THE UNRULY DEMOCRACY
In an interesting NYT Op-Ed, Gurcharan Das talks about the contrast between the Chinese and Indian models of growth and progress. His opinion is that in China, progress is intimately tied to the State whereas in India progress will take place in spite of the state. He contends that:
Both the Chinese and the Indians are convinced that their prosperity will only increase in the 21st century. In China it will be induced by the state; in India’s case, it may well happen despite the state. Indians expect to continue their relentless march toward a modern, democratic, market-based future. In this, terrorist attacks are a noisy, tragic, but ultimately futile sideshow.I find cause for both pessimism and optimism in the article. The recent terrorist attacks have brought forth a massive sense of resentment against the government. However, where will this resentment translate into? Will it translate into more people of the kinds that read this blog for instance going into politics? I see a slim chance of that happening yet. Most of us are still too loathe to mire ourselves into the world of shady and corrupt characters. Who among us would relish taking a pangaa with Laloo Yadav or get entrenched in a protracted debate with Comrade Yechury for the sake of pushing some reform? The fact is that we still see the political world as being too different from the world we inhabit to want to be a part of it. Naturally, as long as that keeps on happening our criticism will be well-placed but ineffective.
However, Indians are painfully aware that they must reform their government bureaucracy, police and judiciary — institutions, paradoxically, they were so proud of a generation ago. When that happens, India may become formidable, a thought that undoubtedly worries China’s leaders.
However, one possible positive effect of the past year's events that I do foresee is an increase in voter turnout which may keep on increasing in the coming years. This should be strongly encouraged and can be accomplished the way it was during the 2008 US election, by mobilizing the speed and widespread accessibility of the Internet. Drives such as Vote Yatra 2009 seem to be the right step in this direction. On the other hand consider the fact that the Internet is still non-existent for millions of our countrymen. In fact, as pressing as the issue of national security is, one wonders whether it would drive people in rural areas to vote. Getting these people to vote is a different kettle of fish and won't be accomplished just by better accessibility. Unless we can mobilize all these people to worry about the issues that are really important, Das's reform won't happen. It's interesting though that they already do worry about these issues. It's just that they don't always appreciate the fact that voting for the right person may actually make a dent in their problems. Sometimes they don't even appreciate that it's the government that's responsible for their problems, that their issues are really part of an overarching problem with the government, and that they therefore should make it a point to vote (For example, how many people even in the US voted for Bush or McCain in spite of being concerned about their healthcare plans, their jobs or their children in Iraq?). These people are as stricken by complacence and confusion as are all of us. But until they get on board, people like us, educated, middle-class people who are fortunate to be better informed could be the catalyst for at least a little change.
As for Das's quips about China, it seems to me that the Chinese may increasingly view their consistent and age-old support of Pakistan as a liability, as world opinion becomes more and more intolerant of Pakistan's lack of control and tacit participation in terrorism. How this will affect their policies is uncertain, but it seems quite likely that the pressure will become concerning for them.
Das's contention that India will progress in spite of the state seems like a tribute to the cacophony of opinion that characterizes our unruly democracy. It is indeed a point of pride that our reporters are free to basically say what they want without fear of censure. But at the same time we also strongly rebuke them for sensationalism, not to mention irresponsible reporting where they divulge sensitive information. One can only hope that this unorganized mess of public opinion will sometime mesh into a more or less smooth flow that will lead us to progress.