Thoughts on Democracy: The rulers, the opposers and the irrelevants

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.

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12 thoughts on “Thoughts on Democracy: The rulers, the opposers and the irrelevants”

  1. Nice points, but as someone mentioned, utopian. You don’t take into account human psychology. People are greedy. People run after power. For some, it comes naturally. They are born speakers, even though their speeches have no sense. People in general are gullible, If someone can speak convincingly, they will agree with him/her. There are some brilliant minds, they have the best ideas, but they don’t know how to convince others. In fact, a lot of times, it is the brialliant ones who seem confused, because they have the ability to question themselves and be self-critics.
    The best leaders are not necessarily the best thinkers, or the best policy makers. Governance has to happen with an assortment of inviduals who are best in their fields at the helm of affairs.
    But your post has a subtle suggestion that I believe not many think of today. We need a revolution, not a violent one, but a silent one. We need to get rid of the archaic constitution we have; it doesn’t need repairing, it needs a complete overhaul. How do we do that? Ask those who know the law. Really? I don’t know any blogger or intellectual in the public space who is a lawyer by education, and advocates changing those laws because they don’t work anymore. Why? Because those who study it, know the loopholes in it, they want to benefit from it.
    People like you, and others who are searching solutions, need to do it. Study the law. Propose alternatives. Get debates done. Who will listen to you? Well, that’s a tough question. Gather supporters gradually. Not blind supoorters, but those who undertand your philosophy. Capture their imagination. You’ll need a lot of money for that, but that’s the hard reality. Get in to the system. We have to dirty our hands to clean the mess.
    Bloggers write a lot, but usually stay out of the mess. That has to change. Someone dynamic has to rise out of this situation. Someone who has a voice and speaks her mind. But she has to have supporters as well. One person cannot know everything, or be right about everything. The supporters have to be experts in their fields. Economists, Environmetalists, Doctors, Engineers, Thinkers, and more Leaders. There are already people trying that (Lok Satta Party –  Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan), but it has been ineffective so far. At least at the national stage, at a stage where they actually make a difference in how te nation is run.
    Who am I to say all this? I am just another person trying to put my voice across. I believe in freedom of choice, including the choice of not to choose. I am not a natural leader. I have some ideas, but no support. I am trying to find like minded people, trying to figure out how to earn enough money required to be influential enough to bring change, trying to figure out the best way to do it. I don’t want to get into the mess just to be silenced. If I get into the the mess, I want to be prepared. I can’t make a difference if I die. I want to be the undercover agent who gets into the mafia’s lair and exposes everyone. Wishful thinking, I know, but I wish it wasn’t. 🙂

    1. What do you think I do? I spread revolutionary ideas. Join in! Trigger debates, share articles, get people to join in. Many readers here are regulars. Their comments (and yours) add dimensions to issues, trigger more thought. One step at a time, keep moving right, voice what comes to mind 😉

    2. What do you think I do? I spread revolutionary ideas. Join in! Trigger debates, share articles, get people to join in. Many readers here are regulars. Their comments (and yours) add dimensions to issues, trigger more thought. One step at a time, keep moving right, voice what comes to mind 😉

  2. though I like most of the utopian ideas you have put forth, have a few things to say.
     cannot have a practical govt. without elections, therefore  electoral  reforms needed.
    1. remove all reservations. refer to @acorn:disqus  posts on TL today. No candidate can declare his own caste etc and cannot mention or appeal based on caste/tribe etc.
    2. minimum education qualifications for all candidates for parliament, vidhan sabhas etc. Panchayats can be kept out of this.
    3. media can as is playing the part of the court jester you mentioned.
    4. Happiness index is a brilliant idea.
    5. Govt to guarantee rights to all citizens.
    6. elected reps can be recalled fter 50% of term.
    this list can go on…..

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