Friday, March 27, 2009

The Myth of Democracy

Monarchies are long gone and democracy rules! The common man must be really celebrating, yeah? He's governing his own life now, dictating policies and feels more secure in his life.

I must be joking!

There are very few countries in the world, even among ones with higher political consciousness and standards of living, where a majority of people get a sense of being in control of their country. If democracy is such a wonderful form of government, why should we complain?

Going through the grind of the Great Indian Tamasha of Elections this year, I get this familiar feeling of helplessness and a sense of vairagyam. I have an arm-chair opinion about it all. Particularly about the effectiveness of democracy and the farce of it all.
I was recently studying the vote shares and poll percentages of various parties in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India. Check out this statistic.

  • In the Year 1999, Congress party had a vote share of 42.79% of the Voters in the State. TDP, its main rival had a share of 39.85% on its own and 47.75% together with its then ally BJP.
  • In 2004, the fortunes reversed and Congress with its allies had a vote share of 47.39% and TDP+ had 40.15%.

No major swings, eh? 5% extra for Congress and 7% lesser for TDP. But guess what! In 1999, inspite of polling almost 43% of the votes, the Congress party had only 5 Lok Sabha seats out of 42! And TDP allies had a total of 36 seats.

With a mere swing of 5% votes in its favour five years later, the Congress party won 35 out of 42 seats in 2004. Just 1 out of 20 voters extra, mind you!! A mere 1 out of 20 statistic, that tilted the scales massively in favour of the opposing party. The rest 19 guys, sort of stuck to their preferences, give or take 1. And fortunes changed!

I have been giving this quite a lot of thought lately. Is Democracy a failed form of governance? Is the interpretation of Democracy through one liners given out by great orators like Abraham Lincoln pushing us into delusion and a false sense of control over our affairs?
If you rip apart the fabric that shrouds this seemingly simple system of people empowerment, you'll notice that there are several inherent failings. Low voting percentages, corruption, ballot rigging, crime all combine to ensure that only a minority 5-10% of the population really decides who weilds power. And this holds a larger danger for multi-party democracies like India and lesser for bi-party systems, although it seems on the surface that multi-party systems are more democratic because they promote individual choice.
I'm more and more inclined to believe that a strictly federal state, with local self-governance and capitalist economy with strong labour unions (or ample scope for socialistic armed rebellion) is the only solution for true power to majority!
Why local governments with low influences are preferable:

62 years of self-governance later, India is still finding its feet on a lot of issues. Social issues, primarily. Forget terrorism, it is only visible and falsely appears topmost on the priority due to its direct impact on life and property. I feel corruption is a much larger, more potent malaise in this country. Successive governments have come to power with promises to curb corruption. And all of them... mind you, ALL of them have had allegations of corruption against them, with most investigations still resting in the dusty cupboards of puppet show inquiry commissions.

If common man really has a say - and I'm sure more than 50% of this country's people would want an end to the corruption problem - why didn't this end already? If democracy is such a wonderful tool, why are we even having those TV debates with the clamouring clan of pseudo intellectuals and arm chair revolutionaries? If a majority of people in this country want an end to corruption, why not vote against it and put an end to it once for all!

"If you don't want corruption anymore, send an sms to 12345 and let's kick it out of the game right now!"

Let me clarify here. I'm not against Democracy. I'm not a supporter of military takeover or dynastical rule. I have a problem with the current form of democracy in the Indian context. And that is what I'm trying to discuss now.

Check this. The Grand Old Party of US - the Republican Party - has a basic principle about governance - Small Government.

If the size of government in India were much smaller, that is, except for the key strategic areas such as Defence, Space research, Healthcare etc., if the Government were to exit all the other areas and leave them to private ownership...

If we cut the size of the Government's influence in our lives...

If we move away from making governments our big daddies, to make them our paid servants charged with protecting us and taking care of general welfare and solving disputes etc...

... with effective regulation for other sectors ofcourse. Or we will repeat what happened in America.

The more protectionist and interventionist Governments get, the more they control our lives. If we believe in the basic rule that a voter intelligent enough to put someone else in charge of his life, can be entrusted with the responsibility to govern his own life effectively, we will go a long way in encouraging free and fair advancement of society.

We should believe in the concept that Governments are mere instruments of ensuring a societal overview. And certainly not leadership of the society. Leaders rise naturally from grass roots to influence the society around them. Business, Science, Arts, Religion... this is where leaders exist. If we deny leadership opportunities in politics and governance, may be we will have lesser number of people telling us what to do? After all, if I'm not interested in Science I wouldn't give a damn to what Albert Einstein wants to say about Quantum Physics. But I don't have a choice when it comes to following the rules set by Shivraj Patil in tailored suits!

It is easy to say, if we have a smaller government, it will result in anarchy. I bet some of you have already said it while reading this. I would say, Switzerland. Large country example? US itself. How about its economy then? Hey, South Eastern countries are socialist, for crying out loud! That didn't prevent them from falling into the pit thrice within the last decade!

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