Democracies and the crowd

Democracies and the crowd
Democracies and the crowd

Democracies - in India and around the world - are only as sound, vibrant and aware as the ones who participate in it. While across the world, democracies are lauded, in essence they are still more or less dysfunctional and a universal franchise never has nor ever will be the answer to basic issues like development, equality and justice. Over the years, the world's oldest democracy and the world's youngest democracy have been plagued with identical problems. In the United States, equality and gender discrimination, not to mention colour, remain hot potato items much like they are in India. We were lulled into believing that the Tiananmen Squares and Tahrir Squares of the world would usher in everlasting peace. They haven't and both the countries continue to battle with basic freedoms for their peoples. Much like the situation in Russia. We continue to see American liberation of erstwhile dictatorships falter when morphed into democracies. This is the fundamental flaw with democracies and the manner in which they have evolved over time. Democracies falsely lead you to believe in the concept of fundamental equality and one which is shorn of privileges and access and yet the Deep State remains active no matter which democracy you shine the torch on. The argument that there is no better system of governance than a democracy is equally Utopian. The question that begs the answer is, whether democracies as we know them, with their imperfections, are the best for governance

Meritocracy

I have always believed in what the venerable Alexander Pope said: “With forms of government, let fools contest, that which is administered best is best.” And if you examine this quote carefully, it doesn't talk about the power of the people or the of, by and for the people adage but asks something much deeper: what is the benefit of any form of government: and that is purely undiluted and beneficial administration The argument that needs to be made in favour of democracy should be merit and even on that score we have seen democracies falter. If you look at India's Parliament you will observe that almost 67 per cent of the elected members are either sons, daughters or spouses of politicians and thus the case weakens when you talk of a meritocracy. When Barack Obama became the first African American President of the United States it was hailed as a victory for race equality but it came after hundreds of years and remember Rosa Parks and her fight was not far back. The fact that even in today's America needs to have movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo suggests that something is seriously flawed about the word equality and how it plays out on-ground for many people who are otherwise wooed for their votes.

Facade

To my mind, the real nemesis of any democracy is the fact that it flatters itself with the facade of crowds. Crowds do two things: they sacrifice value in favour of volume and sense at the altar of noise. Both of which are critical to any transformation - be it political, economic or for that matter administrative. We need to fathom the impact of crowds and how they can, at times incorrectly, influence the national narrative, no matter which country we are talking about. The recent return of Mahathir as Prime Minister of Malaysia at the age of 92 is not a victory of democracy: it is one of starved choices. The fact that India had one family rule it for decades is symptomatic of the replacement of the feudal with lip-service dynamics to democracy in the real sense. I am not for a moment suggesting that we can have better forms of representation but merely espousing democracy to be either the saviour or the messiah are both misplaced notions. More than the process (crowds) that democracies feast on, it is the outcome that must be their focus and more than any other form of government, democracies are only as sound and as vibrant and as aware as the ones who participate in it. I believe it is time for us to examine the manner in which democracies are used for political and economic equality and obviously the model we have employed thus far has not entirely worked. But what has also not happened is a desire for people to course-correct. Democracies are not self-correcting robotic ventures. They are inherently emergent from the cultural and political quagmire of the people they belong to. And that is the question that needs an answer. For far too long, we have used democracy as work-in-progress, thereby stifling the need to look beyond their current compositions.

Greater good

There needs to be a redrawing of the fault lines and in the last US election, the very dichotomy of the popular vote being sidelined is a great testimony to the intrinsic flaws of the US electoral system. This then gives further rise to both disbelief and skepticism - both of which are avoidable emotions when it comes to a form of government. The first-past-the-post is always about a numerical advantage and never about anything else, which again establishes the point I made of volume being given greater power and credence over value. Democracies must have only one purpose: the greater good for the good of the poorest of the poor. It must be focused only on one thing and one thing alone: equal opportunities for all, because the greatest poverty is the denial of equal opportunities owing to various factors. The time is not to invent a better mousetrap but instead exterminate the need for one.
Suhel Seth is managing partner of consultancy firm Counselage India and well-known Indian author.

Related Stories

No stories found.

Podcast

No stories found.

Defence bulletin

No stories found.

The power of the quad

No stories found.

Videos

No stories found.

Women Leaders

No stories found.
India Global Business
www.indiaglobalbusiness.com