Friday, June 10, 2011

Spain feels like India - demands against corruption and for real democracy here too!

Landed in Barcelona yesterday. Was welcomed by a silent and peaceful group of protestors carrying colorful (in language only) flags and posters just outside my hotel. While I don´t follow Spanish yet, what was clear was the message on some of these posters. One read ¨Corrupcion¨which I guess can only mean what it sounds like. Another read ¨Crimes¨ or something like that. A third read ¨Strike¨meaning a call to strike work. And the last one was the real steale: ¨Real democracy¨. In other words, Spaniards don´t feel they have real democracy just like many in India feel! Has my vacation ended a week too soon?

But there is a fundamental difference between India and Spain. The Indian economy is booming. We´ve been growing at 8-9% per annum for so many years. In contrast, the Spanish economy has been in trouble since at least 2008 when real growth plunged to less than 1%. In fact, in 2009 the economy entered recession and hasn´t been able to come out since. Unemployment in Spain is running at 20% and the commonest advice given to any foreign tourist is to keep an eye out for pickpockets.

The fact is that Spain, like most other European countries, has been living beyond its means for a very long time. Much of its economic growth in the early 2000s was fuelled by the growth of the real estate sector. This in turn was fuelled by easy availability of cheap credit. This led to a property boom and eventually a crash followed. As much as 16% of Spain´s economy was based on real estate and as many as 12% of the population was employed in this sector. The crash of the sector led to a crash in the economy. This forced the government to force severe cuts in spendings just like in the other bunch of countries, collectively called PIGS - Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain. Spain´s is a surprising inclusion in this rather quaint acronym given the fact that it is the 5th biggest economy in Spain.

Spain´s politics has a role to play in this crisis. Apparently, Spain has a federal structure of governance and over time, a lot of the powers have been given away to the states. Today, as the Central government plans cuts in expenditure, the states are in no mood to follow. They are trying to borrow even more....and since credit has dried up or has becoming expensive, it is bound to hurt them in the future. Though Spain´s debt is lower than that of the UK and other more developed European countries, it is this federal structure, and the concurrent loss of authority of the Central government that is leading to a huge crisis in Spain.

It is against this backdrop that the protests in Spain. A word on how the protest was being done is also in order. It was totally peaceful. As far as I could see, there were no frenetic TV crews stomping over each other to cover the strike better. There was no sabre rattling. No religious mix-ups. No sadhu or baba amongst the crowd. Nor was it made up of only college students like in India. It was a civil society gathering but it was done within the limits expected off civil society.

Contrast this with India, where the demand for a ¨real democracy¨ is totally out of place. Most would complain that we have too much democracy and maybe we need a certain amount of discipline. After all, in which part of the democratic world would the media be this free and this unencumbered by need for reasonableness? In which country would TV channels take political sides so blatantly? In which country would threats of suicide be used against a legally elected government? All these are signs of too much freedom, not too little. Admittedly, there are lapses in distribution of wealth; there is too much corruption for comfort; but there is really no reason to believe that this is not par for the course for any rapidly developing country. None of the ¨revelations¨of corruption are new. The estimates are way off. Even the estimates are politically motivated. The CAG has no business to comment on policy measures....and yet it does so merrily.

The real truth is that it is understandable why people are protesting in Spain. It is not understandable in India. Besides, there are different ways to bring reform. Threatening a legally elected government isn´t one of them. A visit to Spain by our civil society activists would be a good exercise in understanding both the issues and methods of protest better. After all, democracy is not only a system of governance; it is also a system of civil conduct by the people....

1 comment:

  1. Good thought but parochial way of looking at such issues.Obviously,protests are not about Baba or civil society in general,but about the frustration of millions of people like us for decades which Spain is facing only today.India is a country of with mass corruption which has become a way of life(read to live).I haven't come across a single person in my life who has not paid a bribe in some form or the other.We want change and quite a lot from among us have been talking or demonstrating about this issue without anyone paying any heed.Thus the opportunity for Baba and Sadhus to jump in project as our savors.By the way,only because media has cried foul or people have started protesting that we find so may corrupt dealings being 'unearthed' recently and guilty being brought to books.Imagine,had we done nothing and had only written our views on a personal blog,even this would not have happened:)

    Do y think silent protests like that of Spain will have any impact on the so coined democratically elected government?Do you think these people in Spain would remain silent if their protests were unheard for more than 4 decades?Hope y know about the Basque separatist movement in Spain and the reason for them to take on to bloodshed when silent protests didn't receive any attention(story of most movements across the world).Not that people of Spain love peace and we do not :)