, equity and human dignity, as per norms in the each context,  always played a bigger role in such persuasive collaboration among people.  While no society could have adhered to these values and principles of trust and justice driven collaboration in their absolute form but a higher degree of observance of such would have provided a stronger bedrock for cohesive and robust societies.

However, it is quite possible that the idea of justice, fairness, equity, and human dignity may have carried different connotations in different contexts. Simultaneously, these have also been evolving over time. But there is no confusion that the contemporary scientific and humanist democracy, as developed in the West, promises and practices, these values and ideals to a relatively higher degree than all other forms of political systems known to the mankind over the last one millennium or even more. 

But these institutions are not perfect in themselves. They remain vulnerable to subversion by survival, combative and opportunistic human instincts. While economic and physical security, as well as social and behavioural training, may have helped curb some of these instincts but people nowhere are entirely immune to such or similar human frailties. A sturdy mechanism of rule of law has come to act as a serious deterrent against deviant social behaviour, but, in absence of a favourable ecosystem, rule of law is difficult to uphold to an optimum degree. 

Compared to established model democracies, developing countries appear to have been trapped in a vicious cycle. An unfavourable internal and external and internal ecosystem has been hindering progress towards rule of law. Simultaneously, poor state of rule of law has also been vitiating social and economic space to an extent that these societies are losing most benefits of democracy and representative governance. Nevertheless, there have been a few exceptions, where leadership driven initiatives have ushered in serious transformation of institutions towards effective governance within a democratic political framework. But is mostly relatively smaller states like Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan that appear to have benefitted more than larger states.  

In the context of India, the challenges of its huge size, humongous diversities and fragility of institutions have been compounded internal fissures by an unfavourable external ecosystem. While, India has managed internal fault-lines quite creditably but these have impacted both internal cohesion and consensus on building high quality governance institutions. Simultaneously, identity driven threats from both Pakistan and China have been far too deep, intractable and even emotive in their own respective ways. West’s inability to think and act strategically, as manifest in its sustained ambivalence - or even support to Pakistan and Islamic extremism - until recently, have further complicated challenges for both India and the overall plight of democracy. Currently, the combined Pak-China all-pervasive threat makes India probably the most vulnerable or threatened nation in the world. These have been generating  their own pressure on the governance institutions. 

 

WHY MUST INDIA CHART OUT A NEW COURSE OF DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE

Sustenance of democracy in India, amidst extreme adversity, has often been attributed to persistence of some of its original humanist civilisational values. This is notwithstanding their severe distortion, as well as disruption of normal progress, following larger decay of Indian state and society leading to their external occupation. Sustained social and intellectual movements, as well political and military resistance campaigns,  followed by leadership initiatives of the freedom fighters and first-generation statesmen of independent India, may have successfully rekindled and improvised some of these values, norms and practices.  These appear to have been harnessed to lay sturdy foundations for a  representative government as well as simultaneous social and economic transformation.

 India has enriched the idea of democracy with its unique civilizational roots of social trust, humanism and pacifism, notwithstanding all exceptions, aberrations and shortfalls. Compared to all other civilizations, India had practiced the highest possible degree of amiability and goodwill not only among human beings but also with the forces of nature. Curb on arbitrary power of rulers, rules of war, absence of large-scale collateral damage of civilian population during armed conflicts, absence of slavery and use of slave labour in building imposing monuments, absence of large-scale crime, emphasis on spiritual development, art, science and music etc during pre- medieval India may have had an important role in shaping an outlook, national psyche and behavioural norm that differentiates India from the rest. Some of these ingredients of civilizational values may have had profound contributions in sustenance of  an open and accountable political system. 

Simultaneously, worshipping nature, earth, rivers, trees, mountains and certain animals may appear a hollow ritual. But probably these were instruments of psychological conditioning for masses. These inculcated values like humility, pacifism, non-violence and respect for nature. While there are always significant exceptions, but average Indian is more likely to be less violent than people from identities. This is not to deny the impact of combined pressure of globalisation and a culture of capitalistic acquisitiveness, alongside abuse of democratic freedom, on wider behavioural norms of the people. 

 India has to explore possibilities of refining its institutions by incorporating advanced scientific knowledge in areas of governance and leadership. It needs far more effective and rational tools to foster internal cohesion and deter external threats to optimise its comprehensive strengths. A democratic and resurgent India can lend an strong momentum to the larger human advancement towards democratisation. 

Setbacks and disruptions have been part of the larger progress and evolution of the idea of democracy. Probably, this is a continuous journey without a final destination. The idea of Indocracy can constitute a serious advancement of the idea of democracy provided India is able to fuse its original civilizational values with contemporary scientific principles and practices to transform the quality of democratic governance in India.  This can be a model worth emulation by other developing nations, besides offering a few significant lessons to even the developed world. 

 Plurality and heterogeneity of India, with its myriad complexities and challenges, calls for investment of far more powerful ideas to optimise its potentials and strengths. An initiative in this direction has to be extremely well thought. A reckless misadventure is more likely to backfire, inviting even a bigger disaster than status -quo. But status-quo is probably untenable in the prevailing context. 

 Some of the greatest states and societies,  including India, have faced major setbacks in the past by their inability to appreciate the need for change at the right time and invest appropriate efforts in this direction. The contemporary democratic India has been facing a crying need for serious overhaul of its institutions for quite some time. Economic liberalisation of 1991 should have been followed with reforms in civil service, political parties, private sector, judiciary, policing, municipal governance, media, and even health and education sector among others. Nevertheless, it is still not too late for the world’s largest democracy to chart out a newer course of democratic governance for itself.

[ The next write up shall spell out a specific structure of change in the legislative institutions  and processes of the country]

 

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