Can we evolve new tenets for our democracy? Musings on India’s bankruptcy of vision – Aug 17, 2012
The last issue of HT’s Brunch carried a one pager by Shashi Tharoor on the 40s as a decade for India. In this piece he outlines “democratic institution building, staunch pan-Indian secularism, socialist economics at home and a foreign policy of non alignment” as the 4 pillars of the Nehruvian legacy, which was evolved equally by Nehru, Gandhi, Patel and Ambedkar, the four stalwarts that guided India through that tumultuous decade to a bright future in a world being torn apart by fascism and violence.
All four pillars stand contested today. Institutions are severely crippled by corruption, nepotism and a serious lack of vision and direction. Secularism is threatened not just by communalism (which was top of the mind for statesmen in the aftermath of the bloody Partition) but by racism, regionalism, casteism and the class wars. The incidents unfolding in Bangalore and Chennai, where hundreds of people from north eastern India are fleeing home in fear underlines that many Indians feel threatened in their own homeland, for absolutely no fault of theirs. It is a despicable situation and whoever is behind this is both racist and cowardly. I am upset that there were no strong steps taken by the city and state governments to counter this fear and the resulting exodus. That is another sign that even those in power inadvertently accept the unfolding disintegration of India. Scary!
The remaining two pillars. Socialist economics is something we are struggling with in the face of capitalistic forces, the need to be competitive in the global scenario. Our large population of poor people is a drag on our economy, no matter how much we try, we are unable to translate this into an opportunity. Mind you, there is real potential here and several social sector entrepreneurs have shown that innovations in technologies and trying new business models can harness the aspirations of the poor and fire the double bullet of giving them upward mobility while creating modestly profitable businesses. The problem is that even the government looks at the poor as objects of pity and not as customers for services or even as citizens with equal rights. That is the real failure, the failure of vision.
I won’t discuss non alignment. The world has changed much in the past six decades and I am no expert on foreign policy.
If all these four pillars are contested, it means we urgently need to re- envision the tenets of democracy for India today. That is what political manifestos are supposed to do, but instead they pay lip service to vision and announce populist measures. Why are we shying away from asking the vital questions? There are certain things every Indian wants- security, opportunities for growth, etc- but there are many issues on which consensus may not be possible. We need to build a climate of debate, an ability to hear the plural voices out there. Instead, we find it easier to watch and wait for the end, the revolution, the disintegration into chaos. I suppose it is time for me to read the latest works of both Chetan Bhagat and Tharoor to explore these thoughts further. Until then, I am attempting to place my agitation on hold and focus on making my weekend productive and enjoyable!