Should We Replace Democracy ?


Well, well, we are entering into what could be a very controversial debate here, aren’t we ?

Democracy has long been promoted by Western countries as the be-all and end-all of all social expectations, capable of resolving all the ills of the human race. Some of the Eastern nations are also part of this promotion.

There is nothing wrong with the basic claim that people need to be free, should enjoy their freedom of expression, and should be in a position to change their governments if their performance is inadequate. The notion that democracy can, however, resolve the economic malaise of societies is pure hogwash, as we have seen repeatedly in the recent past.

Democracy is the least disruptive form of government, unlike dictatorship or single party rule. Since people are allowed to argue their positions in public, there is a public understanding of issues of serious concern. The media is free to report. The parliament is only one of the three deciding factors, the other two being th executive arm of the government and the judiciary. So, there is an actual as well as perceived balance of power in the way a country is managed.

But, is this the best way to manage a country and its economy ? I think there must be some other way. We must at least have the courage to discuss potential options, rather than shy away from a discussion subjugating ourselves to the notion that “democracy is God and do not challenge it”.

There are countries which have clearly demonstrated that a “controlled democracy” produces far better results, outweighing any negative connotations on the form of government. Controls here refer to the factors pertaining to the quality of people that we select and elect to govern ourselves. This must be the most important action that we all can take to ensure that a country’s management, its economy, its governance, and its ability to conduct itself well on the world stage, are in very good hands.

In almost all democracies, any citizen can stand for any government-forming election. The criteria are pretty loose in the sense that disqualification factors are more related to security deposit, party registration, et al. What about the basic qualifications of the legislators that we allow to stand for elections ?

Are we, as a society, OK to allow people without a basic college degree, without a working knowledge of English, with a poor or zero understanding of how systems work in government, to rule us and lead us on the world stage ? Are we OK to permit people with criminal and court convictions to contest elections, even from their prisons ? Are we OK to allow people who have financial irregularities on their public track record to govern us again ? How do we ensure that the government of the day perform and discharge its duties diligently ? What is the system of appraisal for public servants ?

I am not saying for a moment that other forms of government avoid all these pitfalls totally, and so are successful. No, not at all. I am suggesting we have a discussion on these matters. It can be easily argued that the above criteria are or will be designed in such a fashion so as to eliminate rural leaders, and allow only “polished” gentry to assume powers. Yes, there are inherent dangers in trying to limit democracy. But the downsides are too huge and too costly for a country.

Especially when a country as large and complex as India is trying to unshackle itself from many decades of socialism and enter its rightful place as a global leader on the world stage. Let us not forget that many countries do not like our rise, and are trying to figure out a way to scuttle our efforts. We need more educated, and more qualified legislators who could not only address the social and economic problems within our country, but could articulate and push for a new agenda in world bodies. That would require a controlled form of aggression.

There is no easy solution, but it is critical to have a debate. Our TV channels spend a huge amount of time on corruption scandals. Can they also discuss such matters ? Can the newspapers and media spend a little more time analyzing our democracy and its challenges, rather than airing some useless reality shows ?

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
9th January 2011
Mumbai

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