Democracy: The way ahead


Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Rabindranath Tagore
Gitanjali, 1912

 

I sit comfortably ensconced, watching disparate events in News Top 20.

From Arab spring incidents to the Euro zone crisis. From dissent against health care reforms in the USto sit-in dharnas against nuclear power plants inIndia. From strident social activism against corruption by Anna Hazare and his citizen group to Wall Street protests.

The kaleidoscope and colour of humanity, its endeavours and its challenges are so very dynamic, it never ceases to fascinate. But could there be a common thread through all this? Are these seemingly unconnected events but symptoms of some deeper unified malaise?

As I set about making sense of it all, I am confronted with myriad aspects. Those that range from democratic yearnings of the disenfranchised. To anger against increasing disparity.  To democracy itself struggling to sustain itself in the face of a fast changing twenty first century world.

But is Democracy the ultimate panacea to deliver quickly on all things desired for the new aspirants in the Arab world? And as the  fiscal deficits start biting, would the much vaunted democratic freedom of the  developed world  in fact allow it to climb down to the economic and social levels of the developing world? Or would democracy be hijacked by activist groups to further fuel unrests and force Governments to hold onto status quo which they can ill afford? Are we not seeing this happening in the recent political developments inGreece,Italyand elsewhere? I reflect on all such and other questions.

Thoughts flit through my mind. Could our challenges be stemming from a democratic deficit? The issues are many. First and foremost, is Democracy in a position to cope with technology empowered individualism of this century? How do we sustain democracy when people lose contact with their elected representatives? What can make-up for Governments’ loss of control and decision making in the face of Globalisation? And how can Governments come to terms with the increasingly powerful role that media can play?

I am no political pundit but nonetheless would risk offering the following “helicopter view” recipe.

  • Get back to the roots of Governance and face to face      interactions with people. Be it through panchayat empowerment, community      hall meetings or tribal jirgas.      We need to recognize one size or shape does not fit all.

 

  • Foster values to re-connect people to Democracy and      the political process. And how does one do that? By giving equal standing      to Citizen groups for proposing policy options and shaping dialogue. We      need to create those spaces which would allow people to get fearlessly involved      and know that their thoughts are respected.

 

  • Shift our perspective of Media from its perceived      “Government challenge” role to that of a democracy enabler facilitating      information availability and public involvement in policy making.

 

  • Inculcate attitude in the Government to actively      listen to and acknowledge the individual. The challenge is huge but encouraging      online communities may be a way forward.

 

At this point in History, a millennium beyond the Magna Carta, can we provide the next scallop by accepting the paradigm that Democracy continues to be a work in process?  Until we are able to awaken ourselves in Tagore’s “heaven of freedom… where the mind is without fear and the head is held high”?

 

 

 

 

 

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8 thoughts on “Democracy: The way ahead

    • Indeed that quote, originally in Bengali ( this being a mere translation) by Tagore is a powerful envisioning of the future. I would put it in the same genre’ as Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’.

      Thank you for your kind acknowledgements. I truly appreciate.

      Shakti

  1. Hi Shakti,

    Democracy Socialism all isms et all are just words to the poor slog in siberia or bihar , who is raped daily on all the fronts of life.

    All systems Monarchy include could give these to 99% of populace, eg Asoka or maybe Akbar, but no system is proof against corruption (in all its manifestations including intelectual).

    Question then is IS Democracy in its present form the answer to the coming centuries. It is the most self correcting system in the recent 200-300 yrs, where a chap canbe dethroned in 3,4,5 yrs as against 40-50 yrs of Saddam or Egypt etc.

    Is it good enough – no ,so more representative system appears to be the answer, maybe provided by technology where every citizens opinion starts to matter in real time . ??

    cheers sandy

    • Dear Sanwal,

      It feels so lovely to acknowledge your comments.

      What I hear you say is that what matters is the inclusion of the population, especially the poor, in the development process and so long this is achieved, who really cares what system of Governance delivers this. Having resided for close to two decades in a country governed by Monarchy practising social justice and development, I understand what you are saying.

      You are also spot on about Democracy being a self correcting and evolving system. But when you say this, you are really referring to a Governance structure with real involvement of the citizens and not the pseudo -democracy that is practised in many parts of the world even today.And I applaud you when you suggest that technology be harnessed to allow for further evolution towards the utopic vision of Governance. This aspect in fact is also alluded by me in the idealistic ” recipe” that I have offered in my post.

      Thank you and with warm regards

      Shakti Ghosal

  2. Interesting viewpoint, Shakti, succinctly put. For those of us slogging it out, democracy is an esoteric concept. Our immediate concerns stem from lack of governance evident in daily life, as we go around the dust bowl of our great nation. Any system, democracy or communism, that delivers roads, education, electricity, potable water and medical facilities to the vast population is a winner. Your wish list is a pipe dream in India.

    • Dear Vatash,

      When you say, ” Any system, democracy or communism, that delivers roads, education, electricity, potable water and medical facilities to the vast population is a winner”, you have indeed drilled down to the core yearnings and needs of the individual.

      But as in all else in life, with the rose one gets the thorns too.Democracy and the freedom of expression and efforts which it usually fosters, unfortunately, also catalyses increased disparities between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. And methinks, this which is born of democracy ( be it real or Quasi), ends up subverting and limiting its further development.

      Going down the Socialism or Communism road would lead to limiting of disparities and better social justice ( and benefits) in the initial stages as we have all witnessed in the last century. But with the subversion of initiative ( in terms of expression and efforts), the rot quickly sets in and we tend towards Ayn Rand’s ” Atlas shrugged” scenario with the world waiting for the advent of John Galt to go forward.

      My ” wish list” ,as you say, may indeed be a pipe dream but I believe for any movement forward to take place, envisioning it in one’s mind is the first step.Just as considered and well thought out comments like yours leads to debates and more thoughts and eventually increased clarity of the road map needed.

      And that is why I have mentioned that Democracy still remains a work-in-process. Maybe we should call that Magna Carta Ver. 2.0……………

      Would continue to look forward to your valuable feedback.

      With Warm Regards

      Shakti Ghosal

  3. Hi Esgee

    Food for thought indeed. Calls for a systemic overhaul of gigantic proportions to stem the current rot and to even begin to dream of reaching the “heaven of freedom” Ravindranath Tagore prayed for so fervently a century ago.
    Maybe we can do our bit by breaking it down into smaller and manageable objectives and work towards creating an organization to coordinate and consolidate.

    Regards Ramesh

    • Hi Ramesh,

      Delighted to see your very considered comments on my post.When you mention the need to appreciate the enormity of the work in hand and break it down into manageable tasks, I could not agree with you more. However the initiative has to come from a space of “ownership” and uncompromised intention. And we need to have the wisdom to identify the core issues and differentiate these from the symptoms. We need to start somewhere if we have to move forward. And that is why I have offered my recipe, simplistic as it may appear.

      Cheers and warm regards

      Shakti

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