India, the Grand Democratic Experiment.
How democratic are we anyway?
A possible answer lies in the Democracy Index, a measure created by the highly opinionated folks at The Economist, to gauge and judge how democratic a nation currently is. After some 60 questions answered by ”experts’, they compute an overall score, and categorize those countries into 4 – Full Democracies, Flawed Democracies, Hybrid Regimes, and Authoritarian Regimes. A few interesting tidbits that the Democracy Index 2008 report had to say:
- India currently ranks 35th amongst all countries, with an overall score of 7.80
- That puts India in the “Flawed Democracy” group.
- India scored extremely bad in the Political Participation category (5.56), which is the same as Russia (I thought we didn’t have a Putin almost taking over!)
- The best country is, of course, Sweden (9.88), while the worst is, of couse, North Korea (0.86).
India’s really that bad?
Seriously – that struck me as odd! I mean, I thought we had the largest democratic elections in the history of mankind (very interesting article at freedominfo.org) – around 670 million voters in 2004! I always thought that with such large numbers, and a very engaged media (well, maybe a bit too much), the discussions and discourses that followed should be pretty good at weeding out incompetent political leaders!
We actually have Election Watch groups that, apart from informing the public about voting rights, study and bring to attention any discrepencies that a candidate may have claimed – so much so that they even recommend amending some election laws!
Even after all that, and many more unique initiatives (www.jaagore.com, though I still dont drink Tata Tea!), why are we still a Flawed Democracy?
Are we that flawed?
It doesn’t take too long to see that we are. I agree, we can expect some imperfection, like a small railing thats broken, or a pothole or two. But there are just too many. Bridges aren’t even built (the Domlur flyover in Bangalore started in 2003 and finished in 2007!), numerous criminals and hate-sprewing idiots get away, or bend the system to make it their own.
And thats when I remembered an interesting talk by Gurcharan das –
What made India different is that we got democracy before capitalism. In every other country in the world they did the opposite way except one, which is the United States. This explains why our reforms are so slow. This explains why the work ethic in our public institutions has got destroyed … But this also explains why our path in the future is a much shorter path.
I don’t know if I’m right, but I believe many politicians today are short-sighted. They believe that the only economic benefit they can get from public service is through extortion, bribes, and scams that can benefit them directly. But what they forget is that there is an even greater economic benefit of getting re-elected, once they provide for a “public service” to the large voter base!
Any political career is compressed to 5 years or less – once elected, make the maximum money, and then run. The stupid public and voting is just a nuisance in the way – nobody believes they’ve delivered well enough to get re-elected anyway!
And thats when I look at Russia – Vladimir Putin was absolutely sure he could easily get elected as the next president. His voters always gave Putin high approval ratings, that truly a great public service was done to them. And he was re-elected! Isn’t that a great political career? [Of course, your opinion may differ on this!]
And this can change
By the end of this post, I’m beginning to understand why we fall into this Flawed Democracy category, and falter behind many other, much smaller democratic nations. But what I’m optimistic about is that we can change this – as a voter (or to-be voter), I feel that I am one of the 670 million others out there, ready to discuss, discredit, analyze, scrutinize, contribute and summon the vast amount of resources (natural and human) that we have to create ourselves a great environment and a great future.
Like the JaagoRe ad says, I am not sleeping.