Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Is The Idea Of Having Intelligent Rulers An Anachronism in Indian Democracy?
A friend of mine narrated a recent experience of his on a private long distance transport bus-he had booked a ticket to travel from Chennai to Tiruchi overnight; when he went and occupied his allotted seat he was informed by the conductor his ticket had been changed to a later time, as a well heeled party had booked up half the seats .All single passengers had been changed to a later time: without informing anybody at all. My friend protested to no avail, as the management was not inclined to offend the well-connected party. Sadder but wiser from the experience; my friend travels in government buses only nowadays. The conductor who gets a fixed salary does not care who gets what seat as long as he is not disturbed – a perfect example of the unexpected efficiency of a govt. department. Which goes to show that many private firms in India far from being efficient and responsive to customers are actually only interested in making exorbitant profits even to such an extent that they are willing to risk alienating the majority of customers for pampering a preferred few. So much for the efficiency of free-market reforms in India.
The reason for this post is the number of editorials and opinion pieces on newspapers and television lambasting the recent influx of middle class and educated persons into politics professing to serve the nation. They would rather perpetuate the myth that someone who worked as a manual laborer with no education would make a better leader- the salt of the earth- then anyone who drifted into school to learn the basics of R & R. I agree that electing leaders who have come up the hard way is the right way to follow. But is it wrong to expect a minimal level of intelligence (note: I am not equating education with intelligence after watching the performance of economists in power) in someone who aspires to lead a nation of billions? That why I feel that the experiment of the newly elected delhi government is going to mark a very big change – we are going to see first hand whether we can cajole people along (as a mob) on governance or we only follow orders given from the very top.
Historically we Indians have not been known to do things of their own initiative but always respect and follow a firm guiding hand. And a democratically elected govt. dependant on votes is in the least capable position to enforce the required discipline strictly. To do so otherwise requires tact which unfortunately is a vice very few Indians profess to practice. So in this, as in most things we get by with neither offending anyone nor getting anything done- in other words status quo. What we require is guidance and not too gently either. We Indians love to be bossed around, to be put in our place, to be shown our limits and the punishment for transgressing them. There is something in our psyche, which makes the majority of us the best followers, and the worst leaders in the world. Gandhi had just to pick up a stick and walk and all India followed him regardless of the punishment to do so. But it required a Gandhi to take the first step and such men are not always available to us. Instead we elevate straw men up to positions of power and outrage endlessly when they are blown away like the chaff they are.
The only practical defense our leaders offer on their behalf is the “I am not responsible it’s the system” excuse. And we always, always find and blame a scapegoat- especially someone who risks making the first move. We always wait for that someone to be shoved in front of us so as to escape the consequences of our action on the principle that he who stands in front is the first to be beheaded. This makes for an interesting scene - everybody jostles the others to come up in front of the rat race but once there they instead of enjoying the fruits of their success are suddenly filled with an acute sense of dread and insecurity which makes them behave in ways they would normally never do. An apt illustration of the phrase “success gone to the head” only here that very success makes them fear for their head. And to retain their success they trample underfoot everyone they used to climb up there. That’s the reality of our waited-for leadership whom everyone believes will make a great change to our polity.
There is another election coming up soon- an election which will decide the fate of the nation- or so they say every five years but I still have to find that it makes any real change to our everyday struggles in life. Every year without fail they show in the papers one pathetic photo of democracy- a centurion on a bed being carried by exuberantly drunken youths to the polling booth. Pause for a minute and think: is it humanely possible for such old fossils to comprehend the basis on which that election was being fought, disspationately analyse the candidates and then make an informed decision? So who ends up voting on their behalf? And they celebrate this as a success for democracy. Ill-informed voters are the bane of a nation. The only solution to this problem is suspension of universal voting rights. And confine voting to the educated and the intelligent. Atleast until the rest catch up.
A nation's strength is reflected in her choice of leaders. Universal suffrage trips us up badly in this regard. A roster of our national leaders the past fifty years ought to convince anybody of this. A single-term Abdul Kalam showed us what a refreshing change it is when an educated man is appointed to the post of the President of the nation and not merely timeservers and political advisers rewarded the post of President, as had been the unwritten norm of our democratic dispensation. There is a palpable sense of relief when the leader of the nation does not trip over his own two feet every time he gets up or sleeps (snores) during public meetings. And we don’t have to cringe collectively every time a foreign leader meets our leaders for a courtesy call, or worry about India’s prestige abroad. So why not go the whole hog and elect a collective of educated elders? Toss in a few names you know and respect and a few I know and respect and together we ought to have a collegium of intellectuals fit enough to rule over us. And forget this nightmare of a system called democracy, which has made election of the most despicable a daily occurrence. Surely we can’t get anything worse than the current lot sitting lording over us in Parliament can we?
As for fears of oligarchy the greatest civilizations like the Greeks and the Romans and in India, the Chola’s were primarily oligarchic and they advanced both democracy and civilization far more than we ever hope to do. Collective rule by enlightened elders is what we face daily at home; if it works there why not nationally? The prime opposition to this idea will arise from our Dynastic families as the threatened loss of their off-springs collective inheritance will make them fight like nesting mothers for ‘status quo’ for where else will their patently useless offspring get a living if not under the spreading banner of dynastic succession in the pleasant grove of Indian democracy.
And finally for those media persons who have taken on the mantle of our nations conscience keepers – a viler breed you would not find anywhere else. They and the shady capitalists who own these media conglomerates require a well directed kick up their backsides to keep moving in the right direction or they would parcel up and sell the country in a blink to retire in Switzerland. A council of elders elected by the educated and intelligent is the one of the most interesting solutions to India’s ills in my view – something which might fail but won’t leave us worse off than we already are as a nation. Or of course we can always have martial law.