Tuesday, July 24, 2018

" Hug", Politics and Governance Challenges in 21st Century India

The recent no-confidence motion in Indian parliament shall be remembered more for the Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s hug of the Prime Minister than the quality of debate on the motion. The exchanges between the between the government and the opposition appeared relatively sober in the context of sustained acrimony that has characterised their relations in the parliament in recent past. These had virtually crippled the legislative output of Indian democracy. The recent session must help restore popular faith in the ability of our parliament to conduct business smoothly, when required, or felt necessary by our legislators.  However, abject defeat of the motion in a completely one-sided voting, left people wondering about the rationale behind such a move at this juncture. The time invested on such a motion could have been used for something more productive towards governance of the country, had the two sides shared mutual trust. 

There would be conflicting perception on appropriateness of the hug by the Congress President of the Indian Prime Minister. Hug is a way of showing affection to friends or people we care for but the etiquette and protocol require us to have permission, or at least concurrence, of the person whom we hug. Imposing a hug amounts to invasion of private space of  those who are hugged and, hence, it is strictly avoidable. Here the person in question is none other than the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy. To impartial observers, Congress President’s gesture to urge the Prime Minister to stand up, even in course of a parliamentary debate, may be interpreted as discourteous, if not disrespectful, to the highest executive office of the country.

The gesture, despite all its sincerity, has given an opportunity to detractors of the Congress to allege that the Gandhi dynast is used to treating even the highest political office in the country with a degree of disdain. Earlier, his action of tearing down a paper, notwithstanding its emotional sincerity, during Dr Manmohan Singh era did not go down well with impartial observers. His gesture to hug Prime Minister could have appeared sincere, had he politely requested the latter. Even if the Prime Minister rejected such request, Congress President would have been a gainer. Imposing a hug on executive head of the country in such manner has invited a charge of a patronising arrogance. His subsequent wink, whether intentional or unintentional, simply destroyed the credibility or sincerity of the gesture. Response from the Prime Minister of the world’s biggest democracy too could have been a little generous. After all, the political aggressor, who attempted to use the “hug” as a combative weapon, was not his equal.

Freedom of speech and expression has been the biggest strength of democracy over the past few centuries. Model democracies of the world have ridden over it to evolve towards high quality of governance, economic prosperity, social harmony and advancement of knowledge. Here, a sincere freedom of speech and expression must be differentiated from filibustering or verbal warfare to psychologically pulverise political opponents.  Clarity of vision and unanimity of goals are critical but sincerity of purpose and mutual respect are probably more important. Political culture in Indian democracy certainly requires serious transformation for a move in this direction where such freedom can be constructively exploited for betterment of governance. Oppressive hierarchical structures of political parties and insecurities of people in position of authority have reduced the space for political dissent and criticism, which is otherwise the barometer to measure the health of a democracy.  In a culture of distrust, criticisms become instruments of assault, often inviting a suitable and yet subtle retribution.

Criticism of Government policies and actions in democracy have always been tools for maintaining checks and balances as well as obtaining feedback for course correction. Without space for criticism, it would be difficult to preserve integrity and transparency of governance procedures. Criticism of authority has been part of Indian social values and ethos much before India adopted the Western model of political democracy. Our mythological story of Sage Bhrigu once criticizing all the Gods over their performance and duty to the world and even condemning Lord Vishnu by feigning anger is a testimony to it. He described Lord Vishnu as God of the Gods because the master of the universe remained unperturbed over criticism and yet responded politely to even unjust criticism of the sage. Long tradition of our social democracy and culture of criticism of authority is amply reflected in the following couplet by our saint poet “Kabir”,  whom even former Prime Minister Shri Vajpayee  had once quoted in course of a parliamentary debate:

“ Nindak niyare raakhiye, aangan kuti chhawaye, bin sabun pina bina, nirmal karat subhav….” (Keep a critic close to yourself and take care of him, he shall ensure purity of your thoughts).  

Ironically, democracies seem to be increasingly experiencing freedom of speech and expression taking shape of weapons of attack, often inviting bigger counter-attacks. People in power have been responding to criticisms by measures to deflect and even disintegrate credibility of both criticisms and even critics. The biggest problem of democracy in India and beyond is poor governance and dysfunctional institutions. We all criticise deficient capacity of Indian state to implement programmes and policies but sincere bi-partisan debates to enhance institutional strength in this direction have been missing from our political discourse.  Sincere intents require serious  efforts, which are difficult to detect.  Most of our administrative structures lack inbuilt capacity and incentives for high quality output with consistency and speed. There are several inspiring examples of individual initiative, grit and determination to deliver public services even against all odds, and at times even at a personal cost. A large representative democracy and its society can derive pride from the same but cannot rely entirely on such exceptions. Hindrances against high quality public services are many but genuine incentives are very few. 

         India has been a shinning example of inclusive democracy and beacon of hope for the entire developing world. A failure to emerge as a prosperous and harmonious society with strong national security architecture, and ability to positively influence course of events at a much wider scale in next few years,  would amount to betrayal of hopes of founding fathers of our nation, as well as martyrs who have sacrificed their lives to secure and preserve our freedom.  Our failure shall also shatter hopes of those sections of humanity who believe in democracy and harmony among people across cultural and racial divides.  However, we can realise our latent potentials and succeed in our objectives by building strong institutions that can deliver efficient governance and not by public spectacles or entertaining skills of our politicians. Efficiency and dynamism in governance alone can boost our credibility and capacity to lead and set an example. 

(Remaining component of this write-up  has been split and published on 26th July under a different caption) 

Sunday, July 22, 2018



July 22, 2018

Eyebrows were raised when US Press Secretary Sarah Sanders disclosed last week that President Trump had directed White House to extend an invitation to his Russian counterpart, President Putin, to visit Washington later this year. Close on the heels of Summit in Helsinki, such news was bound to gain a lot of media attention, particularly after a little controversy concerning the alleged Russian meddling in US Presidential polls. While there would be several geopolitical implications of such ongoing summit between the two leaders and many experts may have different interpretations of the dynamics of the entire exercise, in terms of “leadership”, there is no doubt that it must be one of the boldest gambits. If these summits build a momentum of their own and do succeed in building a friendly relation between the two countries over the next few decades or even thawing their strained bilateral relations, there would be a directional shift in global politics.


America’s main worry today has been the rising economic and political clout of China. The United States cannot afford to fritter away its energies on conflicts and rivalries that can otherwise be tackled with little extra effort or a victory in these shall make no big difference. If President Trump succeeds in winning over Russia or even containing the threat from Russia, it would be one of the most remarkable accomplishments of his time. I was recently interacting with a UK based observer of US foreign policy and he opined that the best strategy would be 'to look forward without getting bogged down by the past. Even if there are heavy baggage and serious misgivings and distrust in the West’s relations with Russia, the adversarial relationship does not suit at least the American interests at this juncture.’ He described that what President Trump is trying amounts to ‘winning over Russia without defeating it.’ If we win over our adversaries or neutralise even potential foes, we reduce the threat to ourselves, which automatically enhances our strength.   


We assess the quality of leadership of any great leader not by one or two moves but by the overall impact that they can leave. I recall early last year, many people were concerned at a somewhat disruptive approach of the leadership of Head of the Government of the world’s most powerful nation. One of the former Directors of IIM, who is probably one of the most eminent global experts from India on leadership, remarked in course of a casual chat that “in the past half a century, the world had not witnessed such an acute crisis of leadership in virtually most fields.” He wondered whether the systems had ‘saturated so much that it struggled to throw up high-quality leaders.’

Leadership is a crucial ingredient for the success of democracy and its ability to produce good quality leaders shall determine its eventual fate. So, who is a good leader?


Good Leaders are Easy to Identify

Good leaders are easy to identify but difficult to describe. In fact, ‘who is a good leader’ or ‘what makes a leader good’, maybe fairly contested ideas. Every leader is not endowed with the same level of skills or strengths. There is a large spectrum, varying from average to great or exceptional, on which we can classify leaders. Average leaders may succeed in certain circumstances and remain ineffective in the rest, good leaders succeed in most circumstances and even against several odds and great leaders need a very wide variety of skills and an exceptional push of both luck and support of associates to succeed and leave a mark. Great leaders leave a legacy that inspires people much after they are gone. They set their benchmarks of excellence which are difficult to match or emulate. They are path-breakers in the sense that they venture into newer areas and attempt things that are different.


The word leader or leadership has probably been overused in our times. We usually consider those individuals as leaders who occupy the highest rungs in political, professional or social hierarchies. These include institutions, organisation or communities or even nations or simply those individuals who command wider acceptability. However, the real test of leadership lies not in occupying a position at the top of acceptability among but in the quality of difference that they make to their surroundings and even beyond. Good leaders make a more positive quality of difference or change, bringing people across divides and differences together, infusing greater synergy and harmony, even while opposing entrenched vested interests.


Good leaders transform the quality of output of their people - both individually and collectively. They show a sense of purpose and direction that is both appealing and viable. They succeed despite hindrances. They inspire others through their acts, deeds and performance. They infuse a sense of higher self-worth among those whom they lead. The biggest success of leaders would be their ability to win over even their enemies.

Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, Napoleon Bonaparte, John Davison Rockefeller, Albert Einstein etc are some of the greatest leaders in different fields that the world has produced in recent centuries. None of them was perfect and they all had their share of flaws but their actions and beliefs did help change the world for better in some form for the entire humanity.


However, one story from Indian history that is attributed to ancient Indian King Samudra Gupta is worth narrating even though its details are inapplicable in the contemporary context. Legend says that Samudra Gupta was third among the four prince brothers who were contenders for the responsibility of the Gupta empire that flourished in an era, which is considered the golden phase in the history of Indian sub-continent. His father Emperor Chandra Gupta I, who himself was one of the greatest emperors in the history of mankind, was keen to appoint the most worthy among the four princes as his successor who could protect the vast empire. All the four princes had to undergo a series of tests including a sword-fight. They fared almost equally in all the tests except sword fight, making it difficult to distinguish one from the other. About Samudra Gupta, the story says that the nimble-footed royal prince not only fought the duel against a formidable opponent with utmost skills and dexterity but when the latter lost both balance and sword, failing to react to a sharp attack from the prince, and fell, the prince promptly threw his sword and knelt to lift his opponent and embraced him apologetically. The sword fight was for winning and not killing the opponent. Emperor Chandra Gupta-I and his associates chose Samudra Gupta on the plea that he would protect the empire better as he could control his emotions and handle his opponents without anger and vengeance, despite being powerful. An emperor had to earn the respect of both his associates and opponents and convert even enemies into friends. It was more important to win rather than kill and destroy the opponent- a sentiment that scripted exceptional prosperity and harmony of ancient India.


Several centuries later, Mahatma Gandhi repeatedly asserted that he had no enemies and advised his followers to “hate the sin and not the sinner.” President Lincoln showed remarkable courage to not only forgive his political opponents but risk his career and even his life to secure liberty and dignity for “slaves”. Mandela forgave his tormentors and oppressors who had subjected him to enormous physical and psychological torture and outraged even his dignity. As the greatest corporate leader and accumulator of wealth in his lifetime in the entire recorded human history, John Davison Rockefeller eventually scripted a new chapter of philanthropy that has inspired many of his ilks much after his death to inspire the "Giving" pledge by corporate leaders led by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. As an intellectual leader and great genius, Eisenstein led the most simple and austere life and showed remarkable humility, but yet his accomplishments changed the world for better.


Can such people be considered good leaders? They may be materially successful individuals but irrespective of the political, military or financial success or clout they may wield, they can never earn respect and trust, which is the hallmark of good leaders. Leaders build bonds, promote powerful ideas and establish processes that positively impact most, if not all, around them. Various means of direct and subtle communications adopted by leaders are extremely crucial for this purpose.


Observations of great leaders, who have obtained exceptional results in different contexts, suggest that they have often possessed different attributes, and at times used contradictory techniques to achieve their goals. At the same time, most of them had certain common qualities like vision, courage, ability to energise their teams, and most importantly integrity of character and purpose. Hence, it would be fair to say that while there can be no fixed formula or prescription for good leadership but essential attributes of a good leader transcend time and context. Effectiveness of various tools, techniques or approaches of leadership varies with context and sub-context but the key principles remain timeless.


Tuesday, July 10, 2018


Last week I attended a panel discussion captioned The Battle for India’s Future: Democracy, Growth and Inequality” at Chatham House, London.   Mr Gareth Price, who was chairing the session, was kind and generous not only to include me in the select list of audience but also permitted me to make longish observations.

Rise of high number of billionaires, 131 in 2018 as per Wikipedia, in India is a testimony of success of market economy in the country over the past two and half decades. It does demonstrate entrepreneurial and leadership prowess of the Indian corporate sector, which should evoke a sense of pride among most Indians.  However, when we stumble upon a data that nearly 40% of Indian children are suffering from malnutrition, stunted growth and impaired cognitive skills, our joy turns into worry.  Inequalities have risen all over the world but these have probably been the starkest in India. In a 2.4 trillion dollar economy, which is roughly one-fifth of the size of China and 12% of that of America, with per capita GDP being one of the lowest in the world, we account for the third highest number of billionaires. One of the panellist in the discussion pointed out that no other economy of our size ever had as many billionaires.   These figures cause concern in the context of sustained allegations of rise in crony capitalism in India in recent years and perception of subversion of financial institutions, where episodes like Nirav Modi and Mallya could just be tip of a larger iceberg.

This is certainly not to deny exceptional achievements of several corporate leaders of the country. I would like to believe that Indian economy has been doing extremely well and it is on course to double its size in next 7 to 10 years to improve the plight of entire population. Our growth story should be capable of shoring up the fortunes of even rest of the world. However, wider perception is that we are still nowhere close to our potential given our size and inherent strengths. It was only until three and half decades backs that the Indian and the Chinese economies were of same size. Five times gap certainly tells a tale of relatively weaker institutions in a competitive global order. It is certainly time to explore greater efficiency and innovation. 

I felt offended, hurt and eventually sad as an Indian, when one of the panellists observed that Indian democracy was driven by power games revolving around caste identities and the state was incapable of defending even individual right to life and liberty. She cited a specific case study of  Western Utttar Pradesh where an influential village leader, exercising de-facto powers of his  “Sarpanch” (Elected Village Chief) wife, was able to brush aside even a murder of a woman in complicity with local police. Panellist mentioned that several of the dubious financial dealings of this man did have a positive impact on quality of lives of people in that remote village but a crime as heinous as murder of a woman going unpunished, with apathy of authorities, was shocking to human sensibilities. This is certainly not the story of 21st century India that one would like to hear.

All the four panellists chosen by Chatham House had fairly good exposure to India and they had closely watched various dimensions of advances in India’s society, economy, politics and geo-strategy. Their analysis of various policy initiatives and outcomes threw mixed images on how India was performing on major indicators. Most, however, concluded that Indian authorities and Indian media were able to spell out big vision and big talks but India's institutional ability to deliver on ground was quite deficient, if not  crippled. Despite the high priority attached by the Government on geo-strategy and national security issues, tardy progress on Chabahar port, was cited as Indian state’s constraints on implementation. Soon the discussion drifted to who would win the next parliamentary election scheduled in 2019.

I believe that the panel discussion did paint a fairly realistic image of what was happening in India. However, it felt more like a summary of media  clippings, without any deep insight on why things were evolving in this direction or what could be possible way forward. Sadly, the same approach has been visible even in most of discourses on politics and governance even in Indian media. People condemn and criticise issues and developments but one comes across very little in-depth discussion on underlying causes behind major issues or possible solutions, or even ways of finding these solutions. May be this is too complicated and hence most consider it avoidable.

Since this discussion was not held under Chatham House rules, I can quote that I did express my reservations on observations of the panel.  I maintained that ‘the issues that they had pointed out were at best symptoms of a larger problem and not the problem itself.’  I believe that Indian society is not as atrocious as the story of the husband of lady village Sarpanch makes it sound. It is nearly a century back when Prem Chand wrote “Panch Parmeshwar”, outlining a tale of Indian villagers upholding truth and fairness in that era even in face of personal emotions. India has come a long way since then. It is also true that some of the dysfunctional state institutions and poor implementations are impacting entire society and undermining credibility of Indian democracy. Despite dysfunctional governance and undesirable social changes, we do come across stories of individual excellence and commitment in many of the state institutions.

However, a country of India’s size in the modern era has to graduate from relying on individual excellence to pursuit of consistent and dependable institutional excellence. It is time that we explored reforms not only in State policies but also in some of our key institutions and structures that implement these policies. As of now, there is very little space and incentive for individual excellence and initiative in most of these institutions. Hence, the output is mostly deficient and inconsistent, except in cases when these policies are being monitored or pushed from the very top. Most of the promotions in Government, which are major incentives other than some lucrative postings,  are based on seniority rather than a combination of performance and leadership attributes. It is possible that the police officer, mentioned in the case of murder of village woman, may have taken stronger initiative to nab the culprits, had there been incentives for high quality output and inbuilt safeguards against extraneous pressure. This certainly is no defence for lack of action but active measures need to be put in place for high quality and consistent institutional output.

          On my emphasis on need for improvement in regulatory and enabling capacity of Indian State, I received a shocker from one of the Indian panellists. He remarked that the ‘prevailing system had worked very well for politicians and they were unlikely to reform it because they would be threatened by a transparent and efficient state.’ He went on to conclude that India did not need any reforms in this sector and it could still grow. One of the co-panellists objected immediately stating that people of India deserved a functional and efficient state as much any other people. State had far too many responsibilities that needed to be performed with integrity and professionalism. Soon the popular mood, especially among members of Indian diaspora who had come to attend the discussion, became unambiguously in favour of reforms in the Indian state. There is little doubt that mere reforms in policies would not be able to push India on course to optimize its huge potentials. There is need for serious and sustained reforms in governance structures of India, which we shall discuss with specific details soon.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

An Impartial Perspective on UK Russia Ties and Democracy

I recently attended a debate on Russia organised by Global Strategy Forum at National Liberal Club in London. I was a little surprised to see former British Ambassador to Russia Sir Tony Brenton KCMG making a strong pitch for more comprehensive UK-Russia engagement  even by overlooking provocations like the "Skripal" episode.  Displaying an exceptional understanding, or even empathy, towards Russian position on a host of issues including Crimea, the former British Envoy to   Moscow made a series of interesting observations on how the Western policies could be causing anxiety to Moscow. He was, however, emphatic on the need for Britain to engage Russia. Conceding that UK-Russia bilateral ties had touched one of their   lowest points recently, he shared anecdotes on how  Russians "disliked" Britain   for the latter's tough global stance against their country.

      Diplomats are often a distrusted community.  Their difficulties increase when the relations are not so buoyant with the host country where they are posted. However, most Ambassadors do sincerely attempt to find common grounds on which they can contribute to building endurable ties between their home country and the host country. It is virtually impossible to live in a country and make friends and still not  see its positives. Sir Tony Brenton not only demonstrated a remarkable depth in his understanding of Russian psyche and Russian political position on many of the contentious issues, but acknowledged the contribution of President Putin in bringing an order and stability in that part of the world despite there being concerns on health of democracy. His emphasis on finding common grounds for cooperation, especially on the issue of terrorism, must be heartening both for the Russians and  votaries of closer UK-Russia ties in his own country. He recommended avoiding any move that could potentially antagonise President Putin, pushing him  to over react. 

            There is absolutely no doubt that a clean and transparent democracy has to eventually gain roots in  every part of the world for a safer, fairer, just and more equitable global order. Virtually everyone who has grown up in an open and democratic  environment can appreciate concerns or even indignation of the Western world  over non-democracies or societies with weaker democratic traditions.   However, the West has always engaged and dealt with non-democracies, and at times even at the cost of their ties with more liberal democracies, on considerations of real-politic and national security. The stance of many of the experts in the West towards Russia appears rooted in history of cold war and continuation of some of those  sentiments or anxieties.  It will of course be one of the biggest challenges in the  history to re-write the script in this direction  to see warm friendly ties between Russia and NATO countries. Let us hope that leaders across all divides pursue it in a quest for a safer and more secure world and especially to combat radical religious terrorism.  

            From Indian perspective, especially for those Indians who have grown up in 1970s and 1980s, it is extremely  difficult  to take any position on the ongoing confrontation between the Russia and the West.  Russia (or the erstwhile Soviet Republic) has always been looked as one of the most dependable friends of India who consistently stood by the latter, notwithstanding ideological or political divide between an elected democracy and a single party controlled centralist  totalitarianism.  The then Soviet  support to India at UNSC over Kashmir issue used to be a tale in 1970s that virtually every Indian child knew. Considerations of bi-lateral economic interests and common position on democracy have brought India much closer to the West and Russia is no longer the global power that Soviet Republic used to be. Despite this, Russia and Russian people do have a strong  connect with large number of Indians who at the same time remain committed to contemporary liberal and democratic ethos attributed to the West. Russia has a formidable task at its hand to smoothly  transition into a more open and transparent society with firmer roots of democracy to regain it economic clout at the global stage. This will certainly enhance its global acceptability and credibility. From the governance perspective, one has to concede the role of President Putin in bringing stability in a somewhat volatile context, as acknowledged by former Ambassador Tony Brenton. The toughest challenge in transition to democracy has always been maintaining stability. After initial turmoil, Russia has succeeded in addressing this challenge. 

            Democracy takes a longer and arduous journey to build and consolidate institutions on which it can sustain itself and grow. People have to get used to the idea of handling their political opponents without developing a sense of animosity. This has been a difficult proposition even in  democracies. In transitional polities, this becomes much more challenging. In a country as small as Maldives, which displayed remarkable maturity in transitioning in to a democracy almost a decade back, when President Gayoom stepped down from Presidency after eventful 27-28 years at the helm, the process of democratisation soon ran into rough weathers. First democratically elected President has been slapped with terror charges and he is currently in exile with most other opposition politicians either being jailed or facing some or the other criminal charge.

   In this context, I believe that democratic countries, especially those with well established credible institutions, do have a responsibility to share at least their knowledge and experience of running institutions that can sustain robust and efficient representative governments. Despite decline in its military and political stature, the Great Britain probably commands the status of the biggest soft power in most parts of Asia and Africa. This is  not entirely due to its colonial past. Rather, it is credibility and integrity of the British democratic institutions and values that have helped it earn such distinction.  

    Russians are among a host of people who have adopted London and Great Britain as their home.  I recently heard  a Russian gentleman observing during  a casual chat that "the London courts were one of the cleanest anywhere in the world." He added that 'it gave a huge sense of security to stay here or keep one's family even though one may have business interests in any part of the world.' Secure social space and clean efficient  judiciary are probably the biggest strengths of Great Britain, distinguishing it from even some of the other advanced democracies. 
    Probably, it would be an excellent idea that retired judges or experts in the British judicial system explore possibility of taking initiative in sharing their knowledge and experience of running  transparent and autonomous judiciary in those parts of the world where integrity of criminal justice system is in doubt. This must be done not with an intent to exactly replicate all the British procedures but with an open mind to engage and persuade them to create and devise something that may be more consistent with local realities but would still move towards transparency in judicial processes. Results may not be instant but such a move is bound to make a strong impact. 

 Democracy thrives largely on integrity of its institutions. Efficient and transparent criminal-justice system is probably one of the most   critical among these. Liberal laws and inclusive values of the United Kingdom thrive under the protection of transparent and efficient judicial system. The contemporary world would certainly have been a poorer without such example of the United Kingdom. The ardent champions of democracy in the UK should look beyond building commercial and economic ties with both friends and potential adversaries. An attempt to share the knowledge and experience on functionality and processes of some of the important institutions of democracy in the UK can be more effective way of reaching out to people many parts of the world.  This can go a much longer way towards building and consolidating democracy globally than an aggressive diplomatic pressure or policy of isolation.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Democracy at Crossroads

Time to Think Forward

The world has never been a perfectly fair place. And it is unlikely to be so even in future. Nevertheless, it can always be fairer and better than what it is. Probably this is the sentiment that has driven all great civilisations, societies and states. They have surged forward riding the imaginations, initiatives and persistence of a few who dared think big and ventured in newer directions. A major transformation  always takes credible leadership to persuade the most, but not necessarily all, to join a journey towards progress. The process is continuous process with no final destination even though it has always taken a spark in the form of a crisis or opportunity to get momentum. 

Man has never experienced a perfectly harmonious world that offered universal access to security- both from forces of nature and fellow humans- and dignity. But it is efforts to move towards a more secure, just and fairer world that has shaped all political and social innovations and advancements. However, our perception about what constitutes a just and fair world has also been evolving. Hence, it is natural that we need constant investment of both ideas and initiatives. 

Democracy as an idea arose and has continued to evolve in pursuance of similar aspirations for, at least a section of, mankind. The idea has continued to evolve and has  expanded its ambit, at least on paper, to encompass entire citizenry in it promise of opportunity, dignity, freedom and security. However, universal and equitable access to democratic dividends is not yet a reality. People not only in authoritarian states feel deprived of equitable and just access to dignity and opportunities but large sections of their counterparts even in some established democracies nurture similar grievances. 

Despite world-wide rise in number of elected governments as well as improvement in integrity and transparency levels in electoral processes, democracies appear increasingly incapable of representing collective will of the people. Smaller cohesive groups or cartels or syndicates continue to exploit the loopholes in the institutional procedures to rig democracies of their core spirit and key promises. Challenges are far too formidable in post-colonial societies but erosion in integrity of institutions is a reality even in established democracies. Probably, human beings have not yet psychologically and socially evolved to a level where they can build sufficient trust and integrity to build and sustain a social and political order that can pursue the goals envisioned in Universal Declaration  of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948 by world leaders of that time. Closer on the heels of devastations experienced by the mankind during the second world war pushed them to set such goals that were difficult to achieve but yet appeared critical for a safer and fairer world.   

 The evolutionary journey of accountable and representative political systems has never been unilinear and consistently progressive. There have often been setbacks, distortions, and degenerations, reversing the advances made over decades and centuries. One often wonders whether the democracy has reached similar crossroads since the turn of this century or has lost its direction, where it’s fate or sustainability has come in doubt. 

Today, democracy as a political system is facing one of the most serious crises of credibility. It can no longer ensure universal access to all round security, justice and dignity. United States and some of the West European countries may be doing better on several parameters of governance and innovation due to their accumulated prosperity over the preceding three centuries, which can substantially be attributed to "piratic" and "colonial" plunder, besides enterprise and innovation of sections of their elite.  But democracy as  a political system has appeared too fragile to push  comprehensive and harmonious advancement of people across divides. 

Democracy as a political-governance system, appears incapable of carrying out a major course correction. Ironically, despite all its flaws, democracy probably remains the only political system that still offers the biggest space for such initiatives at least lawfully. There is certainly a need for a much wider public discourse, with the highest levels of sincerity and integrity. It is difficult but not impossible to point out a clear direction in which democracy needs to evolve to build a framework of governance and societal order that fosters optimal cooperation and collaboration at one level and fairer competition on the other to push societies and civilisations towards optimal progress. However, we need to be prepared for stiff resistance to deeply thought out ideas and initiatives, howsoever sincere and honest these may be. 

Fairness and Justice As the Core of Democracy

Fairness or justice has always been, and shall remain, the most critical ingredients  of a robust, sustainable and progressive societal-political order. The man transitioned from band of hunters-gatherers to communities and societies in pursuit of these objectives only. Contemporary idea of democracy represents a more advanced and subsequent version of such initiatives to promise universal access to an optimally fair, just and secure social-political order. It incorporated available knowledge, experiences, traditions and values of the context, in which it emerged in different societies. It sought to foster collaboration and trust at one level and fairer competition on the other.

Neither the idea of fairness and justice nor the wider values of society can be static. Mankind and society have been gaining newer experiences and our ideas and values have been constantly evolving with time. This is what explains transition of democracy from its early stages when a minuscule property- owning class could achieve a semblance of, equality, justice, fairness and security for itself. It was much later that these ideas were refined and evolved to encompass entire population of the so- called democratic states. 

There are far too many evidences to suggest that early moorings of democracy may not be rooted in charity, altruism, empathy or even benevolence, even though these attributes were critical for fostering bonds among humans or building institutions like family, kinship groups, communities or society. These helped transition humans from band of beasts to amiable social creatures.  But some of these self-seeking, combative and aggressive attributes could never be eliminated entirely. In fact, these remain necessary for survival of individuals to varying extents in different contexts.  But certain societies and communities, that did better than the rest, realised the worth of striking a balance between self-seeking, aggressive and combative attributes of humans at one level and empathy, benevolence, integrity and altruism on the other.  It was progress in this direction that helped build robust and yet vibrant societies. These two conflicting set of human attributes have shaped the entire course of human evolution. 

People have fought and exacted the right to vote or political participation and representation in certain contexts to protect their interests or obtain privileges. In many others, these had evolved out of certain necessities in their own unique context. Electoral process in ancient Greece or Rome germinated among local elite because none wanted to lose out to others. Citizens were much smaller in number compared to slaves and landless workers and they had no great humanist vision behind this principle of political participation. In Rome, political participation and representation did help empower plebian class but eventually heroics of  leaders dismantled the Republic itself. But these societies, along with several others, had shown immense distrust towards arbitrary individual authority guided by whims and fancies. Hence, they sought to curb these. Some invoked reason and others divine sanctions. 

But initiatives of even the greatest among visionary leaders have been vulnerable to distortion at altar of self-seeking human ingenuity. Many rulers in the past have claimed divinity to silence and oppress any resistance to their power. They often eliminated, intimidated and commodified the rest within their own society and beyond, to varying degrees. Hence, genocide, misogyny, slavery, loot and plunder had been part of traditions and values of several communities. In many contexts, their forms and intensity have changed but not the underlying human instincts, which seem to be deeply ingrained in their psyche and genes. 

Simultaneously, there have also been efforts to build social orders that are based on altruism, integrity and humanism. Europe discovered and perfected these values much later. But ancient India, despite certain exceptions, had widely incorporated practices and principles that can be considered scientific humanism, rule of law, and participative governance under the overall ambit of Dharma. This is what scripted exceptional all round rise of India. Potentially such social and political order can push communities and people on path of collective and comprehensive advancement at a much faster pace. But it is difficult to build and sustain such orders due to behavioural and genetic constraints of humans as a race.  

Magna-Carta to Enlightenment and French revolution left their own impact on pushing the idea of a just and fair world, which gave a momentum to the idea of democracy. Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation Act or abolition of slavery or the global fight against Nazism, de-colonisation  or emergence of welfare state in Europe all contributed to expand the idea of a just and fair world. UDHR acted as a guide post for these. Subsequent rise in number of elected government demonstrated the strength of the idea of not only electoral process but also human quest for justice and fairness. But detailed democratic principles and practices seek to counter self-seeking,  dishonest and narcissist streaks of humans that are part of their genetic composition.    

Today, human ingenuity has managed to dilute efficacy of most of these instruments of checks and balances in most contexts. Only their degrees vary. Simultaneously, the forces of market, amidst globalisation, seem to be obstructing the process of  progressive evolution of the idea of democracy. Most democracies are receding on access to freedom, equality, liberty and justice. It is also possible that what may have been sufficiently fair and just in the past may not be so today. With evolution of human sensibilities, our ideas about fairness and expectations from democracy have also  risen. Simultaneously, ideas – howsoever powerful and strong- lose their vigour and appeal with passage of time, unless, these are consistently refined and reinvigorated. One wonders whether the idea of democracy has met a similar fate. 

Democracy As Governance Model 

Democracy,  as a political and governance system, appears incapable of addressing challenges of our time or optimising collective potential and output of people, at least in its prevailing shape and structures. The conflict between its values and practices has been steadily expanding. Competition in markets often turns in to war - sans physical violence- due to deficient regulations.  Amidst all this conflict, masses and large sections of even intelligentsia appear to be struggling to avoid irrelevance. 

Unregulated political competition in many contexts has turned into irreconcilable squabbles for power. Instead of pushing excellence in governance or empowering people, democracies are increasingly breeding conflict and fracturing societies. Exploitation of contentious identities for political mobilisation pushes larger governance obligations on back-burner. Extreme inequality poses a problem beyond moral indignation. It destroys strategic balance needed in society. It destroys the quality of cooperation, collaboration and even competition, that have provided thrust to accelerated advancement of human civilisation. 

Extreme wealth or power drives people towards such levels of narcissism that they lose capacity to thank rationally. It brings laze and complacence at one level and undermines quality of competition. Extreme poverty pushes people to such levels of subservience and such deprivations that they lose capacity to optimise their all round capacities. Crippling of individual capacity of large majority of people undermines collective capacity of society. Inbuilt and institutionalised inequalities have always decapacitated societies. These destroy incentives for high quality efforts by people on both sides of the spectrum. In nutshell, such distortions in democracy are impeding optimal progress, output, harmony and collective security of people and  communities.

The current crisis of democracy is no longer confined to marginal shortfalls in its promises. In fact, barring a few exceptions, democracy as a political system seems to have lost the very direction and its trajectory. In many cases, it has been pushing societies towards steeper inequality by eroding space for social mobility. Not only evolving democracies like India or South Africa face this challenge but even the most established and the  most powerful democracy cannot escape such fate. Expanding governance gaps, erosion of probity in public life, increasing social fissures and mass anxiety along with routine miscarriages of justice are realities, albeit to varying degrees, remain reality in most democracies. These distortions in post-colonial democracies may be at a higher level due to their fragile roots and sustained colonial plunder of their societies. 

Institutional dysfunction in many of the established democracies is only a matter of degree. In past, many advanced civilisations and societies have declined or have suddenly been decimated by their failure to detect and negotiate similar challenges and contradictions. Ramifications shall be much wider for decline and subversion of governance institutions in major democracies in the current technology-driven integrated world. This is especially when the Chinese model of opaque and authoritarianism has been gaining increasing attention and yet suspected to be subverting established democracies.   

Greater Vulnerability of Open Societies:
A careful observation and analysis of facts suggest that open and transparent societies are more vulnerable to subversion. Representative democracies derive their strength from stronger institutional capacities and a healthy equilibrium within and among them. Excellence or strength of one institution depends on similar or corresponding strength of others. Any disturbance in this equilibrium or decline or degeneration in one institution can cause similar impact on others. Similarly, a stronger thrust in key institutions towards excellence and integrity through higher quality of collaboration can optimise excellence and integrity levels in the rest of the institutions. 

Dysfunctional or even sub-functional institutions enhance vulnerability of democratic states multi-fold.  Weaker institutions translate into lesser capacity of a state to translate its vision or desires into reality. In a complex web of procedures, many democracies are foregoing certain fundamental attributes needed for heathy human existence. Evolving democracies are particularly tolerant to absence of integrity for incumbents at key leadership level roles. The challenge in some of the powerful democracies may vary only in degree. In absence of integrity, social trust and harmony suffer, which in turn destroy the quality of collaboration, which should ideally be the bedrock of democratic political process. 

Extreme inequality in most democracies has disproportionately empowered fairly larger number of people. Only few of the beneficiaries of this extreme opulence can claim to be legitimate leaders of society and people by leading relatively modest and austere life and investing in charity or philanthropy. In most cases, extreme wealth, earned even though legitimate and lawful means, is more an outcome of market dynamics rather than quality of efforts alone. There are also large number of instances where extreme wealth is neither an outcome of legitimate or ethical pursuit nor does it contribute to social wellbeing in any manner. In many societies, huge inheritances have produced a massive class of rent dependent people, who in turn may appear a net liability on society.

If we scratch the surface a little more, we come across several forces, who have profiteered by exploiting loopholes in lax governance or distorted markets. In autocracies and totalitarian systems, such entities may require direct patronage of the state, in democracies they just need to exploit gaps in institutions, which are multiple. Hence, people do prosper and flourish by defying larger social, national and humanitarian considerations and they need no guilt sense to trouble them. The net outcome of such phenomenon is serious rupture in social and national bonds. 

 In a globalised world, trade and technology have enhanced quality of lives of people. But these have also emerged as lethal tools of depredation- from both internal and external quarters. Under these circumstances, inefficient and subverted institutions augment the vulnerability of people, eroding their all-round security, almost everywhere but more so in democracies.

The current facing democracies can also translate into potential opportunities for refinement of institutions of open societies. Leaders with credibility in different sectors and regions, may have to make a concerted effort to push for greater innovation in re-defining the broader rules and norms of governance to optimize quality of individual and collective output of people and societies. Accumulated strength of scientific ideas and innovations equip us with stronger capacity in this direction. 

At a conceptual level, the idea of democracy rests on a stronger and sustainable synergy between individuals and societies, where both strengthen each other. The genuine leadership in democracy warrants not merely a push for universal access to all round security and dignity for people but also building common stakes for collective goals. These appear increasingly essential for security and progress of societies and people. Technologies have enabled segments of people to profiteer from ventures and hard work of others. They, in turn, can hold larger societies on ransom for sheer insanity or lust  for power.    

Need To Go Beyond Western Stereotypes:

The very idea of democracy needs serious and sustainable innovations in its visions, goals, structures and processes to pursue its own promises to their people. Well thought out moves in this direction can unleash latent potentials of people and societies to bolster levels of economic prosperity, security and dignity for all. It is also time for democracy to move beyond the shackles of the recent Western experiences and perceptions. 

Ongoing debates on challenges facing democracy have remained largely West-centric, condemning populist parochialism and rising distrust against institutions in these societies. These rarely mention challenges faced by democracies in Asia and Africa, howsoever fragile or nascent these may be. Success of these democracies is also critical, not only for plight of their people but also preserving a better ecosystem for open societies to thrive globally. Subversion of resource rich fragile democracies, or absence of democracy in such pockets of Africa and Asia or even South America, have enabled a resurgent China to fuel its own accelerated growth by ensuring monopolistic access to resources by bribing or clandestinely supporting autocrats. 

Simultaneously, many a times, the debate on fate democracy appears driven by an agenda of retaining material and technological superiority of West over the “Rest”. Probably, the Western democracies need to realise that their fate depends more on refinement of democracies at home and abroad and not subverting these anywhere. Hence, building a stronger partnership among democracies is critical for exploring ways of reinvigorating their governance institutions to push for greater individual and collective empowerment of people.

Democracies in developing world have perennially struggled against instability, corruption and poor performance. Inefficiency or inconsistency in public services in most evolving democracies, against the paradox of rising opulence of a small elite, was accepted on the pretext of weak institutions. Nevertheless, many democracies even in the developing world have advanced, consolidating their political and governance institutions and their output, as well as overall record on transparency, integrity and individual freedom under stewardship of visionary leaders. At the same time, most beneficiaries of upward social mobility  have sought to restrict equitable access to opportunities for others by subverting their own institutions, and rendering many of them severely dysfunctional.

 These have eroded overall authority and capacity of the state to uphold rule of law. Such phenomenon in the context of erosion of equitable access to opportunities even in the established democracies of the West, or decline in some of their institutions, raises doubt about adequacies and strength of democratic institutions as a whole. 

Conflicts, contradictions and gaps in societies, communities and institutions cannot be entirely eliminated. But these can certainly be addressed better in pursuit of goals that can push quality of internal cohesion and collective output of societies. It would also be na├»ve to assume that major challenges facing democratic societies and states could be addressed by normal dynamics of political competition or market forces. Probably in absence of major restructuring of institutions, and conscious investment of ideas and initiatives in this direction, it may be nearly impossible to break the current logjam facing democracies. 

Simultaneously, initiative for serious change has always faced resistances. Hence, my recommendation for evolution of democracy is also likely to be frowned upon or even dismissed. A potential change in the existing structures and processes entails not merely risks of failures but also reversing the advances achieved in this direction. It is quite logical to argue that 'every change may not lead to progress' but we must remember that almost every progress carries its own risks and costs. 

Indocracy: progressive Evolution of Democracy 

We are at a stage where democracy as an ideal, or form of governance, can neither afford a reckless distortion nor even stagnation. An authoritarian China's resurgence, especially in the context of highly lackadaisical governance output of democratic India, dawns the realisation  Democracy as a political-governance structure and model must chart out a newer course towards pursuit of its own promises and potentials. 

Governance structures and processes need to instill greater integrity and encourage greater energy, enterprise, excellence and innovation to optimise collective output of societies and people. The current idea of democracy has gradually evolved over centuries.  It’s orientation and objective has been geared to addressing challenges of these societies and meeting newer requirements of people in largely Western cultural contexts. Its journey has been driven by conscious human initiatives and endeavours of a few that found endorsement of the most.  In many phases and contexts, the idea of democracy or equitable to access to dignity and opportunity has also witnessed phases of disruption, distortion and even sustained degeneration.  

Most post-colonial states have borrowed the current model of representative Government from the West. Barring India and Japan, democratic political systems have struggled to take firm roots in Asia and Africa. Many in India believe that success and sustenance of democracy in India can be attributed its own civilizational roots and the earliest traditions and values  of democratic republicanism on the subcontinent. Today, India's goals, challenges and priorities and overall context substantially varies from the West.  Hence, India must evolve the idea of democracy to suit its specific context and priorities. This must be done by further advancing and refining the core ingredients of democracy by infusing humanist-pacifist values of ancient India. The newer model can be described as Indocracy.  

As a political and governance system, democracy, like any other idea, must continuously evolve. But it must do so by moving forward and not backwards. Indocracy or Bharat Tantra, driven by the ideals of Raja Bharat, must amount to advancement of the very idea of democracy in quest of a fairer and safer world. Raja Bharat is believed to have laid the foundations of not only Indian state and civilisation but also the first democratic republic in the world. Focus on values like social trust and amiability, individual integrity, bravery, courage and respect for knowledge laid the foundations of a scientific knowledge driven society that pushed the limits of human ingenuities, excellence and innovation in every sphere.   

[Detailed structural and procedural changes  for transition from Democracy to Indocracy shall be spelled out in due course.]

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Debate on Democracy Continued

1.    Challenges of Democracy in the Developing World:

The ongoing debate on challenges confronting democracy has remained West-centric. There are fairly valid reasons to argue that governance capacity of democracy must not be evaluated on the basis of performance of rich democracies of the Western world alone. Most glittering democracies of the West are built and sustained not entirely by enterprise and energy of their own people but also on wealth extracted from former colonies. In case of North America, the vast expanse of land with all its resources was also backed by uninterrupted supply of enslaved labour from Africa for over two and a half centuries. 

This is not to question all-round advancements and refinements in ideas, knowledge, values and scientific technologies that the European and North American democracies have achieved. Nevertheless, it is difficult to visualise governance capacity of these democracies in absence of material prosperity that they have achieved, which in turn has helped them build stronger public infrastructure, efficient and transparent administration and various public services with a strong emphasis on welfare dimension of the state. These did create a stronger ecosystem at home to sustain and refine a democratic political order, which appears to be in some peril in at least some of these societies.

Under these circumstances, true governance capacity of democracy, as well as its ability to sustain and progressively evolve itself under all circumstances, can be measured by performance of democratic states in developing world. India accompanied by other major states like Indonesia, South Africa, Brazil and many others too shall have an important role in defence of democratic values and ideals. Barring Brazil which secured independence in late 19th Century, others were de-colonised in mid and late 20th Century. They continue to grapple with several competing priorities, making the task of institution-building for vibrant democracies quite difficult. They have been evolving in a global order that has been easy to negotiate. Nevertheless, these states have progressed and continue to do so from a somewhat difficult and disadvantageous position. Their economic consolidation and political stability do inspire confidence in innate strengths of democracy as a political- governance system. Under these circumstances, the role of the most powerful democracy and its ability to provide a partnership-based leadership to help these countries evolve shall be critical for security and stability of the entire world.

When we emphasize on importance of examining democracies in the developing world or pushing these towards greater excellence, we do not discount significance of the most powerful country in the world. It will continue to influence and shape up events in the world to a great extent. Democracy being in peril in this country has potential to negatively impact much larger number of people way beyond their national frontiers. At the same time, it is also a fact that its own global power is in decline. It is irrelevant whether it is complacency or over-confidence that has engineered such decline. Further, even if a democratic country remains all-powerful and still it pursues and supports highly oppressive policies internationally, its democratic credentials may not evoke the same sense of security and assurance that peace and freedom seeking world aspires. 

We have to remember that democracy itself emerged as a revolt against unfettered powers and discretionary authorities. Hence, when we equate democracy with a more harmonious and stable international order, then it should be one where power and authority are accompanied with accountability and restraint. A global order where states are in healthy equilibrium with adequate checks and balances alone fulfils the vision of democracy. Hence, what we need a world, which is dominated not by one or two power blocks but one where authority and responsibility are shared by a large number of established and powerful democracies. Under these conditions, all-round advancement of democracies in the developing world is important not only for addressing aspirations of people in these countries but also for security of people even in the established democracies. These warrant equally serious discussion on challenges, constraints and strength of democracy in every part of the world and especially in the larger developing nations of Asia and Africa.

India and China:

One of the key factors that has raised doubt about the governance capacity of democratic states is relatively modest economic progress of India, compared to spectacular economic rise of a communist China. It has successfully combined some of its own cultural and civilizational values and traditions with the contemporary Western practices of economic governance, while drawing and retaining some of the politically totalitarian dimensions of communism. India as a civilizational state and entity had also sought to resurrect many of its traditional values in fusion with Western democratic practices and institutions. However, unlike China, with experience of only hundred years of humiliatingly unequal and exploitative treaties, that too it has used to invoke nationalism, India, as a civilizational state, has a much longer experience of being ravaged frequently and extensively with a far longer history of plunder, pillage and colonial subjugation that has altered values and psyche of incumbents in leadership roles.

As a civilizational entity, India has a stronger heritage of a liberal and transparent society with considerable space for intellectual and creative freedom. The degree of such freedom or attribute must be viewed only its relative and not in absolute terms, nevertheless, these are more in sync with key ingredients of modern democracy. On the other hand, Chinese civilization always had a much higher degree of state-centric orientation but both ruler and the ruled were put under moral obligation to adhere to certain code of conduct. Deviations were of course there but the concept of absolute right or divine right to rule were absent. Ancient Indian texts do have recurrent references, though not on a continuous basis, obliging state authority to act as per rules and norms devised by the wise sages. Chinese values from Taoism to Confucianism appealed more to conscience of the ruler while emphasizing on obedience and commitment of the ruled. 

While continuity of these values and norms is neither claimed nor possible but some degree these values still being part of larger behavioural and cultural ethos, not on uniform basis and with all normal deviations and exceptions, may have to be conceded. These are manifest in the prevailing state of affairs in the two major civilizational states of the world. An open and liberal society need not be weak and badly governed. India as a common civilizational entity expanded from modern day Afghanistan to Indonesia, even though there was never being a single political entity bigger than Mauryan empire of 4th to 1st Century BC. In the East was restricted only up to Assam, and yet it was far bigger than any civilizational state of its era. Some of its governance and security principles appear relevant even in contemporary context. As a civilizational state and political entity, China has been relatively smaller but was far more cohesive. It overcame an era of intermittent wars and conflicts, which too had been devised into elaborate science, to evolve such norms of governance of society and economy to experience considerable advancement.  

Both the Asian giants decayed and degenerated and both faced colonial plunder and pillage, to varying extents and forms, before re-embarking their journey as sovereign independent nation-states, seven decades back. While in the Western psyche, comparative performance of India and China may appear relevant only to the extent of challenges and competition that they face from either of the two countries but for others the comparative analysis of all round performance of India and China offers a real test of governance capacity of democracy. Strangely, compared to some degree of unease and discomfort post 1962, there no records of two ancient civilizations coming into major conflict in the past even though there were multiple areas of confluence and intellectual exchanges.

Governance model of India and China differ not only from each other but also from the West. Varying degrees of Western contents can be found in their governance structures and processes and yet several continuities are there  from their respective pasts. Political-military consolidation of Chinese state, its economic turn-around to challenge the supremacy of the West or its ability to avert direct colonisation or its rapid strides in fields of technological excellence are demonstrative of its stronger governance capacity. We must not forget that contemporary China has politically and administratively subsumed three independent and yet interlinked major ethnic, cultural and civilizational entities, namely Tibet, Eastern Turkistan and Inner Mongolia. These constitute two-thirds of its existing territory, provide huge natural resources but account for less than Ten percent of its total population. Economically and militarily, China remained comparable to even a truncated India of 1947 with both countries being similar on all parameters of governance and remained so until early 1980s. Today, barring on issues like state of human rights or treatment of political dissidents, China has comprehensively outperformed India on every parameter of governance varying from healthcare, education to trade, technology and economic growth.

As the biggest democracy in the world, mired with multiple internal and external challenges, relative success of India is probably still the most inspiring testimony of governance capacity of democracies as well as their viability outside the Western world. However, as a civilizational entity, India has been familiar with several ingredients of democracy or an open and transparent society with people-centric governance, notwithstanding distortions, disruptions and degenerations of late ancient and medieval era, that must not be equated with external invasions of medieval era alone. Hence, it has been too harsh and highly patronising to attribute success of Indian democracy to Western exposure of its post-independence leaders, which of of course may be one of the multiple contributing factors. 

Post-independence democratic India is a unique fusion of a resurrected ancient Indian identity, amalgamated with contemporary Western values along with several medieval and traditional ethos which appear incompatible, if not conflicting at the surface. Democratic India has succeeded in achieving certainly transformational changes both socially and economically, of course with a flip side of their own, but the country is nowhere close to its potential. In a little over three decades, a communist and somewhat totalitarian China has surpassed India on almost every parameter of governance. To many, it appears a manifestation of inferior, but not altogether bad, governance capacity of democracy.

A careful examination suggests that a relatively slower progress of India stems not from inferiority of democratic governance but several inbuilt conflicts, distortion and even subversion on institutional practices and procedures. This is a reality, albeit to varying degrees and forms, in every part of the world. A modern representative government derives its strength and superior governance capacity more from a harmonious equilibrium among various institutions at one level and similar harmony between larger social values, outlook and orientations and these institutions. Great leaders and great promises and good intentions mean little if governance institutions are and social realities breed conflict. 

Democracy Remains A Superior Model of Governance

A deeper analysis suggests that open and transparent societies offer bigger space for universal empowerment as well as sustained stability which are critical for collective advancement of people. However, open and liberal societies, states and their institutions take a longer time to evolve, require greater and continuous leadership efforts and initiatives to sustain and evolve, and at the same time these are vulnerable to both internal and external subversion. The inter-dependence or inter-linkage between such societies and states is much higher than the authority oriented governance structures. The governance capacity of these societies depends not merely on the state or leader or incumbents in authority but also on wider social values and outlook. Leaders and role models do play their own role but in absence of credibility, they shall struggle to govern. Under these contexts, one needs to look for underlying conflicts between state and society in some of the democracies, which may be hindering their optimum growth or progressive evolution.  

Practical observation suggests that a stronger system of checks and balances along with a larger harmony between institutional and governance goals along with wider values of integrity may stretch and enhance capacity of both individuals and societies. In absence of these, several inbuilt conflicts crop up, institutions become sub-functional, and society as a whole slip into under performance, which builds its own spiral of under-performance, distortions and degeneration. The process of progressive evolution of democracy is a continuous one, which does require regular infusion of stronger ideas and initiative besides good leadership at every level and in every sector.

Sub-optimal governance output of democracies, in many of the developing nations, due to weaker institutional capacity and integrity, as well as autonomy, often differentiates them from totalitarian states more in degree than in substance. In certain cases, a few coercive or semi-coercive authoritarian or totalitarian states are doing better on several governance parameters. Prosperity and accelerated economic development of some of these smaller or mid-sized states is often attributed to abundant natural resources that they are endowed with. However, many similar resource-rich states in Africa that experimented with democracy are struggling to provide even political stability, leave optimally efficient and transparent governance. Many of them are lagging far behind on most human development indices compared to even poorer countries.

Such phenomenon warrants examination of democratic principles and practices, especially from a non-European and non-Western prism.  Totalitarianism has thrived on the premise that “civil liberties and national consolidation are incompatible”. This is what has also justified erosion of democratic freedom or principles in many of the established democracies. There is no confusion that democracy is a far more evolved and refined political order compared to any shade of totalitarianism and autocracy. Its success or governance output depends as much on reasonableness in exercise of state authority or rule of law, as on capacity of governance institutions and corresponding social values and larger behavioural patterns of the citizenry. 

Today the doubt is not about the desirability or virtues of democracy but about the efficacy of its existing institutions and practices to defend and protect its avowed goals and objectives.  It is subversion of democracy that may have robbed its of its ability to fulfil its promises of equitable access opportunities including the rights like life, liberty, freedom, dignity and all-round security. However, no system is perfect and every idea and instrument has to evolve. It is time for democracy also to evolve to the next higher stage. Lamenting is not the solution but the innovation is and such innovation is. 

ps: The above write-up is also part of the introductory component of a larger research captioned: "Beyond Democracy". Ideally, I would like to name it as "Quest For Indocracy" which would be a superior form of political order than even Democracy.  The proposed research would offer a futuristic vision of governance. It shall examine certain fundamental questions on what constitutes an ideal and happy life for an individual and community. How can these be reconciled? How can humans live in harmony with nature? 

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