Sunday, June 05, 2011

Democracy and Dissent

(I do not claim to be an expert on political affairs, these are some thoughts that I wanted to share.)

Democracy is essentially the will of the majority. Hence, in a democracy, the quality of leaders is the measure of a region's quality of voters. The subversion of democratic principles can only be with the concurrence of the majority (otherwise they would rise and revolt), hence the criticism that India pays only lip-service to democracy is also a damning criticism of Indian population.

It is no use decrying a political party for using cash or bonanzas or reservations or communal slogans to buy votes. They are doing what the people want.

Given that a leader has to appeal to a vast audience, it will be only by sheer chance that there will come a great leader who will not just be an amplified version of the followers. Unless he shares the same prejudices and beliefs (but with a more astute political sense), he will not be able to win many votes.

Dissent in a democracy, if it is undemocratic, is a short-lived remedy. Very soon the establishment will find a way around it and everything will be back to business as usual.

Democratic dissent, to be useful, presupposes a high level of exposure and evolution in the voters. They can dissent only if they know what they are going through. And their demands can be visionary only if they are visionary and are not merely focused on the most immediate pain. Otherwise they will demand immediate reliefs, and perhaps get them.

Real progress, not short-term measures, comes from education, economic policy and legislative changes. Thankfully, much of that is in the hands of experts rather than political leaders who are merely signatories to bills presented in the parliament. Though of course, the experts can only do so much in the face of a cattle-like populace.

A threat of violence, or of suicide, will be very unlikely to bring about a major beneficial change because people will fall back to their median ways soon after. If anything, it will undermine democracy and encourage people to follow similar ways.

A cancer having environmental or constitutional causes cannot be cured by violent excision. It will relapse, or the organism will be killed in the process.

The only remedy is to study the causes, the environmental and constitutional factors which are leading to the cancer, and to address them, incrementally, slowly, with determination.

In India there are indeed identifiable factors of both kinds, and they nourish each other:
  • A history of fatalism and spirituality.
  • An archaic and dysfunctional system of laws and jurisprudence.
  • Lack of proper food-grain management, which is one factor in exacerbating a malnourished and low-intelligence populace. Also significant is the lack of protein in the diet, and a few people have remarkably ingenious ideas to address this.
  • Lack of accountability in the PSUs and lack of regulation of the private sector and the financial markets. This is not just a problem in India.
  • The unnatural maintenance of military tensions with our neighbors, which results in massive expenditure on defense.
  • The lack of a simplified and well-enforced tax-regime. There is slow progress on this.
  • Lack of a reliable identification of citizens. There have been many attempts at this, and I am hopeful some recent measures will work.
  • Dependence on non-renewable energy, and poor energy management.
  • ...
A few of these can be addressed by policy measures, while many others are very volatile issues which cannot be addressed without building consensus.

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