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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.


A lecture at University of Texas, Austin by P. Sainath, sponsored by the University of Texas School of Journalism, the South Asia Institute, AID-Austin and the Society of Professional Journalists UT.

Part 1 || Part 2 || Part 3 || Part 4 || Part 5

(includes some of the end of part 1 for continuity)

It never looked back. That was the breach point. The Composite Share Index of the Colombo Stock Exchange - the CSE - reached within 16 points of the highest - which was the year of its founding. Indonesia - the worst affected nation - quarter of a million people dead, the Stock Exchange is rocked by the earthquake and Tsunami but you know as the neo-liberal economists say: The building rocked, but the fundamentals were sound.

So the Stock exchange reached its great... every day it broke the earlier records for a week. Thailand and Malasia couldn't do that, because they had already reached their historic highs at that point, but they reached the highest within those five years when they had come to a top.

You know something guys, about unique buying opportunities, let me tell you, let me present to you a non-financial way of looking at this if you will. Here's something about unique buying opportunities: When there is incredible misery in the countryside, when hundreds and thousands of people go into bondage because of debt and many of them of course, take their lives in indebtedness, do you realize there is a unique buying opportunity for money lenders in the countryside to buy more young girls and cheaper for the flesh trade and trafficking that goes on in the world. It's a unique buying opportunity.

Try looking at it in terms of food in the same way. As the distress in the countryside has gone up, human trafficking has gone up all around the world. As the distress... I can see with my... you know...

In my own job, I'm a rural reporter. I spend between 270 and 300 days a year in India's villages. My home is in Mumbai, which is also home to one of the largest red light districts in the world. In the red light district called Kamatipura, you can see where the children have come from. The girls are really children. They are 12-13 years old. They have come because some granddad or father had gone into debt some years ago, and they are there.

The more the distress, the greater the drivers, pushing them from Kalahandi, from Telangana, from Rayalaseema, from Vidarbha... into the sex trade. Why don't you look at that as a unique buying opportunity? If you can look at the unique buying opportunity created by radioactive fallout in Fukushima as something nice, try... for me, morally, it's in the same club. It's not very different. Just look at the morality of this economics - that is the dominant economics of our time.

Back to the media.

You know the most expensive branch of the media... I've been a journalist for Last September I completed 30 years as a professional journalist. I've always noticed - in the last 15 years particularly, that the branch of the media - whether in television or in print, on which we spend the maximum money are the financial journalists.

My contemporary in Times of India, all he does is cover... you know there's a guy... in several papers ... He covers futures. That's all he does. Must be a wretched, miserable life, but he earns eight times of what I do, so I guess he's ok.

Now here is the most pampered, most highly paid branch of journalism. Did any of them give you an inkling of what was to happen in 2008. We have scrutinized the banks. We have scrutinized the insurance companies. We have scrutinized the government. We have scrutinized Congress. Have you scrutinized the financial media and how they helped you put your money down the tube. Telling you that things were never so good. Go back to 2008 before the meltdown. Three to four months before the meltdown, and read how well the world economy was doing.

No critical analysis. No introspection. After the meltdown, the same clowns are trotted out onto your television screens to tell you exactly what went wrong. After your money is down the tube. I think that programme has a nice name. Mad Money. It is completely insane. The star anchor of it and the conclusions. These were the guys telling you that the economy was doing better than it ever did!

Remember. Did the great world of financial journalism ever tell you that ENRON was as big a crock of shit as you could imagine in your worst nightmare? Did they? No, because Wall Street Journal and other columnists were writing speeches for Kinley at 25k a shot.


Financial journalists were writing speeches for ENRON executives. You can read the Columbia journalism review on that, on how many of these guys were making money writing for... there's too much cosiness between financial media and the corporate world.

Come to India for a moment. It is now perfectly normal in financial journalism that a guy who is an assistant editor in the Economic times, for instance, okay? He joins Burrows and Welcome as a Public Relations officer. A year later he comes back as the associate editor of the newspaper. Two years later he goes as senior PRO of Glaxosmithklyne. Then he is back as senior associate editor. Then he is chief PRO of Dabhol, which is ENRON and one day he is the resident editor of the newspaper.

This is seen as perfectly normal - the seamless transition between journalism and the corporate world, because journalism is ... because the media, not journalism, is... The media are not anymore pro-corporate or pro-business. The are corporations, they are big businesses. They are worth billions and billions of dollars and if you want, we can get into the numbers regarding India. What kind of investments the country has seen in the media in the last three to four years in a little while from now.

Now, if you look at the links between the media and giant corporations, the organic structural links. You know about twenty years ago, we used to talk about media monopolies. And there were monopolies in the media. That isn't the case anymore. There may be monopolies in the media, but they are small parts of much larger conglomerates. Much larger conglomerates, and they are perhaps the ideological arm.

It's one reason my dears, that NBC cannot play up the story that General Electric paid ZERO dollars in tax last year. How many of you knew that? Did you know it from NBC? NBC can't say it, because NBC ... Firstly, the original parent company of NBC is RCA - Radio Corporation of America. Seventh biggest contractor, super parent of that granddaddy of that is General Electric - one of the biggest military manufacturers on the planet... now NBC can't go around telling you "Hey, my parent company didn't pay any tax dollars last year!"

Zero tax dollars by one of the largest corporations in the world. Here's the point, guys. The point is: The media have a structural compulsion to lie on these critical issues. They are too heavily invested in the market to ever tell you the truth about it. I keep telling my whizkid friends in Mumbai, because many of my friends are also corporate... heavily into the corporate world. I said whatever you do, don't invest your life savings on the basis of what the bloody newspapers tell you. You'll be dead. Quite a few of them were, in 2008, but anyway...

They have been given a second life since then. Again with public money.

Now look at the media narrative of the large, large political process of your time. How did we begin this talk? We began this talk with me asking you if you were aware that Egypt was the largest wheat importer in the world, the food prices in Egypt had gone up way beyond the budget of ordinary people in a nation which has one of the highest expenditures of food per capita in terms of your monthly income. 40% in Egypt as against say 17% in Brazil.

But you told me that this was not reflected in your media. Let me tell you what was reflected in your media. Twitter made a revolution, right? And Facebook mopped it up. Right? Helped by a few brave bloggers. People make revolutions, not technologies.

When I hear this kind of nonsense ... you know? These are tools. They help you. Of course they help you. When I hear a piece telling me the Maldavian Twitter revolution and understand that Maldavia has something like 70 twitter accounts. You know? I don't know how many it has, but it has almost nothing.

When I hear that people are coming onto the streets of Tehran, because of messages on Twitter and Facebook, all of which are in English, and how many of those people in the streets of Tehran are English speakers or visit English websites? Talk sense. Just talk sense.

Uprisings and agitations and revolutions are made by people.

The second thing they didn't tell you was that Egypt for twelve days was in what was virtually a general strike. After thirty years of suppression, the trade unions were out on the street in very, very significant numbers. Workers were on those streets. Nor did they tell you that more than 30% of these countries of the unemployed ... more than 80% of the unemployed in Egypt were people below the age of 30.

Don't you think these were things that your media needed to tell you? Don't you think it would have given you something more of a perspective if you knew these facts? How come you don't know. It's a Twitter revolution.

It was vastly entertaining for me to read in the newspapers, all the big corporate media reproducing Hillary's call to Egypt to reform. Do you know why it was entertaining? Because 6 months ago, the United States had praised Egypt for being one of the most serious countries about reforms and economic reforms, and the World Bank in its report of 2010 - they bring out a report called "Doing Business 2008" "Doing business 2001" Its report, "Doing Business 2010" says Egypt and Columbia were among the best and topmost reformers in economies in four of the last seven years. And those were the four years that led to your collapse.

It says - I'm quoting: "Top global reformers in four of the past seven years."

The World Bank has a knack for these famous last words.

There's another from India which I like even more - on "Water Privatization". This report is published 2 years and it says water privatization can be a very popular thing. As Mr. Chandrababu naidu has shown, the report is published - eight months later he suffers the biggest electoral defeat in the history of Andhra Pradesh. And the next two editions of the report still contain that paragraph despite my having had fun at their expense on the Edit Page.

They still continued to repeat it. And the other person whose electoral popularity was boosted by.. Chandrababu Naidu was one, and the other was Digvijay Singh in Madhya Pradesh, after whom the Congress has never been able to come back in Madhya Pradesh. Nor has the TDP been able to come back in Andhra Pradesh and it's very likely, those of you who are Telugu.. that the TDP will be third in teh next Andhra election. Third. If they're lucky. They'll be competing with the Congress for third place.

Now let's shift. This whole business of valorizing, lionizing those who undertake pro-corporate reforms and destroy the lives of ordinary people, how have you been reading what have you been reading, for instance about the European Union and the collapse there. These idiots in Spain and Greece, right? Lazy guys. They have these four hour siestas, they don't work.

Have you noticed how silent the ideologues are on the collapse of Ireland? Ireland was the star pupil of the neoliberal economic philosophy. The star pupil. Today, Ireland is down the tube. Very sad. that's a country I absolutely loved and have connections with. In 2007, when I was there, I was really frightened by the great joy and zest with which the Irish were celebrating their boom.

Now having seen 16 years of that in India, and having a good sense of what was to follow, I did try in the different talks I had in the universities to pour some cold water on that. In fact, their newspapers had the headlines - coming to age of the Celtic tiger. So in fact my talk at the Galloway university had been titled Asian tiger, Celtic kitten and... it didn't go down well. I wonder why.

[contd in part 3]