Saturday, August 7, 2010

Indian Democracy

 One understands democracy intellectually, gained from political science classes and history lessons. But one never really understands it but one sees it in action in every day life. It is not the political conventions of the democrats and republicans or even the independents or tea party folks. It is not the primaries and all those noise about elections and talking heads filtering down from television and movies. It is in the way people interact to one another and the way ordinary folks get about organizing themselves and doing the every day business of living and solving problems. It’s actually a very amazing and subtle thing to see that it often escapes notice. Some people would say it all boils down to being an American which connotes a pioneering, can-do spirit.

It’s a concept that’s not fully understood with the head, in various intellectual permutations. It can only be understood with the heart, with the emotions, in the way people empathize with other people, to accept others the way they are with their weaknesses and strengths and to collectively overcome individual shortcomings to achieve a greater goal. One can equate democracy with elections and representation but the greater description is respect for others. Of course, it can be an exasperating experience where the noisy and prejudiced and the extremists are allowed an equal seat in the table. But it’s the collective that always win but without turning away those elements of dispute. They are allowed to live the way they wish in pursuit of their own happiness. 

There is a real danger of hijacking the collective will with fear and demagoguery and plain lies. So free press and education and good citizenry are important for democracy to work. There is a big difference with the Asian experience which is less democratic. Earlier this week, an Indian supplier made a crazy plan which one normally thinks would be laughed out by any sane person. But a meeting was held to discuss the crazy plan, to give every person a chance to have his say. Time was wasted but arguments were made, ideas where exchanged and everyone had his say. Now that is the most important thing to do – to speak up and be heard. It’s the foundation of living in a democracy to make sure your rights are protected – by simply speaking up.

So one participates in these meetings and so-called democracy comes into action. Letting each one have his say and let the mechanism of discussion, debate and critical thinking shape and filter the arguments and positions until a compromise is reached. It’s in these occasions that one understands the ‘concept’ of democracy. In Asia, the closest one can think of is Japan and the consensus reached by salary men in their endless meetings. One cannot make a decision in isolation, as someone would say, and all opinions have to be elicited and discussed and each one should speak up. It will not be in the marble halls of the Congress where democracy will survive but in small town halls and meeting rooms were ordinary folks meet to solve problems.   

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