Thursday, March 3, 2011

The CVC is sacked......tells you why India will never become an Egypt

Today’s story about the Supreme Court overturning the government’s appointment of the CVC is interesting. It’s obviously a slap on the government’s face and a big boost to the opposition that’s been looking for another issue ever since the 2G issue lost steam with the setting up of the JPC. It’s also provided succor to the TV channels that have been battered by the migration of its audiences to cricket. It also tells us why India will never become another Egypt.....a scenario that was being discussed just a month back.

Democracy is putting out its best foot in India. It’s showing us why its called the best form of politics and governance. And in the process, its making sure that India never goes the Egypt way. Here’s the beauty about democracy. It allows for small wounds to manifest themselves; for major public discussion even on seemingly inane and small issues; for much fretting and fuming even on matters which wouldn’t get much attention anywhere else in the world; for the media to play a raucous, self-righteous and often motivated role while at the same time acting as a kind of a watchdog; for the public to vote out a government if they feel that the government needs to go. No one can take their power for granted. Forget 40 years, here in India, politicians cannot be sure of even 5 years!

Much of the strength in our democracy comes from the institutions that have been set up over the years. Some of the noteworthy ones:

1)      The EC or the Election Commission has shown itself to be a truly independent body and has given a lot of credibility to the election process. By introducing electronic voting, the EC has made stuffing of ballot boxes difficult if not impossible and has shown itself to be more progressive than almost any other similar body anywhere in the world. By staggering elections over many many rounds, it has made sure that elections are conducted freely and without fear. By repeatedly conducting elections in the strife torn state of J&K; often in the face of terrorism threats; it has shown that it’s made of steel. No wonder the EC has been (or is being) invited by the interim set-up in Egypt to help conduct elections in that country.
2)      The Judiciary: It’s slow; it has many flaws and it doesn’t like to discuss them; it’s not accountable to the public; it’s had its own share of corruption charges; and yet the judiciary somehow has earned the trust of the people. Let’s be clear. Every now and then, the judiciary has managed to redeem itself. Today’s CVC judgment for eg., has given the public a sense of re-assurance about the independence and prudence of the judiciary. Of course, till the time it manages to speed up its decision making process, it cannot call itself world-class (like the EC).
3)      The Constitution and the political process: By allowing (literally) scores of political parties, and by granting them the powers that are needed to check the ruling party in check, the Constitution has made the political process fairly robust. People complain about our politicians; and rightly so in most cases; but the fact that they can be hauled up in Parliament (and outside) puts a massive check on their profligate ways. The problem with the political process is that it has become massively corrupt and even criminal. It needs to be modernized; it needs to allow for clean funding of elections; in needs to filter the contestants better so that criminals cannot sit in Parliament. But in spite of all these problems, the political process is the primary reason why India will never become an Egypt.
4)      The media: Much as I hate admitting this, the media in India is like a pressure cooker; allowing for small bits of steam to be let out every now and then; thus preventing a major pressure build-up. My complaint of course has been that media often conducts itself irresponsibly. That it often becomes like a GEC (general entertainment channel) providing entertainment more than news! With any evidence in hand, media can conduct trials; in most cases, the trials are motivated by considerations of generating viewership and readership; but in spite of all these flaws, the fact remains that media is totally independent and it does help in making sure that major discontent does not stay bottled up for a very long it happened in Egypt.
5)      And strangely Capitalism: Strange as it may seem, the real reason why India will never become an Egypt is that the economic model that India has followed, and the entrepreneurial spirit of its people will make sure that India grows rapidly. In just 4 years, its economy is likely to double from $1 trillion to 2. At the same time, the socialistic political system will make sure that capitalism is kept in check and that inclusive growth remains the stated goal (even if only on paper). Rapid growth keeps people occupied; beyond a point, no one gives a damn for inane politics or media buffoonery. Capitalism has also ensured that there has always been an astute economist running the finance ministry; making the job intellectual enough to keep the scheming politicians out!

I dont want to commment on the other bodies: the CAG (which is politically motivated), the CBI (which is under political supervision), the bureaucracy (which is hugely inefficient), the Police force which is highly criminalized itself. I think that these bodies are pulling down India rather than helping it grow.

The real truth is that while it’s an embarrassment for the government that its nominee was thrown out by the judiciary, it’s a matter of great pride for the country that its democratic systems work. That even it’s PM can be put under pressure for taking wrong decisions. The government should realize that in a democracy, perception matters more than truth. No one cares if Thomas will eventually be proved innocent or not. It just shouldn’t have gone with him in the first place.

The real truth also is that democracy is what makes India attractive to the West. Many Westerners feel that eventually India will do better than China because of the democracy it enjoys. That China will implode one day. And India never will!

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