Isn’t it funny that for all the fervid calls to adopting democracy, most nations (or their fragments) were never democratically led out of the Stone Age or through the colonial ages? We would be quick to cite how horrible it was to have a single king or Czar ruling an entire nation, but for every such example, we have more than one of a democracy going to the dogs and another king who brought great peace and justice to his kingdom. I don’t believe that there is any one solution that will work everywhere for everyone (and no, I am not attempting a shabby escape) though I believe it is vital to understand how one can be true to any style of governance. Chanakya wrote well about the traits of a king and administration. One can refer to that or Machiavelli (though I won’t stand by his produce) to arrive at a novel scheme for monarchy.
I am immensely entertained by the notion of democracy and the plaintive cry of romantics to worship this style over and above others. The greatest drama in this entire plot is that of the elections. India is facing this sham right now and best wishes. Democracy as it is practiced in India is a falsehood at various levels. I shall broadly categorise them into two parts: the common man’s stupidity and the vulgarity of the system (and both of them have human beings as a common element! Hmmm).
Ponder over this statement (supposedly) made by a great celebrity: “Like every common man, I too want better economy, security, education, health, infrastructure, law and order and infrastructure (twice?). I vote every year and this time too won’t be an exception.” I wonder which country has elections every year! We have people who make such romantic statements and the fanatics who go by some credo of “My party, whether Nazi or not”. Then come all the celebrity campaigns which initially stirred in me a sense of responsibility but quickly fizzled into another drama. A tea company capitalised on this election season well with its advertisements. I did like one of them where a rather smart young man starts interviewing a candidate for the important job of “running the country”. Point is, if we did that we wouldn’t have candidates. We’ll go into the system shortly. Before that, please find time to also read P. Sainath’s article in The Hindu. He is a very good writer (of substance and not literary merit).
As long as people continue to be stupid and uneducated, any system to govern them decided by them is bound to fail and falter. One cannot leave the task of assembling a ship in a bottle to bunch of monkeys, or buffaloes (their hooves are too big). To accept the decision of an uneducated mass (which is different from the illiterate mass) is a sham. We could just as well have blind men judging Miss India (oh! that’s how it already is?). If the population cannot make an informed decision, is incapable of analysing the behaviour and promise of a party, is unwilling to understand what it takes to achieve progress at various levels and cannot look beyond the TV set or bundles of clothes that they receive, they should not be allowed to vote. Similarly, the urban fools who think that they must vote because that is what modern people do should also not be allowed to vote. At least that is how I would like to see the whole system realised. I do not want the preference of a fool. I do not want to act on the judgement of the mentally deranged on matters which requires a properly functioning brain. I do not want the vote of an emotionally charged lunatic who believes that Ram Janma Bhumi is more important than poverty or unemployment or environmental degradation, or who drools over the sexy accompaniment of the party leader and drops his finger on the said symbol. Intelligence and wisdom are mandatory for casting a vote. If a person cannot be confident of that, then I don’t think s/he should accept the huge responsibility of affecting the decision of who should govern the country for 5 years (or 5 minutes). So the issue is not about everyone voting but of everyone getting educated and studying one’s options. So all the campaigns to coerce or embarrass the person into voting are pointless as long as they do not insist on each person studying each and every candidate with diligence.
If we turn our attention to the system, we notice that there isn’t any. A sequence of stages doesn’t make a system. Picture this: I vote for Keeley Hazell for several structural reasons. I don’t know who she will align with (I mean politically). Once the election results are out, she hooks her wagon (figuratively) to a horrible thief whom I would never vote for. What can I do? In India, nothing. You can just be happy that you voted for KH and build a temple for her (which people can do in any country). The biggest problem in Indian politics is this: Keeley Hazell is not standing in any state!
Jokes apart, Indian politics is totally nonsensical because the mechanism is just this. I could vote for some popular leader (we’ll come to the stupidity of that shortly) but have no clue as to whom s/he will align with at the centre. If s/he aligns with someone I don’t approve of, I cannot recall my vote. This two tier system is rather vague as my vote is used for a purpose I am not interested in. Why must I commit a vote without knowing who it goes to eventually? It is like having a bundle of thieves behind a screen and I am asked to pick a colour that I like. I choose blue. The screen drops (after a drum-roll and trumpets) and blue is associated with thief #5. I didn’t know that before I chose the colour. Does this make any sense? Not to me.
If I vote, I want my vote to only count for that person/party at the centre in whom I have some faith (based on credentials). Currently, everyone contests in their individual states (because that is the only place where they are even recognised). Whatever they win, they offer it as carrots to the donkeys further up in the chain and thus coalitions are formed. Several people believe that coalitions are the only way to be. Perhaps. So the person who votes for A has voted only for A who might never form the ruling party. What A does with those number of seats is not within the tell of this person. I don’t think that is how a vote should be treated.
Here is how I feel true democracy (not because it is the solution to all our administrative problems) should function. I have, what I call, a 3-tier system.
Tier 1 (pronounced, tee-ar): Parties and individuals who have a representation in 50% or more number of states will produce a manifesto which will contain the following details:
- Plan for the next 5 years, addressing each of the following (at least):
(a) Alleviating poverty
(b) Agricultural issues and issues of the farmers
(c) Import and Export issues
(d) Issues of internal and border security
(e) Education for all
(f) Generating true employment
(g) Medical and sanitation requirements
(h) Environment protection
(i) Technological advances
(j) Transport, communication and infrastructure
- A complete report of the accomplishments of this party in whichever area it had the clout. In case the party/individual is a new entrant, s/t/he/y must provide evidence for having demonstrated active involvement in various initiatives of relevance (having acted in 100 movies doesn’t count). New entrants can also pick up failed or poorly executed projects of the contesting parties and provide well-researched solutions and alternatives to the same. I agree that this sounds nice though after a point “will employ higher grade cement” or “will lay PVC pipes throughout the village” is not enough to make one party better than the other. Nevertheless, the thought that an individual/party brings to such issues is basis to hold them up against. Without doubt and I have personal experience in this matter, a liar’s words, however sweet and sincere, cannot be relied upon and sometimes you will recognise a liar only after they demonstrate their baseness and not when they utter the words! Hence, this manifesto will function as a written record of what the party/individual claim to. A report will function as a checklist against which a person can be measured as well as provide (where applicable) an assessment of accomplishments.
- Any party member who has a criminal case (theft, murder, deception, accrual of wealth beyond discernible means, etc.) cannot be allowed a seat. No compromises there! The manifesto will contain the complete past details (educational qualifications, criminal records, association with all businesses and organisations, etc.) of each member.
- The policies with which this party/individual will never align. The 123 agreement, GM crops, etc.
- Cabinet plan (who would most likely hold which position and why that person is the best person suited for the job). It makes little sense to have someone who barely passed his 12th (no matter how good he is) to handle the matters of the economy!
- Pick any issue of national relevance and provide a solution to it in detail with complete analysis.
I know, that suddenly makes it seem like an entrance exam, but I wouldn’t mind going that far. In this phase, parties can discuss with regional parties and come up with a commonly agreed upon manifesto (as outlined above). Once they have aligned themselves to a manifesto, they cannot change course. Whatever needs to be settled between the party members and various parties/individuals must be sealed by the end of this phase.
Tier 2: Educating the population. Accepted manifestos will be distributed to all those who wish to vote. Only those who collect these manifestos from an authorised centre, after producing their voter’s ID, can vote. These can be entirely automated vending kiosks. Those who are illiterate can state that and their voters ID will be noted. They will be given audio-video presentations of the manifestos which are standardized and produced in the local language. These would actually be cheaper than producing the manuals as an entire village can be presented the same content without duplication. Responsible citizens can offer (and they will be well taken care of) to visit these villages and discuss issues with the villagers and help them give a more interactive discussion and perspective. A team of independent citizens will simultaneously investigate the claims in each of the manifestos to unearth issues that were not mentioned as well as misrepresentation of facts. Their observations will be periodically published in the daily newspapers. Several other means can be employed to better educate the population.
Tier 3: Campaigning and voting. The usual rigmarole can be staged in this phase with the standard restrictions and checks. Once, the campaigning ends, the people can proceed to vote. I would personally like to test the understanding of each voter to ensure that he knows what s/he is doing, but in a country as populated as this, I don’t think the voting phase will ever end if we adopted that. We can only hope that the interested few are aware of what they are doing. I feel the urban population, esp. the youngsters and Net-savvy few will at least have an opportunity to discuss various manifestos and provoke thought. One thing that everyone is assured, is that their vote has a definite recipient. None of the present vagueness will exist.
If democracy is realised through the system above or through a more intelligent system (though collective intelligence is often lower than the average individual mind out there), then we have a fairly Right system and then asking everyone to vote has some point to it.
The need for clear accountability pervades all relationships and to assume that such benchmarks, strategy, agenda and checklists only work in a corporate world, is stupid. Those who shun from being accountable will always use such excuses of making life too “business-like”. I have already stated my views on the trader relationship, so I will not waste time on this.
I am reading (about) Isabel Paterson (who is the one who inspired Ayn Rand to create her entire philosophy and her tomes) and she told readers she was “tired of being told that ‘credit depends on confidence.’ Fudge. Credit depends on real assets, sound money and a clean record. … When any one asks us to have confidence we are glad to inform him that the request of itself would shatter any remaining confidence in our mind.” Very true. Similarly, credibility depends on sound values, sound plans and a clean past record. If a politician asks you to vote because you should have faith in him to run the country/state well or that you believe that s/he is the best and the other politicians must be treated as scoundrels, I would be glad to inform him that his expectations of themselves shatter all faith or belief I might have had in his enterprise. Ms. Paterson is quite remarkable in her thoughts (it is funny that most of the women in my know, hate me for following a philosophy espoused by two women!!) and I would urge readers to read her God of the Machine.
There are bound to be problems with the scheme above. What if there is no clear majority? What happens if no one in my state represents a manifesto that I love? What if I want more information? What if corruption enters this agenda too? These are problems arising from details and I have solutions for each of these. What is most important now, are not these solutions but the realisation that we are encouraging a corrupt system and have no intention to realise a democracy in the true sense of the word. If we see that and are willing to change it, and see the Rightness of the scheme above (and I am sure there are better schemes which I might think up later on or borrow from a great mind) then we have things moving and in the sheer goodness of that movement, there will be enough substance and understanding to solve issues with nitty-gritty details. Till something like this is encorporated, I will never vote.