ERODING CREDIBILITY OF DEMOCRACY
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.
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.
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
India has to explore possibilities of refining its institutions by incorporatingadvanced 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.
[ The next write up shall spell out a specific structure of change in the legislative institutions and processes of the country]