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Web Exclusive|Myths of democracy unraveled

Web Exclusive|Myths of democracy unraveled
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First Published: Tue, Aug 14 2007. 10 44 AM IST

Raj Liberhan, Director, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi
Raj Liberhan, Director, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi
Updated: Tue, Aug 14 2007. 10 44 AM IST
New Delhi: Democracy consists of choosing your dictators, after they have told you what you think it is you want to hear, said a perceptive American. We have come a long way from government of the people, by the people and of the people which was decreed by an older American.
Raj Liberhan, Director, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi
Most certainly it appears very remote from the days of the Magna Carta or when the cries of liberte’, egalite’ and fraternite’ had chorused the air of France to cause turbulent reverberations, across continents, What a denouement, my country men!
Democratic governments have gone to war, mortgaged the country’s gold, signed arms deals and forged alliances for and against their people’s voice to seek glory for their electoral prospects. Dictators have done the same, except it is to seek glory for themselves.
They say that when elephants make war, it is the grass that suffers. In fact even when elephants make love, it is that grass that still suffers. No matter which form of Pachyderm comes to govern, it is impervious to the elector’s woes.
Isn’t it time we find another way of selecting people who can govern us? Right from the days of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, philosophers have been struggling to find a perfect governance profile, one that is insulated from degeneration.
Monarchies, Oligarchies, Plutocracies and other kind of anarchies, they have worked for a while and then their ugly side came to the fore. Our own experience only affirms that what we elect usually undergoes an immediate transformation into an unresponsive species.
We elect people to make life easier, for the populace and for our ownselves and yet what do we get but organized and disorganized caucuses whose guiding philosophy is to make it as difficult as can be for the citizenry, and as luxurious as possible for themselves, besides being cost free.
There was a time, not long ago, when ideology was the binding connection between adherents of a political party. Be it the communist ideology or later its benign variant which surfaced as socialism or the glamorous (!) capitalism with ‘free market’ advocates and so on, they all professed a faith in a direction of utopia.
The late 90’s have however seen the death of ideology altogether and a growth of opportunism with an emphasis on making politics the art of mutual back scratching and frequent back stabbing.
This new’ ism’ is ‘cozy cronyism’ and it rides on a nourishing diet of appetizing slogans of ‘all inclusive growth’, interspersed with’ capitalism with a human face’. These fake concerns are just the right sized fig leafs behind which the unabashed pursuit of power for their own sake is sought and achieved.
The optimists say that this is no cause for alarm. How can human affairs be conducted in any orderly manner? Democracies are all about controlled chaos i.e. just staying close to the brink of anarchy. Order and discipline is more about sanitized and controlled environments, and certainly not about a pulsating, vibrant and argumentative civil society.
Chaos in our public affairs is then a sign of good health, in fact one would not be surprised to find some arguing, that we should have more of it rather than less.
The protagonists of healthy anarchy cite the history of mankind in support of their optimism. The senators in Roman Empires were often obstructive and political manipulations were the order in the Tammany Hall goings on, to make it an abiding symbol of dirty politics and so on.
Our own local brands can compete with the worst of them, with Goa being the latest in examples that sparkle. Well, if this is progress of civilization, less said the better because by all accounts it looks like the spate of barbarism has peaked.
Killer Blue lines, roaring motorbikes grinding the asphalt, abandoned foetuses, assaulted and murdered children, surely cannot but be the signs of anarchy, in no way even remotely indicative of a vibrant democracy.
Is it not time we stop electing our dictators, or even better, start recalling them. Maybe, that will allow vibrancy in our country to make a felt presence.
Raj Liberhan is Director of the India Habitat Centre at New Delhi. Send your reactions to socionomics@livemint.com
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First Published: Tue, Aug 14 2007. 10 44 AM IST