Understanding Democracy - Can We Ask Questions?

ASKING QUESTIONS – IS IT UNACCEPTABLE?


Two articles that appeared on social media today have led me to ask everyone a couple of  simple questions : Firstly, can we, in a democracy, not ask questions / give guidance / point errors without being accused of being unsupportive, or taking political sides? Asking questions and critical analysis is the very basis of modern democracy – and it is also the foundation stone of Indian Democracy; asking questions and critically appraising performance is the hallmark as well as the key to a functioning democratic system.


The second question that occurs to me is simply this :  a) Who is responsible for Performance in a democracy? And leading to b) How long can we or should be continue to apportion blame – deserved or otherwise, makes no difference – to history? These two ( or if you so prefer – three ) questions are the key to any functioning democratic system. You have to allow space and freedom for questioning and critical appraisal; you have to understand the metrics of system performance as they are relevant to a proper democracy, and you have to learn to take some responsibility.


Both these articles concerned the Armed Forces and its issues as highlighted lately in the Media, and can be found in the Bibliographical links; I use these articles only as a starting point of my article; which isn’t about the Armed Forces at all. These articles only provided the kick-start to my mind, and led me to ask these relevant questions and note these observations and trends, which I have been noting earlier as well. I am seeing, off late, a polarization in the Social Media trends, with a distinct reluctance of the supporters to this current government towards accepting any critical analysis even by people who take no sides – like self; this must change – although that is easier said than done.


The first is a hard hitting letter / article by a former Lt Gen... Anyone listening? Perhaps not, as anything that criticizes the GoI or seeks to ask questions is shouted down by the Bhakt Brigade... But these are real questions, asked by a retired General, and cannot be brushed away... But in India today, it is not done, asking questions, not due to the Govt, but rather due to its blind supporters. No one is saying this Govt is bad, but asking questions, expert giving opinion, which is not acceptable, leading to silence all around, and a belief that sounds like
 we all know this Govt is perfect, even though we know perfection is a mirage. Any answers to the questions asked by a General? {Refer the link  given  below in Reference Section}

The second is a typically blunt and soul-searching analysis by the redoubtable Shashi Tharoor, also on the topic of the Indian Armed Forces, an analysis which spares on one – in typical Tharoor fashion. In this second article, Shashi Tharoor takes apart the political establishment for progressive downgrading and CPC issues... again, the point is that there has now been a consistent series of write-ups coming on social media by more and more experts who are beginning to ask questions; the sad lack of interest in these questions, and an even sadder avoidance is the core issue in my mind at least.


Jai hind / praising Indian Armed Forces is dead easy... Bahut aasaan hai. Far more difficult to face these questions and seek answers, and even harder to face reality that even this Govt is {or may not be} not doing enough, not doing as much as it can and should for the Armed Forces. And if it actually is doing all it can – then the way forward cannot be shrill ostracization, selective presentation, or complete avoidance of those people who are asking these questions, with hard data and proof – people who are experienced in the relevant field, and can be reasonably called experts.


Again, asking all of us social media experts, consistent Modi Govt Bhakts and praisers, any answers? And are we ready to face these brutally hard questions based on hard facts presented? It is easy to write Jai Hind, Bharat Mata Ki Jai, and all that stuff. Far harder to have the guts and onenness to face the reality and look for a solution. Jai Hind likh Kar apni deshbhakti kaa daayitva pooraa Karna bahut aasaan hotaa hai, yaaron. Naa paisa lagtaa hai, naa koi knowledge, naa kuchh kar guzarne ki chaahat. Sarkar acchhi hone kaa kyaa yeh matlab huaa ki sawaal bhi naa pooochhein, guidance bhi naa Karen? Such hi kahaa gayaa hai, Aainaa dekhnaa bahut mushkil rehetaa hai.


THE FIRST QUESTION : CAN WE ASK AND CRITICIZE OR NOT?
Why should the very simple task of pointing errors – or even probable errors – amount to not supporting the Government? Is it not a better way to meet allegations with proof that the things are getting done – which is what is required? And, if they are right – is it not far better to talk and find a way out? How long can we afford to just  ignore and continue blind praise? Especially when no one doubts the quality of Governance being delivered by this Government? No one is perfect; and everyone needs course corrections now and again. In fact, midway corrections are the best source of excellence!


And yet, I find, repeatedly, opinionated discourse, and one-sided presentation of facts – not by the Government; but by we the people. Normal everyday people like you and me. And a complete refusal to engage with emerging issues and problems, coupled with hero-worshipping & a lop-sided understanding of the authority-responsibility matrix as it applies in a functioning democracy. That is the truly scary and terrifyingly sad part; good part is that there is another side to it – a small but increasingly vocal set of people with the right intentions, criticizing where due and asking the right questions, acting as a systemic and professional check and a benchmark for the Government.


WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR PERFORMANCE IN A DEMOCRACY?
The answer, to be blunt – is you and I; we, the people of India. A Democratic system  is one which is of the people, for the people and by the people. The layman understanding of this translates to one word – “Vote”. This understanding is frankly, conceptually flawed from the outset; the Vote is the Term-End Examination, the Performance Appraisal System conducted by System HR : The Election Commission. Democracy isn’t, wasn’t and will never be about the vote alone!


 Democracy means freedom of speech {within limits}; freedom of the press; freedom of opinion; freedom of political, religious choice; or, in other words – democracy is about our freedom and the rights we enjoy. Which  brings me to the Authority-Responsibility Matrix I was talking of above – Democracy also means being responsible for the Governments performance; and acting in a timely fashion to communicate to the implementors – our Government – of the needs of the people through democratic means like Press, Social Media, Newpapers and Communication with community and elected leaders both.


In other words, Democracy implies and includes criticism of the Government- again within prescribed limits; asking questions of the Government, and guiding it along the required / needed direction. This direction is the one that is expressed by the people as a collective whole, not of any individual. This cannot happen unless you ask questions in public fora, which earlier used to be fairs, temples, etc – and now includes all these as well as social media, which together modulate public choice and opinion.


Legacy issues cannot be avoided by referring to earlier past mis-performance; would  that excuse be acceptable in our jobs? Obviously, this is not an acceptable excuse anywhere. Sure, you cannot be held accountable for those mistakes; but so long as the eventual targets are within reach and justifiably drawn up, past performance is never an acceptable excuse. And this is the prime excuse used in Social Media. The current incumbent is now responsible for performance; don’t blame them for past excesses – but that does not mean that you can forever state it was like this earlier, so will take time!


Thus, we as a people have to now start measuring the gains made by this Government; what steps is it taking correct errors; how they are being implemented {as opposed to vacant and vacuous talk and chatter}; are the implementation in line with direction; what more can be done to make our country a better place; and stop celebrating small achievements. We all grant this Government is excellent – high time that we started analyzing – not as political opponents, but as concerned citizens and helpful well-wishers of this Government. This needs to be done by all of us, including the Media, without whom can never be effective. And we all need to stop being armchair praisers, and start asking hard questions… 




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