Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

True story of a democracy

by Dina Nath Mishra

When we hear someone praising our democracy, we become oblivious of reality and start taking things for granted. Recently, Jeffery D Sachs, special advisor to UN Secretary General Koffi Annan, said in an interview: "What happened in India after elections was amazing. Incumbents were booted out, yet the handover happened so incredibly peacefully.

There was not even a small power struggle to try to cling to office. There is such an unbelievable amount of 'social capital' in India. It is a phenomenon because I see the opposite all over the world."

But what is the uniqueness of India in his mind? He dropped enough hints of bloody revolutions, military takeovers and power struggle through civil wars around the world. Another laudatory commendation was from then US President Bill Clinton when he addressed Parliament in March 2000 and lauded India in style: "Beyond the complexities and the apparent contradictions, I believe India teaches us some basic lessons. The first is about democracy. There are still those who deny that democracy is a universal aspiration; who say it works only for people of a certain culture, or a certain degree of economic development. India has been proving them wrong for 52 years.

Here is a country where more than 2 million people hold elected office in local Government; a country that shows in every election that those who possess the least cherish their vote the most. Far from washing away the uniqueness of your culture, your democracy has brought out the richness of its tapestry, and given you the knot that holds it together. A second lesson India teaches is about diversity.... Under trying circumstances, you have shown the world how to live with difference. You have shown that tolerance and mutual respect are in many ways the keys to our survival. That is something the world needs to learn."

In other words, he too was referring to India's social capital. Social capital is not the product of an assembly line. It cannot be created in a day or a two. It is a by product of the civilisational value engineering which takes ages. In India's case, civilisational continuum has existed for at least 5,000 years. The tolerance and capacity to absorb the change are inherent and inbuilt in the Indian psyche. The present form of democracy may have developed in the West but the traditional Panchayat system has existed in India in Gan Rajyas and Janpadas spread all over the country.

The spirit of accommodation and inclusiveness is an inseparable part of the Indian national ethos. In this background, such adulatory remarks may numb our intellectual faculty to the extent of our taking democracy for granted. Yet, we know the weaknesses of Indian democracy. We are conscious of the undemocratic tendencies existing in micro-level elected institutions. The criminalization of politics which was hidden for decades, has surfaced. One third of the country is prone to electoral rigging.

In West Bengal, scientific rigging has been perfected to such an extent that there is no scope in near future of throwing out the CPM through ballot. Militant outfits are active in at least 140 districts. There are disturbing trends which have to be taken note of.

Jeffery should have seen Sonia Gandhi's kitchen garden Governor Sibte Razi swearing in Shibu Soren even after ascertaining the views of the five Independent MLAs. This gave Congress a chance to buy them and make up the numbers. We have an unfortunate situation where a person from an Italian ethos, who has not inherited the Indian civilisational 'social capital', is in command of India.

In his interview Jeffery seems excited about the fact that "India's President is a Scientist and Prime Minister, an Economist." But in his meeting with the leader of Opposition L K Advani, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh conceded his unawareness about the developments in Jharkhand. It is most unlikely that his Home Minister was aware of how Jharkhand Governor Sibte Razi was handled by the two 10 Janpath cronies. Surprisingly, Ambika Soni conceded that Sonia Gandhi "had directed the Governor to act in accordance with the Constitution".

In answer to Arjun Munda's petition before the Supreme Court, Justice Y K Sabberwal has remarked: "If the averments made in the (Munda's) petition are correct, it is total fraud on the Constitution and its provisions."

If democracy cannot be taken for granted at the State level, how can it be taken so at macro-level. Our institutions, alongwith individuals and society, have inherited the real essence of civilisational social capital.

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