25 April 2006

Democracy---The Right Concept

Why is Democracy a failure the world over ?
Rampant corruption, unending poverty---often abject---and exploitation are no signs of a successful democracy. Democracy has been a failure due to lack of people's involvement or rather just a perfunctory involvement. Elections are a hectic activity of the politicians rather than the people's. I believe there is a way to set this right and establish an ideal democratic set up. It is a matter of will and positive outlook. This is the essence of my article,
Democracy --- The Right Concept

Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as a government of the people, by the people and for the people. But is it really so in practice? In theory Democracy is supposed to be the best form of government. It is, indeed. But in practice we see that it is as bad as any other. Why? That's because we have our concepts wrong. To be more precise our concept of an election process itself is wrong. When we have our concepts wrong the outcome is bound to be wrong.

One would wish that the administration of a country had been in the hands of the intellectual cream of the society. That is, the well-informed people of integrity and perfect maturity. But what kind of people do we have as our Presidents, Senators, Prime-ministers, Governors, Chief Ministers, Ministers, or even MLAs and MPs? Without meaning to offend any one I must say, a great majority of them don't seem to have even a basic idea of political conduct, the economy of a nation in general or even a sense of decency. Most of them are an unscrupulously selfish lot. In order to make a few millions for themselves they let the nation lose billions or make millions of people suffer and all this without any compunction. What is even worse in India is that they rob even the aid meant for victims of natural calamities. Instead of helping they are robbing those who have already been robbed by the fury of nature. How pitiable? Isn't there any limit to one's greed?

But please don't hate them, for, as Christ said, they don't really know what they are doing. Even M.K.Gandhi, the father of the Indian nation and the hero of India's non-violent Independence Movement said, "Hate the sin not the sinner." Pity them for their ignorance. They are rather ignorant or immature--all due to improper education. Education everywhere nowadays is examination oriented or job-oriented or qualification-oriented rather than knowledge or enlightenment oriented. Human values and character are not stressed. We need better curriculum and committed teachers. But let's forgive the politicians. Never lose your capacity to forgive---to forgive is divine-- or your capacity to love. Love is a great unifying factor. Love brings people closer. You love and you will be loved---by your wife, your children, your parents, your relatives and your friends. Without love there is neither you nor me nor the amiable relationship between us nor the whole creation in the world. Love is everything. Love can work wonders. Through an honest love and integrity you can bring about a change of heart even in a bad guy. And eventually he may even become an asset to the society. If we can shed our selfishness a little and be honest and sincere in our dealings I am sure you will find so many loving people all around, and the world would be such a wonderfully lovable place to live in. Sure, everybody has his or her own problems or weaknesses. Whatever be your problem and however personal or intimate or inappropriate it may be, go to people not necessarily your friends or relations. Somebody may have a solution, somebody may enlighten you better on the issue or somebody else may even offer to help you. Shortcuts can never be lasting solutions and they may even push you deeper into the problem. (My digression may please be forgiven. But somehow I feel it is not entirely out of place. The issue I have taken up is so complicated that I have to touch so many different subjects to help you get at the right perspective of the whole thing.)

Hate and revenge-- often through violence--are animal instincts. To be able to understand that these are absolutely useless you need some enlightenment. These are just weaknesses which can be overcome with a little effort and enlightenment. Man, being an animal basically, has not been able to shed his basic animal instincts. Man has become the most intelligent of all animals because he has been blessed with the faculties of speech, thinking and logical deduction through thinking. With the help of these faculties he invented, among other things, the art of communicating through writing so that some people could record their experience and thoughts for the benefit of others. Thus a wide variety of wonderful books written by thoughtful people have come into existence. Without these faculties and those wonderful books of his creation man could not have achieved such a tremendous progress in Science and Education. But science is being misused and education has become perfunctory. The real education is that which can make man the animal to grow into man the enlightened human being. Only a good education and good books can help man to grow into a real human being.

Now, going back to democracy, the fault lies in our concept of Democracy. If we set it right we should be able to elect better people and the world order should change in no time. Before considering how it should be or what has to be done, let us first see how democracy has been in practice in the world in general and in India in particular.

The Present Scene: As soon as the elections are announced the politicians and political parties of all hues and sizes get busy. The people watch the hectic activity of the politicians with amusement as if the elections are politicians' head-ache. The fact is elections are people's head-ache and in their own interest, not the politicians'. People talk about or try to know which party is fielding which candidate from which constituency. People have no role in selecting the candidates who are to represent them. They have only the choice of the party. They feel obliged to vote for one of the candidates fielded by different parties. Then what kind of candidates do the parties field? A candidate with either money-power to buy votes or the one with oratory skill to fool the people with so many promises that he or his party would not keep, or the one with muscle power to be able to bully the voters or the one who can get votes on the strength of his caste. In India, we read in the newspapers, some candidates even with a criminal record file their nomination right from the jail! Isn't it outrageous that a criminal is trying to be a representative of the people and a law-maker in the parliament? After getting elected these people have the power and influence to manipulate things in such a way that he is acquitted rather than convicted. The argument put forward by these people is that a suspect should be considered innocent till charges against him are proved. We don't want people of dubious character. The character of the people we elect should be even above suspicion. What kind of laws do people like them make ? Probably they make what are often called draconian laws to suit their personal ends. We can see that this has already been happening in some countries.

And how do these candidates get themselves elected? Mostly through bribing, bullying or just fooling the voters into believing their promises. They spend lakhs or millions to get themselves elected. Where does the money come from? For the party heavy-weights the money comes through donations from business organizations or industrial concerns. I guess they pester or bully them into paying donations to their parties. The small fries spend their own black money or even some white as if investing in a business venture because they are sure to get back many times their investment after getting elected. What kind of democracy is this? Everybody knows this but nobody feels outraged. They take it for granted. They think they are helpless while in fact they are not.

The people don't even bother about their right to choose their candidate. People consider themselves helpless in finding a candidate of some character and integrity. They think it is only in the hands of the politicians. How naive and innocent of them! The result of such elections we see everywhere almost in every country. Must millions of people dance to the tunes of a handful of politicians? Are they really helpless? They are helpless because some of them are selfish; they are helpless because they are not enterprising; they are helpless because they are not organized.

There is another flaw. Suppose there are a 1000 voters in an imaginary constituency and 3 candidates are in the fray. Candidate A polls 400 votes, candidate B polls 350 votes and candidate C polls 250 votes. Candidate A, having polled the largest number, is declared elected. Which is the right criterion to be declared elected, the largest number of votes or the majority vote? While 400 people want A, 600 people, i.e., a majority of them do not want him. So here again we have our concept of majority wrong. A candidate to be declared elected must get at least 51% of the total votes. Suppose there are 1,00,000 voters in a certain constituency the candidate who secures 50,001 can be happily declared as the majority candidate. Otherwise the election should be declared null and void. The candidate who secures less than 35 - 40 % deserves to be even jailed for wasting public money and time. There must be just a marginal or reasonable difference between his estimation of his popularity and the actual one. He has no business to waste public money and time. At least in India often a candidate is fielded just to divide the voters. They are called dummy candidates in the political jargon. How unethical it is ! In the above example suppose candidate C is a dummy. If he had not been in the fray it is possible that at least 200 votes, if not all, would have gone to candidate B making the total votes polled by him 550 and thus a majority, the real majority. In the case of candidate A, though 40% are for him 60% are against him. That is, a majority of people are against him. Here we assumed 100% polling. Often it is as low as 65%. Voters should be enlightened and voting should be made mandatory for every voter unless he has an authentic valid reason to abstain.

How It Should Be: When the elections are announced the people should become active first, not the politicians. They should organize themselves and look around for a suitable candidate in their constituency. People should care and feel obliged to take the initiative in the interest of themselves, their constituency and the country. Of course this is easier said than done. People need to be educated and motivated into action through a concerted effort by the media, the movies, the NGOs and organizations like World Social Forum. Here educating the people is a crucial factor. They must be helped to get at the right perspective of the election process and its ultimate impact on the social order. On the aspect of educating people I shall deal elsewhere in this essay in detail.

There may be some people who can afford to spare their time and some people who are willing to spare their time and energy for a public cause. It may only be fair for the others to try to compensate for their time and energy to the extent possible or necessary. However there may also be some people who come together and offer to foot the bill as they can afford to and consider it a privilege and honour to be of some service to the people. But often it becomes necessary to raise some common good fund of a few hundred or a little more depending on the constituency and the situation. Collecting just one rupee per person or voter may raise more than enough funds. When there are enough funds one should stop collecting. Those who can well afford may contribute more than a rupee but never more than five rupees. In the changed situation where people have been properly educated and motivated the question of misusing of funds does not arise. People are motivated by a mission and they know the very purpose of their initiative is to root out corruption. An honest effort towards a good end always yields good results. Canvassing becomes necessary only in that rare case of two candidates being in the field. But consensus should always be the watch-word. Even canvassing is by word of mouth and that is enough the issue being of people's interest. At best any remaining amount of the common good fund can be spent on canvassing if need be. The candidate himself wouldn't have to spend a penny as it is not his interest but the people's and the people are obligating him to stand for the election and represent them in the parliament, in the assembly or whatever the constituency may be. Therefore the candidate is under no obligation to spend money on canvassing.

Now, when the right person is approached by the people asking him to represent their constituency the general reaction of that honest person would be a polite no. Such people just shy away from or try to avoid what they think is 'murky politics'. When people of integrity and character shy away from such responsible positions it becomes even more easier for the plunderers. When so many people approach you seeking your help you have before you a moral obligation to accept the responsibility. You may even view it as your sacred duty. In fact it is an honour as well as a privilege to be of some service to the people. Further, in all probability, there may not be a contest and that leads to a unanimous election. Very rarely would there be a contest when two groups of people prefer two different candidates; like one for his profound knowledge of things and the other for his dashing nature, integrity being the common factor. A unanimous election would save a lot to the ex-chequer.

Now, when the politicians see that people are making their own arrangement with respect to the candidate they find no alternative but to offer their party-ticket to the candidate of the people's choice. Almost every party finds itself obliged to offer its party-ticket to the candidate of the people's choice. Then the people would have the choice of the party as well as the candidate. Further, the candidate will be joining the party on his own terms. Thus eventually even the party cadre gets overhauled leading to better functioning of the party. Here again a difference of opinion may arise among people regarding which party-ticket to accept. Most probably they would arrive at a consensus after some deliberation because in the changed atmosphere people work with a new spirit of achieving a noble goal and the usual egoism and selfishness do not come into play. However the choice of the party may be best left to the candidate due to his being well informed. Or better still our candidate may choose to stand as an independent.

Educating the People: In addition to educating the people on the right method of electing their representative they must also be educated in general about the need of sense of fair-play and some sense of ethics. We should make them understand that these are absolutely essential for the smooth functioning of the world. What you gain by lying, deception etc are rather virtual gains and not real ones. You in turn would lose again due to somebody else's lying, deception etc. What you earn honestly would give you the greatest satisfaction whereas what you gain dishonestly would never give you that satisfaction and above all it keeps pricking your conscience constantly, at least at an advanced age. Lying when you are about to be ruined is something. But lying just to gain some undue advantage is absolutely pointless and avoidable at all costs. This does not mean that you have the sanction to lie when you are about to be ruined. If you go to your friends and acquaintances with your problem someone might suggest the right solution or even some people might come to your aid collectively to help you out. This is most probable when your personal conduct has been fair and honest. This is perfectly possible in an honest world that I envisage.

We have had enough movies and novels showing how the society is, often with exaggeration to the wrong effect. We should now have movies and novels showing how the society should be. When the ills of the society were reflected in the movies or novels or short-stories, there was a time when people used to think and reflect. Thus today we can see a lot of change for the better. For instance untouchability and caste system have almost gone, superstition is no longer such a problem, women's lot has improved a lot etc. But now a drastic change seems to have come about in the people's perception and outlook probably mainly due to clumsy handling of themes, plots or issues by the movies, novels etc. This is also due to too many dirty movies and dirty literature and the education becoming examination oriented or qualification oriented or job oriented rather than knowledge oriented. Education is no longer contributing to intellectual development. So, nowadays when corruption, crime and violence are shown in movies or novels, very often the general reaction is, "Oh, so this is the order of the day, let us see; let us try". Feeling of outrage is seldom there and a tendency to emulate is rather common. So the need of the hour is movies or novels showing how the society should be with a credible picture of an ideal society with an ideal behaviour. They should enlighten and inspire people. We must urgently stop reflecting the world as it is in our movies and literature. It seems to me the villains of the real world have been finding a good company and support for themselves from the villains of the fiction world and the poor lot are being misguided as well.

Let us imagine a town or country where all the people are as honest as M.K.Gandhi. How would it be? My common sense tells me it must be a very happy place to live in. The people of the town or country ought to present a picture of a happy lot. Surely the usual human problems of poverty, unemployment, disease etc may all be there to start with. Only the suffering is alleviated with sympathy, understanding, mutual co-operation and help. To my best guess there will be a gradual improvement in the lot of the less privileged. They live, grow and progress together like a family. They all believe in a real God or rather have a real belief in God. Right from early childhood children are taught to hate selfishness and dishonesty, towards which children have a natural tendency these being basic animal instincts. Thus they need to be educated and enlightened to be able to think better and act better right from an early stage.

After the Elections: The elections are over, we have elected all the right people and everybody and every thing is in place. The question may arise as to who would be in the opposition. In the changed outlook and setup I don't think there is any serious need of an opposition. Everybody is a member of the ruling party; everybody is a member of the opposition. All being enlightened and selfless people they should have no problem in electing members of the cabinet or the Prime Minister. Here there won't be any rush for ministerial posts; rather everybody would like to see somebody else as the minister. The aim would always be to elect the best qualified or best suitable. As is the practice now the choice of the cabinet members would be the prerogative of the Prime Minister. There should be no difficulty in electing one among them as the Prime Minister. Prime Minister candidate can also be projected before-hand.

A Word of Caution: After the elections a new government is in place and people of integrity are holding key positions. Now, honest people often tend to be a bit proud of their integrity and when they are holding positions of authority they tend to be vindictive or act with vengeance against corrupt people. This should be avoided by all means. Love, forgiveness, dialogue, accommodation should be the watch-words, the object being to bring about a change of heart in the other person. Honest people should be very humble and accommodating. We gain nothing by ruining a person. Punishing a person without making him realize his mistake is of no use. And when you can make him realize his mistake leading to repentence punishment is unnecessary. Also I think we must distinguish between offences due to weaknesses and offences due to selfishness. Social Scientists, Psychologists and Intellectuals need to study on this aspect.

Appeal to one's conscience and you may not need to punish then. Punishment is not always deterrant. It often makes people act with vengeance due to secret insult to their ego and they try to be more careful or more clever next time. Our desire to punish is rather an instinct of revenge, a basic animal instinct. You love, forgive and try to help the other fellow to do better than he did earlier. Suppose a fellow earned a lot of wealth illegally. See how best he can repay the money or even a little more to the state in instalments. The ultimate spirit should be "All for one and one for all".
To try this method out people may start with a village, a municipal town or even a city. First one should make a good movie with the elections back-drop where the elections take place on the lines shown above. The movie should not be boring; it should be interesting enough with a good story line. The movie should be shown in the village or town or city for a week or more depending on the size of the place.

Note: I may make changes in the above essay whenever I feel the need in order to improve the clarity or to add fresh ideas. I seek your comments.



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