India Unfettered, but....

The mornings usually have a specific ritual for all of us... a cuppa tea or coffee with the newpaper (online or print, what does it matter) to peruse... and it was during this daily ritual that I noticed an article in the Business Standard Weekend section: The Knight In Veshti. (Link Enclosed). A remarkable article that showcases just how the critical and laudable decisions were taken leading upto the opening of FDI in Retail as well as the Diesel Price Increase. A blow by blow account such as this one is not easy to come by, so savour it, and read through it thoroughly.

I say read through properly because it raises many deeper questions (not about UPA-2; this is not a political blog) but about what passes for democracy in India. In some cases, deeper and disturbing questions; since there is no clear answer in the foreseeable future in sight. I quote:

"Dinesh Trivedi, then railways minister, said he could not be party to the move as his leader, Banerjee, was opposed to it. ";

Mukherjee subsequently told the Lok Sabha that further consultations with stakeholders would follow to create a consensus.".

"Last week, in one day, the cabinet decided to open not just multi-brand retail to foreign investment but also civil aviation, power and the media. What has changed between then and now, since the stakeholders are the same and the naysayers, too, are exactly the same? The answer is that Palaniappan Chidambaram has replaced Mukherjee as the finance minister".

The General Anti Avoidance Rule was expected — but not in the way it was framed, with the taxman having virtually unfettered powers. At a pre-budget meeting with Mukherjee, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had virtually pleaded with him to drop these measures. An officer recalls that ahead of one such meeting — as they were preparing the budget speech — they were asked to suspend proceedings until Mukherjee had met Singh. Mukherjee returned to North Block after the meeting with the terse message: go ahead. Singh had tried to intercede and dilute the measures but failed.".

"This reporter had asked a bureaucrat when he came to know that FDI in retail and other measures were going through. The answer was prompt and unhesitating: “On June 24, 2012.” That was the day Mukherjee had announced he would resign as finance minister (he did so on June 26) “to embark on a new journey”: to the Rashtrapati Bhavan"

Please note that there are 2 political parties highlighted in these exchanges; this is not limited to the congress. That is why I say that this is not a political comment, but a baser question relating to our democracy.

Further, please also note how in each case the individual supercedes not only the organisation but also the decision making process and the incumbent chair. What kind of a democracy is this that does not have any genuine democratic process at its core? This is the way it has always been since before independence: you need only to study history in detail to arrive at this inescapable conclusion.

How has it transpired that a finance minister is more important than the prime minister? How is it that the wishes of one leader - outside the government - checkmates all policy-making? This is not about right or wrong; it is possible that the leader was right in doing so. The point is the absence of genuine democracy in the parties; where one man's will prevails to such an extent that it paralyses decision-making. A situation where decisions are made by one central leader; a situation where you can walk out and create your own party if you dont agree; A situation where there is no clear public face of a party and anyone can speak his opinions... Are all parties the same? I will definitely try to decipher this parameter before casting my vote the next time. If I can find a party with a genuine democratic system... a big IF!

If you observe around you, this is clearly seen as a basic behaviour in India, where the wishes of one person prevail to an inordinate degree. It is considered bad to ask questions or challenge the leader. To be sure, it has some grounding in our culture which does not encourage questioning elders. Further, in a diverse country such as ours, perhaps this is the best way as it ensures that no one set of people enjoys total will over others - a way to balance as it were. But at some point we Indians need to ask ourselves if being silent is always good? Why cant we evolve ourselves such that we consider it ok to ask questions, and not taken to be a rabble-rouser? 

Democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Democracy allows people to participate equally—either directly or through elected representatives—in the proposal, development, and creation of laws. It encompasses social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination....

Can anyone tell me where the "equal say" is here? What democracy are we talking about? Does democracy mean that it extends only to the election of people, and not to the electoral parties? Ok, fine... nothing has been done about corruption. But what about basics? It is high time that you and I - the normal citizen - turned out to vote; and make our vote count for change. Our voting percentages are abysmal! Problem is, I cannot see anyone who deserves my vote... there is but one ray of hope - Arvind Kejriwal. But even that is slowly diminishing. I hope I am wrong, because we need change.

Perhaps the time has come to vote as per Section 49-O: Since the ballot paper / Electronic voting machine (EVM) contains only the list of candidates, a voter cannot record his vote under Section 49-O directly. He must inform the presiding officer at the election booth. This violates the secrecy of the ballot. However, with paper ballot a different method is used to "waste" one's vote, which is stamping on multiple candidates. In fact this was the standard method of giving null votes without violating secrecy before the advent of the EVM. At present, in an election, a winner will be declared irrespective of the number of 'non-votes'. However, a note of every 'non-vote' will be made with the Election Officer, and the total number of non-voters will, presumably, be available under the Right to Information Act.

But that would still leave our basic habits in place... to which not only do I not have an idea what to do; I do not even have an idea as to why we do it! Why


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