India is a democracy. It has an amazing diversity and a pluralistic society. It has a proven record of tolerance and has a system of human rights in place. People of all faiths live here (interestingly, even jews have lived in India though in a very insignificant number and Indian jews are the only jews who have not faced anti-semitism from Indians). As noble laureate Amartya Sen has pointed out in his book ‘The Argementative Indian’ (published 2005) that Indians have traditionally been democratic in their mind-set and democracy should not necessarily been seen as a heritage from British rule. He justifies this by saying that all the erstwhile British colonies are not democracies or successful democracies.
In a recent book, Modern India – the Origins of an Asian Democracy (1994), Judith M Brown, Professor of Commonwealth History at the University of Oxford writes: “India’s ability to sustain democratic forms of government and policies through the second half of this century is in sharp contrast to the experience of her Asian neighbours, and of most former colonies in Africa. There have been no military bids for power, and even Mrs Gandhi’s months of “Emergency Rule” (which many thought perilously close to dictatorship) were ended by the electors’ verdict in 1977. Despite phases of acute domestic strain and violence, the assassination of two Prime Ministers, and a number of armed conflicts with neighbours, she has also remained a stable, independent regional power. It is no wonder that India’s democratic experience has fascinated historians and political scientists”.
Now economically India is on the march! It is being described as a sleeping asian elephant which is waking upto its full potential. Everyone seems to be gung-ho about India, particularly when you see this discussion in foreign press. Here in US, as per Time magazine, when we talk of India, people think of doctors ,IT professioanls and as a potentail threat that some one will come and take away your job. “It deserves the new notice it has got in the U.S. We’re all about to discover: this elephant can dance.” , says Time. Talking of Indian media abroad, they proudly display the rising strength of NRIs and escalating property prices of Indian cities. India is on the rise, is the mantra being fed everywhere.
I donot necessarily disagree! I am proud of all this. Our former Prime Minister -Mr AB Vajpayee- said sometime in 2004- 5 that India will be a developed country by 2020. I have a great liking for this person, but this statement made me smile! What a political rhetoric! Let me say at the begining that we are marching ahead but our development has been very lop-sided.
Despite all this ‘feel-good’ environment, there are critical issues which need to be tackled if we are to progress as a nation:
We have solid foundation of democracy on papers. But today politics has become synonymous with corruption and criminals. Why am I complaining! I vote (ed) for them. Right! More than that, we need teeth in the democracy so that I can also be a partner in the system. We need reforms in our electoral process so that criminals cannot contest, we need the right to recall and many more things. This alone can salvage our democracy.
The bigger cities are have actualy aquired the shape of slum-cities. We boast of our cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkatta and Chennai: but the aspects like pollution, shanty -houses, noise, poor quality of life there does not bother us. The fact that the property prices there have shot up makes us ‘feel good’! What a poor way of looking at the things!
Why bigger cities continue to grow. Why the fruit of development are not reaching the villages! So much is the difference that you move away hardly 100 KM from the capital of India (delhi) and you feel as if you have come to a totally different world: lack of basic facilities. Is this what we envision about India?
The government instead of running hotels and petrol pumps(thankfully, govt is leaving hold of these things), it needs to provide basic educationa and health, social security and infrastructure to its citizens. Let there be no misgivings about this! Basic education and basic health is a still a dream to many and these ‘untouched people’ are our own people and this segment will hinder us from aquiring the status of a developed nation (the tag which we are so eager to aquire).
Thus the issue is not that of democracy. It is the quality of democracy. It is the question of governance. It is the quality of governance that matters. And we must strive to sharpen that.