Thursday, January 28, 2010

Article: India's selfish elite holds the Republic back

In "THE SOCIAL CONTRACT" written written in 1762, Jean Jacques Rousseau argues that individuals voluntarily give up a few of their rights for a safe and secure existence under the rule of law they establish. However, the balance is tipped, when this 'invisible' contract is not maintained by either parties i.e. the ruler or the ruled.

India forms and poses myriad problems. In India, the financial and intellectual elite, that is you and me who are able to read this, have given up not just a few of these rights Rousseau talks about, but have given up much more for the security and safety of our city existences. Problem arises, when these rights are violated, by an incompetent ruling class as exemplified and mentioned in the article below about the middle class rage after 26/11 attacks in Mumbai.

However, the above paragraph goes only for 30% of the population that too by a liberal stretch of imagination. The teeming 70%, the 'other' India, is in much worse condition where the conditions of law and order and security we take for granted in cities, is but a privilege there. And the true dangers we face, is not from the terrorists from beyond our borders, but the unrest of these 70% who are beginning to ask uncomfortable questions like: "why has 'development' eluded us when we provide almost everything you need e.g. water, food, minerals etc.?" "Why do we starve when we feed you (on an average 15,000 farmers commit suicide every year and remember farmers are more important than even teachers or doctors, for there can be no mind or body if you are not fed also India has been in a state of chronic famine with over 33% of its population malnutritioned and every second child who dies of malnutrition in the world, is in India)?" "Why are our homes attacked, our women raped, our children and old killed when we do not even ask anything of you (something that is happening rampantly in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, West Bengal and a lot of other places in the name of counterinsurgency)?"

What is worse, is that our ineffectual government, instead of curbing or finding solutions to these problems is actually aggravating them by various tactics like the famed 'Operation Green Hunt'. When take everything from a population who anyways have very little we ensure that they have nothing to loose, which means they will not sit back and watch in helpless desperation. They will fight to get back what they have lost and at worst, will try and take you and me together into their hell if they fail. This is a dangerous situation for people like us to push a lot of people who have nothing to loose to the brink of their fragile existences. The country is in the midst of a dangerous civil war that threatens to sweep even our safely encased cities, if we do not do something about it? If you and me do not even try to raise our voice.

Are you up to it?

P.S: And by the way, the surrender of a few of your freedom as illustrated by Rousseau does not involve the total surrender of freedom, something the American government has so successfully managed in doing to its citizenry, and which our own government in our own country is pushing us to do. Tell me, is the loss of our freedom and voices, our total surrender in return for few glasses of alcohol, some time in a discotheque with friends and lovers, many moments of pseudo existential angst and permission to indulge in our little flirtations and affairs worth it? You decide.

Original Article from Times of India:

India's selfish elite holds the Republic back

It is perplexing how the world’s most populous democracy is so flawed. How can a country, whose elections are cited as an exuberant example of
Republic Day
India's selfish elite holds the Republic back
people-power, produce governments that serve their people so badly?

As an outsider, it would be inappropriate to enter into the debate about India’s internal political structures. But the broader picture is troubling: the extent to which the aspirations and behaviour of citizens in the so-called democracies and authoritarian regimes have converged over the past 20 years of globalization.

From Mumbai to Shanghai to Dubai (to coin that phrase of whizkid financiers), via London and New York, we have witnessed the erosion of liberties in our seemingly insatiable quest for wealth and our urge for an illusory security.
The model for this new world order is Singapore. The city-state has a large number of well-educated and well-travelled people keen to defend a system that requires an almost complete abrogation of freedom of expression in return for a good material life. This is the pact. In each country it varies; citizens hand over different freedoms in accordance with their own customs and priorities.

Barrington Moore’s theories of “no bourgeoisie, no democracy” have been disavowed by these two decades of uber materialism. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the assumption was that free markets and free societies would work in perfect harmony. Instead, people in all countries found a way to disengage from the political process while seeking greater comfort.
Consumerism provided the ultimate anaesthetic.

Economic growth, rather than being a force for democratic involvement, reinforced the confidence of business and political elites. These neo-liberal advocates became consumed by their own intellectual overshoot, redefining democracy and liberty through notions such as privatization, profit maximization, disdain for the needs of civil society and social justice.

What matters, particularly for the middle class, are ‘private freedoms’ — the right to own property; to run businesses according to contract law; the right to travel unimpeded and the right to determine one’s own personal life. The pre-eminent freedom is financial — the right to earn money and consume it unimpeded. Public freedoms, such as free speech, free association and participatory politics become dispensable.

So where does India, with its raucous public discourse and its flamboyant democracy, come into this equation? As Pankaj Mishra points out, in order for India’s elite to fulfil its ambitions in a country of such poverty, inequality and misrule, it had to create a parallel universe. The events of November 26, 2008 changed that equation. Wealthy Indians’ fury at the Mumbai bombings arose from the realization that their pact had been broken. They never asked questions of the security forces when violence was meted out to the less fortunate. But what they did not expect, or take kindly to, was that their lives would be put at risk by incompetents at the home ministry, police department, army or intelligence services.

Till then, the wealthy had demanded little from the state and received only what they needed, such as the right to avoid fair taxation. They did not have to rely on lamentable public services. Their air conditioned SUVs would glide over the uneven roads; their diesel-fed generators would smooth over the cracks in the energy supply. The elite had been happy to secede from active politics.

How different is this from other countries? Circumstances may vary but the trade-off remains the same in each country. It’s interesting to note the way the Indian and Chinese systems fare in the delivery of good governance and liberty. In China, most of the wealthy find the small pro-democracy movement an encumbrance. These political activists are disturbing the pact that ensures one-party hegemony in return for social stability, continual economic growth and respect for ‘private’ freedoms.

In return, individuals do not meddle with the state. Pallavi Aiyar, a journalist recently based in China, offers this neat comparison: “While in China the Communist Party derived its legitimacy from delivering growth, in India a government derived its legitimacy simply from having been voted in.” She adds, “The legitimacy of democracy in many ways absolved Indian governments from the necessity of performing. The Chinese Communist Party could afford no such luxury.”

The problem in India, particularly since economic liberalization in 1991, is not wealth creation. Nor is it democratic institutions. It is governance, the inability to deliver freedoms for the vast majority of its people. Politics and business have worked together to use power as a means of enrichment. The comfortable classes could have been active in the public realm. Unlike in authoritarian states, they would not have been punished for causing trouble. They chose not to. The level of complicity is, therefore, surely higher.

John Kampfner is chief executive of Index on Censorship, London


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