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1

The following is the transcript of snippets of P. Sainath's insights on democracy. I think there is much to think of here. Many thanks Atul Hirde for making this video and sharing.

I believe that a democratic political culture is essential for any kind of governance, any kind of social contract, for any kind of society to be together, live together, work together, but the thing is, when you say "Do you agree that democracy is the best form?" You have one concept in your mind, which is not going to be easy for you to articulate. I may have another concept of it in my mind. Which may be completely different.

What is democracy?

Now, when we are talking about Western democracy, let it also be clear that there are many kinds of... there's more than one Western concept of democracy, okay?

One can look at Thomas Paine. He had radical ideas of democracy, but the main people who led the US independence and benefited from it, unlike Thomas Paine, were people like Jefferson, Washington... all of them were slave owners.

We speak of the ideals of Jeffersonian democracy. Thomas Jefferson not only wrote beautiful and exquisite poems, he was also pretty harsh on his slaves and he was willing to sell months old children of slaves. He did not release his slaves in his will - as Washington did for some of them - and Mr. Jefferson also had profoundly racist prejudices.

Democracies that you have in the west in the United Kingdom or the US are based on the enslavements of people, whether in Africa or Iraq or all around the world. In that sense there is continuity and consistency in the approach.

All the founding fathers of the United States, many of the ... you have people from the 17th, 18th century, you have people harking back to Rome, harking back to Greece, writing epics on these nations and the early republics and the democracies... these were democracies based on slave ownership.

When European nations went out and enslaved the world, it was very good to remember Rome and Greece. And it is very good in Greece to remember Plato and Aristotle, because these were guys who justified slavery. They saw the slave as property. Adam Smith writes of the slave as if he is a piece of machinery whereas in ancient Greece. Whether it is ancient greece or more modern England. Adam Smith writes of the slave as a piece of machinery - whose parts wear out. And you have to reinvest.

There's a lot of consistency in this view of human beings.

When you are an imperialist power in the 18th, 19th centuries, conquering people around the world, it is pretty good to restore those elements of the Roman, Greco-Roman, other cultures which support your position, because those were slave owning republics and slave owning democracies and slave owning empires and most of those who founded the United States drew their inspiration from that kind of democracy.

It's on view in Iraq, where everyone of you has sent the token number of troops as well, okay? We're seeing that kind of democracy. A democracy again based on enslavement of people.

You were asking me a question, "Why did Gandhi call Western Democracy a diluted form of fascism?"

Do you know something about Gandhi? All but five months of his life, he lived under British Imperialism. He watched the nation that called itself the mother of all Parliaments and he watched them enslave a hundred nations. All of them completely oppressed and held under the British rule. While the British power practiced democracy at home. To some extent. Even that democracy at home was substantially improved by the radical work and writings and ideas of people like Thomas Paine and others.

Please notice, Gandhi did not say democracy is diluted fascism. He said Western democracy is diluted fascism.

Let me give you an idea. I find it apalling, this Greco-Roman stuff, which is.... I have it coming out of my ears, and then we have a French academic passing through Bombay, who sings the praise of Greco-Roman republics and I think where are... you know... here is a guy coming from France - a nation that has produced far more noble ideas on democracy and egalitarianism than Greece and Rome ever did. Here is the nation that gave the world the slogan, "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" - a slogan that Indian freedom fighters took to their graves with them.

Switzerland, oh great. Switzerland. Taught to me in school as the epitome of democracy at every level... when did they give women the right to vote? Some 30 years after India did, because women in India had the right to vote the minute this country was born. I still say it doesn't make India a good democracy in that sense. It makes India a good electoral democracy.

Unlike people of America, people of this country vote, they use their vote, and they use it to change governments and to produce change.

The man who was the main architect of the Constitution of India, Babasaheb Ambedkar, when the constitution was released, when the constitution was launched, in 1950, Ambedkar said, we have built a thriving political democracy, but we have not accompanied it with economic democracy. The tensions of inequality, the tensions of this contradiction will blow us up one day.

Now if you want to believe that the United States and UK and its allies in Europe went into Iraq to promote democracy, if you believe that, then you can believe in the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, and the rest of it.

Now if Iraq's national product had been onions, there would have been no war. There are two kinds of things why people went into Iraq. One is of course is the natural resources and the other geo-political stuff. Noam Chomsky put it very well when they have said International relations are also organized pretty much on the lines of the Mafia. If the small shopkeeper refuses to pay, you don't really need his money, but you gotta beat the shit out of him, because otherwise other shopkeepers will get ideas.

I think a lot of people make the distinction between democratic behavior and democratic governance, and the imposition of a particular breed of a violent democracy, on these nations by the United States and its western allies, I think people are intelligent enough to make this difference.

Many Western minds are not intelligent enough it seems to understand that people make that distinction. They might want democracy. They may not want your democracy.

The Australian political scientist, Alex Carry. I think he summarized when talking about the 20th century. He summarized - he said, "There were three great developments in the 20th Century. The rise and growth of democracy, the rise and growth of corporate power and The rise and growth of corporate media - to try and strangle the rise and growth of democracy.

 

11

Thought fragments

There was a time when our people fought ferociously for their rights. And there is now when a hunger strike against censorship can't rustle up a dozen people.

When the Arab Spring showed signs of Islamic parties coming to power, many thought it was a failure of the Arab Spring. To me, it was democracy. The people chose the leaders they wanted and the direction they wanted their country to take. It was not something I liked, but I supported the idea as the people's will.

Today, I am confronted with a new degradation chosen by people in my own country. The signs have been there. And increasing. I have held on to hope for a long time.

On returning to the internet after almost a week's break, I had a fresh view of the world around, and the state it is in has started terrifying me.

When the Gurgaon police attempted to place an arbitrary Cinderella time for working women at 8pm, many were indignant. Protests were organized. However, the people participating in the protests shared disappointment over the support they got. The turnout was not as much as expected.

When Tehelka did the expose of the policemen speaking on hidden camera about rape victims, it was outrageous beyond belief. In the real world, not much happened.

We have been fighting a long while trying to spread awareness about the direction our government is taking with regard to individual freedoms. Few beyond those who already cared took interest.

Human rights are being violated all over the country with ridiculous ease.

Chauvinism and misogyny are on the rise and disturbing patterns are emerging. More gang rapes, more incidences of people coming to the aid of victims of sexual harassment being attacked, often fatally. People are getting tired of "outraging" as it is cynically called. The belief is that nothing will change.

I believe that we can't afford to give up. That cynicism is not helpful to our well being. It is like being cynical that a noose around your neck will kill you. It definitely will if you don't fight it. If you do, who knows?

Nothing can be done, says the way of cowards. The ones who would rather admit defeat than risk being defeated.

In my view, defeat is not an option when it comes to fundamental freedoms.

It is an educated class that has come to idolize its comforts so well, that nothing will make them court discomfort. Not even threats to those comforts. If needed, they will concede inches of their space and make do with the remaining rather than fight for their right to not be violated and risk all the comforts.

A Marathi saying: "Shivaji janmala yava, pan shearyacha ghari"

A hero should be born, but in the neighbours home.

Because one who fights pays the price, while their victories help all.

Today, I cannot escape the fact that the peddlers of democracy have won. There are too few - easily dismissed as exceptions to the rule - who care about fundamental freedom. Our "educated" masses are desperately consolidating the fruits of said educations before the elusive things drop out of their grasp. They are overwhelmed making a living for themselves and have no wish to take on something that would help others or even their own world, if others can do it.

And they all look around waiting for others.

A country should have fundamental freedoms, rights should not be violated, but losing them is better than waking up from the Maya of modernity and discovering just how much of themselves they have abdicated.

Today, I am forced to realize that just like I did not like the idea of a religious party ruling a democracy, but I had to accept the bitter fact as a fact of respecting democracy, I must accept that we have collectively chosen to let go of our fundamental rights in favor of not rocking the security and normalcy we desperately cling to.

In my view, a country spending so much energy on simply existing has something fundamentally wrong with how it is run.

But, I must accept for now that if our meagre numbers are not sufficient to force the leaders of the country to remain true to its constitution, then I face a possible future - in the reality we are allowing to unfold uncontested - as an outlaw for the crime of refusing to shut up.

Scary thought.

2

We take our freedoms for granted, but there are some things very important to fight for. Our right to express ourselves is one of these. The proposed IT rules by pass the courts or any evaluation mechanism between a complaint and taking it down. In essence, if I dislike you, I could notify you that your content violated these rules, and you would be required BY LAW to take it down.

And how easy or difficult would it be to find violations? Fairly easy.

Save frree speech. Stop IT Rules NOW
Free Speech is the fundamental nutrient of a democracy. Kill that, we are not a democracy.

When you have definitions of content to be removed that are as open to interpretation as "offensive" or "hateful" or "defamatory" or "insulting any other nation", almost anything could be interpreted to fit this. And the really scary part is that the notification of your content violating this law can be something as trivial as an email.

So we can argue on Twitter, I can lose my temper, send you an email and that would be enough to legally require you to remove your precious blog post down from the internet. Within 36 hours.

Obviously, this is illogical and insane (which is kind of routine these days), but the fact that it is so easy will lead to a kind of censorship anarchy, where we will come down to the equivalent of mob censorship, in my opinion. Every complaint would not be followed in any case. No one will remove their hardwork on someone's whim. However, it will lay the foundations for massive corruption and suppression of people. Think:

  1. No one enforces these rules, because they are too bizarre. But if I want to attack you, all I need is a list of your best blog posts.
  2. If there are wars of censorship between two adversaries, inevitably it is going to boil down to who can burn more buses in real life.
  3. We already have laws to remove dangerous content. Bypassing courts or any form of judicial oversight is only laying the foundations of dictatorial silencing.

In other words, we don't need these rules. At all. We already have too much framework to support censorship and silence citizens at will. If it doesn't seem so, that is because it is rarely used to administrate and is used more as a threat. Witness Mamata Banerjee and the cartooning professor. We don't need this kind of blanket control over our own right to speak.

This rule does not state a single kind of content or condition that would not need removal. In other words, it treats everyone as guilty unless proved, and there is no opportunity for proof.

Here's what you do.

  1. Sign the online petition here: www.it2011.in
  2. Write letters to as many MPs as you can, making it clear that you see these rules as unconstitutional and repressive of human rights. As your MPs to refuse these rules.
  3. Keep speaking of this on and off in social media and real life. Make people aware. Ask them to join in.
  4. Think up spoofy ideas on what we can do to advertize our thoughts in creative and inviting ways.

The comments are yours. Hoping for some brilliant ideas as well. Will add suggestions here.

Do not drop this catch, if these rules pass, even writing openly about them will forever carry risk of the government killing your thoughts before they reach people.

12

As a kid, I remember questioning "If someone is really good at making country decisions, but doesn't have money to advertise, then aren't we losing him?" That's profound, but I grew up, and stopped thinking about such things.

This whole thing with Indian democracy, remained like a sore tooth, where your tongue keeps going. It hurts, but you can't leave it alone.

I don't have answers, but at the risk of being publicly foolish, I am spreading my thoughts wide open for anyone to pick up on, or pick apart. The more we think about this, the more we may be able to move from this all pervasive depression about government.

  1. Elections are the ultimate in discrimination, because they guarantee that you will get nowhere without money and influence. They are not a representation of people, but a contest among those who can mass influence. Usually those who are inclined to exploit the country for fun and profit?
  2. We say things like "all politicians are the same", "all parties are corrupt", etc. It may be true, but what if it isn't the real problem? Many things we do as a part of a system are things we would never do on our own or even things we are aware of doing or furthering. The system has its own culture. You can replace every employee in a department plagued with gender bias, and still have the bias intact with a totally new staff. I think our whole political system is set up in a manner that predisposes its misuse. That doesn't excuse any politician, but it does mean that changing people and parties will not work. We show an instinctive inkling of this in the quiet resignation to corruption as something that will not go away. Or, when we think of "politician" as a person with a less than good character by default.
  3. The language we use influences our destiny. It is an ancient belief in India.We name our children in order to influence their lives with certain qualities. We stop someone voicing something undesirable. A method of changework - Appreciative Inquiry - leverages this instinctive knowledge into something near science, where the power of the words in directing our attention is engaged to create positive change. The results are quite real. We are shaped by our words. Now look at what we call the party that wins elections and governs the country - we call it the ruling party.  And, we are being ruled thoroughly. We ape the west and suffer from identity confusions, because mentally we feel slaves. On the other hand, the party that is supposed to provide oversight, to provide a dissenting voice and to balance perspectives is called the opposition party, and all it seems to do is oppose the ruling party. The diversity intended in its role rarely gets enacted.
  4. We blame the Congress and the BJP or other parties, but the story was still quite similar on a meta level when the BJP "ruled". Only positions were reversed. It actually depressed the country, because till that happened, there was, perhaps some pretence that we could escape the curse of the politicians in this manner.
  5. What is democracy? The whole election based politics system is designed like an unending series of battles with the country footing the bill for both sides and losing the war no matter who wins. Its a constant cold war with astonishing amounts of national resources, attention and energy being squandered in power struggles. The only ones to profit are those who use this chaos as distraction from outright theft.
  6. Indian democracy system is set up such that at any given time, there is one "kind of people" "lobby", "vote bank" etc who will be feeling powerless and cheated and ignored, because their representatives are not "in power". Reminds me of cheap labor accommodation where people sleep in shifts on the same bed and no one feels rested. What does democracy mean then? Have we designed the country so that someone or the other is always destined to feel orphaned in power.
  7. Is India a democracy? In India, the legitimate Indian seems to be becoming more and more rigidly defined.If India is a democracy, where are the people?
    • Criminals, separatists, terrorists, maoists, etc are discredited and denied representation in shaping the national narrative. This is a lot of people.
    • Our population of children of course has no legitimate voice till they suddenly snap into legal existence at eighteen.
    • The illiterates and others who "don't understand". With the economic condition of India, it is fair to say that this is actually the real majority who simply cannot 'get' what the shehari mind thinks.
    • And then, we have another group of people who simply has no voice. The tribals, etc.
    • Then, there is this population that simply does not care. They feel no hope of shaping politics. They decide to believe or not based on how pretty the campaign was, or if there are similarities of caste, creed, religion, or if the leader is handsome 😉 , etc. They don't believe the false promises before elections, don't expect the government to deliver anything beyond basic functioning, and they certainly are not surprised by things like corruption, etc. They simply don't care, as long as they can continue to live without interference.
    • That brings us to the "participative Indians". These people have beliefs, ideals, and they strive to shape the country accordingly. Some familiar avatars are journalists/bloggers, activists, maoists, politicians, etc. Each in their own way is attempting to influence the national narrative. The system is set up such that those who want to impose their will on the rest choose politics (which is why there is an inherent mistrust of politicians).

      To do this, they need votes, which they get through promises, demands, threats, advertising, any good they do and outright purchase. They may be tempted into misconduct, largely because they don't think anyone cares enough to notice. They don't expect to be caught at all, and if caught, they don't expect anyone to persist in the face of their clout. There is absolutely no anticipation of any unfavourable consequences.

    • By no accounts do I see this as a representation of the people of India. It is simply the school playground for all kids being turned into a stadium for elite teams and the rest become the audience, cheering equally inept teams at whim.
  8. Another interesting usage is the description of the 'ruling party', which is functionally supposed to be the 'governing party'. This power is largely experienced as power over the people rather than power arising from the people. Then we have issues with dissent and censorship. The fantasy that dissent happens only with anti-national elements is exactly that - a fantasy. The people are first censored and silenced. If anyone notices, they are called anti-national. Fact is that there are thousands silenced without being called anti-national, because no one objected to them being shut up, so no explanations were necessary.
  9. All democracies seem to think elections are the best thing since sliced bread. I think its fair to say that there are no democracies. Since it works for those "in power" or hoping to be "in power", I don't expect this will change without some serious soul searching by citizens. Will probably require revolution, since there is no reason to expect that politicians left with nothing to lose will give up power out of the goodness of their hearts.
  10. If we are looking for a superficial level governance illusion where things seem to work, this works. . .

This is where I am stuck. That this doesn't work is evident to me. What would work is a difficult question. I don't know many modern models. The only idea that comes to mind is inclusion. Not proposing this as an exact system, but something along the lines of engaging all the diverse voices of the country in running it rather than ruling it.

A sample model of democratic governance:

Each area has a governance body based largely on volunteers. This is your pool of future politicians as well. No parties. Just everyone wishing to serve, joins in. Out of these, based on consensus or something about their ability to represent people, a few - say two, for example are nominated to represent the area in a larger body. And so on. Totally nominated at whatever level the representation is happening. Till we reach the top, where people with different expertises can take charge of things about the country they are best able to manage. Anyone who can't negotiate differences should not be nominated higher, because the job profile is essentially one of being able to represent their area and their people and speak on their behalf in a functional manner. None of that "adjourned because we can't be civil" business.

This will not necessarily be foolproof, but it will have more chances of local representation rather than lobbies. It will allow the country to be at peace rather than forever exhausted and disillusioned between the melodramatics of two (or more) political parties about each other rather than national interests. It will free up massive national resources for things that last longer than election terms and matter to more people in essential ways.

While I'm fantasizing this nice government, I'd like to suggest three things:

  • A court jester: This was a valuable person in our courts throughout history. Entertainment, insight, low-stakes mirror showing. No responsibilities other than being able to have an effective commentary.
  • The census to have a happiness survey in built. I think its more important than asking things like religion and stuff. "Are you happy?" If not, in very brief, would you like to describe what you would need to be happy? (rather than pointing out what is wrong). The statistics from this survey should be paramount in determining the 'success' of the country.
  • Have a government anyone will understand. Simple, transparent. If its too complicated for a shoemaker or farmer to understand, explain. If they still don't, either agree with them, or agree with them. As a last option, ditch whatever is causing the confusion. The minute understanding what's happening in the country becomes esoteric and limited to a few, you've lost a large part of the population. The democracy is no more. And its not needed for ideas to be exotically obscure. We, as a species have survived for a heck of a long time. The Indian civilization is possibly the longest continuing one. Many ideas of democracy are so deeply embedded in our genes, that there really is no need to micromanage and shut off so many brains from enriching the country.

So, here it is, no holds barred. I'll likely update, if I think of something else. Would really like to know what you think, even if it is "no comment" or disagreement.