Friday, November 15, 2013

Beyond statistics and symbols ...

Dr. Vinay Sahasrabuddhe

Christopher Jaffrelot's article ( Indian Express, November 7, 2013) unfortunately; is not free from the stereotype outlook towards what Nrendra Modi in particular and BJP in general has been saying and doing as well.

Firstly, about the planning commission data, lets not forget that there are too many ways of defining poverty even amongst the planning commission experts and hence different statistics may come out if one chooses to apply different definitions of poverty.

Now lets turn to Sachar Committee report. While it is nobody's case that Gujarat now has nothing more to do for the Muslim community in the State, following observations of the Sachar Committee speak for themselves --

- In terms of literacy level, Muslims in Gujarat stood at 73.5 percent as compared to the national average of 59.1. While the figure for the urban males was 76, it was 81 for those living in rural areas as compared to the national average of 70 and 62 respectively in similar category. [The Sachar Committee report : Appendix table 4.1, Page No. 287]

- Even Muslim women in the urban areas of Gujarat have average literacy rate 5 point higher than the national average whereas their counterparts in rural areas of Gujarat fare even better with a literacy rate of 57 percent as compared to the national average of 43 in similar category. [The Sachar Committee report : Appendix table 4.1 b, Page No. 289]

-Also in Gujarat, a greater percentage of Muslims have attained primary, secondary and higher secondary level education compared to the national average and compared to other states. Against the national average of 60.9% (and 42.2% in UP), Gujarat had 74.9% Muslims at the primary level while the percentage is 45.3 at Secondary level as compared to national average of 40.5% and 29.2% in UP. [The Sachar Committee report : Appendix table 4.6 & 4.7, Page No. 295-296-297-298]

-The average years of secondary schooling for Muslim children between age 7 and 16 years is higher in Gujarat at 4.29 years compare to the national average of 3.26 years. The figures in West Bengal, UP and Bihar are 2.84, 2.60 and 2.07 years respectively. The truth is that the Muslim children in Gujarat are benefiting from equal opportunities to access secondary schooling as other children. [The Sachar Committee report : Appendix table 4.2, Page No. 290-291]

- In terms of per month per capita income, Muslims in the urban areas of Gujarat earn an average Rs 875 which is more than the national average of Rs 804. In contrast, it is Rs 662 in UP, Rs 748 in West Bengal, Rs 811 in Punjab, Rs 803 in Andhra Pradesh and Rs 837 in Karnataka. [The Sachar Committee report : Appendix table 8.2, Page No. 364]

- The story is similar in rural Gujarat where the per capita monthly income of the Muslims 20-25% more than the Muslims living in the rural areas of most other states. It is on an average Rs 668 as compared to the national average of Rs 553. [The Sachar Committee report : Appendix table 8.3, Page No. 365]

- In terms of people living below poverty line, Gujarat had 54% Muslims living below it in 1987-88 while the figure stood at 34% in 2004-2005 showing a healthy pace of improvement. [The Sachar Committee report : Appendix table 8.5, Page No. 367]

- Even in terms of share of Muslims in state employment, i.e, government jobs, it is 5.4% in Gujarat while it is 2.1% in West Bengal, 3.2% in Delhi and 4.4% in Maharashtra. [The Sachar Committee report : Appendix table 9.4, Page No. 370]

However, the discourse about Muslims and minority needs to be taken beyond statistics. The moot point is how, exactly; the BJP looks at Muslims and other minorities. There is enough body of evidence available to point out that BJP abhors the idea of minority-ism as it considers both majority and minority as equally important limbs of nation's body politick. In fact Pt Deendayal Upadhyay had rightly said way back in 1967 that `Musalman hamare shareer ka ek ang hain, unka khoon hamara khoon hai' (Muslims are a part of us, the same blood runs in our veins). This, I believe is the fundamental view of BJP which was also manifested through our slogans like “Justice to all, appeasement of none” or "One Nation, One People", stressing the essential oneness of our nation and society, without any kind of straight - jacketing whatsoever.

Since we are against straight jacketing and generalising, we never consider that all Muslims essentially use skullcaps or burqas. However, televised campaigning has its own compulsions and limitations. For them it is lot easier to establish the presence of a community at a gathering, through a particular apparel traditionally identified with that community. Taking this into consideration, local organisers requested Muslims to make their presence visibly felt simply to establish that Muslims are also participating in BJP/ Modi meetings, as against the media perception. This has nothing to do with any official policy of the Party. We have always believed that both, our Unity and Diversity are beyond visible presentation. A uniform help create oneness, but most important is unity of minds. Likewise, different apparels underscore the element of diversity but even without that, we have always believed in diversity of opinion, of world-view and life approaches as well. Hence, it would be futile in taking a course of action simply to send a message with a mere symbolic value. We know that there are groups besides Muslims who wear a skullcap and use burqa as well.

When we say, Nation First is our definition of secularism; we express our desire to go near to the definition of Ataturk Kemal Pasha of Turkey or Veer Sawarkar, closer home. We do understand that we can neither copy Turkish secularism nor go by the lessons learnt by other countries in totality. We have to build upon our own tradition of spiritual democracy, inherent to our culture and that alone is the sole guarantor of sustainable pluralism. We believe, discriminating people on faith and belief systems is against the very grain of true secularism. Our consideration has been that faith can not and need not be the criteria even for affirmative action and those in the Constitution Assembly of India had underscored this point while rejecting the idea of quota on religious lines, some 64 years before. This should explain quite a few actions of Gujarat government.

Coming to giving tickets to Muslims for the assembly poll, again the traditionally used prism to look at the things may not really help. BJP has its own Minority Morcha, a constitutional body to facilitate greater representation and participation of Muslims and other minorities. Parties give tickets only to those who are winnable. Although for Gujarat assembly elections BJP failed in finding out a candidate, at the local-self govt. level, we have dozens of Muslim members elected at various levels. We recognise their electability and give candidature. In fact, Haj Committees and Waqf Boards under BJP ruled States have performed well as compared to the Congress ruled States. This is because we dealt with them from pure good governance point of view. Poor economic status of Muslims even after 50 years of Congress rule out 60 years after independence, underscores the fact that Congress brand of appeasement has not served the cause of development of Muslims adequately.

For those who are used to take Congress brand of secularism credulously, one fact needs to be remembered well. In 1977, the Janata Party government introduced a Constitution Amendment Bill wherein one clause sought to define the word ‘Secular’ as ‘equal respect for all religions.’ The proposal was passed in the Lok Sabha where the newly elected Janata Party was dominant, but was rejected by the Congress majority in the Rajya Sabha.

Simply put, BJP / RSS views that the relationship between an individual and the society is that of a an organ and the body as a whole. With any of our organs being neglected or allowed to under-perform, the whole body will have to face the consequences. In this fundamental approach, there is absolutely, I repeat, absolutely no scope for any discrimination towards Muslims or any other minority group or the socially, economically, weaker sections of the society. To do so, will be to the nation's peril. After all, it was Natendra Modi who had told Nai Dunia editor not too long ago that his heart also beats for Indian Muslims. ("Let the dreams of Muslims, and their children, be fulfilled. This is what I want.")

The author is Director of BJP backed Public Policy Research Centre, Delhi. Views expressed in personal capacity.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Second International Conference on Elections and Democracy
Kuching, Malaysia
Good Governance and Delivering Democracy:
Elections are not enough!

Learnings from the situations after Rose Revolution, Arab spring and anti-corruption movements in India

With the passage of time, connotations of concepts change, without much of a change in the core of the idea. What was luxury yesterday has become comfort today and comfort, almost necessity. Individualism today also connotes yearning for personal space while the concept of Human Rights in modern times, has covered recognition for personal choices as well. Similarly, due to the wider realisation that changing traditional male mindset is a pre-requisite for real gender equality, the issue has gained prominence in the entire gamut of issues concerning gender, today.
On the one hand while concepts are becoming more and more broad, wide enough to accommodate multiple shades of meanings they are also acquiring a more practical dimension. Modern day popular thinking has shaped a trend to abhor anything that is just theoretical. To day, unless concepts manifest in practise, their impact remains limited and relevance, questionable at least in the eyes of the younger generation.
All this compels one to have a relook at the traditional vision of democracy. While the talk about deepening and widening of democracy continues to dominate democratic discourse, the reasons for the lack of ability to deliver on the part of democracy gets lesser attention than it deserves.
True, democracy is widening.  There is absolutely no doubt that the global community has marched towards making democracy a universally accepted model of governance. Nobody disputes that of all the available options, democracy is the ‘available best’ model .As pointed out by many, liberal representative democracy has emerged as the dominant system of national rule across the globe - at least in a formal sense. And yet, the gap between reasonable popular expectations from democratic governance and the actual performance of elected rulers seems to be widening more and more. Professor of International Relations at the University of Southampton Anthony McGrew is right in observing “While public disenchantment with elected politicians and the capacity of democratic governments to deal with many of the enduring problems - from inequality to pollution- confronted by modern societies suggest that all is not well within the old democracies.”
When it comes to concepts like democracy and good governance, things become all the more complicated. This is because at least at the conceptual level, the idea of Good Governance was rightly considered as is inherent to the concept of Democracy. “When elected representatives of the people, supported by a majority are at the helm of affairs; the governance will naturally be people oriented and hence ‘Good’ ’’; was the simple logic behind this consideration. But in the last century, all over the world, while the acceptability and preference for democracy has increased manifold, efficacy of democracy in the specific context of making the lives of the principal stakeholders; -- i.e. the people-- easier and qualitatively better has largely remained a chimera. It would not be an exaggeration to say that democracies have sustained not because of the overwhelming popular support, much less because they have developed a strong conviction about democratic values. Democracies have sustained because – regardless of the fact whether they are sham democracies or genuine--- simply because they seemingly provide at least some window of opportunity for the people to have some say in selecting their rulers.
This certainly is a potentially dangerous situation! It does not effectively negate the possibility of any autocratic regime providing Good Governance being seen as acceptable to the people, who are fed up of a democracy that has failed to deliver. The most significant factor in such a scenario is the all-pervading cynicism. When people appear to be more than convinced about the inability of democratic governance to deliver anything significant, the atmosphere of cynicism deepens further. The only way to effectively overrule emergence of this situation is to make democracies—both established, as well as emerging or recently reformed—deliver!
Democracy and State Building
But, for democracy to deliver, first of all it must take a proper birth where it is non-existent, must be groomed and cultivated where it is a new-born infant and must undergo a process of structured overhaul where people perceive it as ineffective on governance count.  In all the three categories what is essential is the consideration of what Pippa Norris calls as the Unified Theory where liberal democracy has to go hand in hand with State building. This Unified Theory has been elaborately explained later in this paper.
Rose revolution in Georgia, Arab Spring in Egypt and Jantar Mantar upsurge in India present before us three distinct cases. In Georgia, State Building was stressed to such an extent that democratic liberalism itself came under a dark cloud. In Egypt, neither liberal democracy could found its roots nor State building was paid any proper attention. In India, the recent popular upsurges remained extempore and short-lived besides being highly unstructured. In effect, the full-blown popular upsurge did reflect relatively strong credentials of liberal democracy, making political establishment sound irrelevant. However, in the process the objective of ensuring reforms in State apparatus bringing greater accountability and transparency just remained unachieved. In a way, all the three examples offer us great learnings. In all the three cases, the outer structure of representative democracy was present all along, but the mandate failed in articulating, much less translating into reality; the popular yearning for bettering their lives.
In a way recent happenings in all the three countries provide copybook lessons on two distinct counts. Firstly, they tell us how not to handle popular upsurges and cause shaking of popular confidence in mass movements. Secondly, they also tell us that mere conduct of elections—even if truly free and fair --- is far from enough for responding to democratic aspirations of the people as the generation next expects democracies to go beyond elections. In a way, the upcoming generations of all the democratic countries are looking for the second-generation democracy.

The experience of Rose Revolution in Georgia presents before the world an example of how lack of deepening of democracy may eventually allow a democratic upsurge manifesting a yearning for corruption-free good governance; go simply waste.
On the one hand it is true that Rose Revolution seemed to have aggressively and assertively implemented certain very noteworthy and purposeful reforms in multiple sectors. True, few of them have yielded results and brought in significant change in the lives of the people. No wonder, in its report on Fighting Corruption in Public Services: Chronicling Georgia’s Reforms; the World Bank also rightly emphasised that “Georgia has proven that success can be achieved in a relatively short period of time given strong political will and concerted action by the government. By no means is this fight over—much remains to be done, especially with respect to strengthening institutions (the best safe- guard against a relapse of corruption) and ensuring an adequate system of checks and balances. Although every country has a unique set of initial conditions and the nature of the corruption problem and the type of political economy differ, many elements of Georgia’s story can be replicated in other countries. Georgia’s success destroys the myth that corruption is cultural and gives hope to reformers everywhere who aspire to clean up their public services.”

The Economist too commended the Georgian reforms, saying, “The fight took place on many fronts simultaneously. Ideological purpose lent clarity to the government’s efforts. Driving out corruption became part of a broader, libertarian effort to roll back the state; a smaller government would give fewer opportunities for graft. …. They adopted other countries’ practices with enthusiasm, such as Italian anti-Mafia legislation and German police training techniques. Keeping public opinion onside was critical, although it was an area where the authorities could have done better.”

However, the fact remains that even after having introduced an array of reforms, Mikhail Saakashvili’s party lost the elections in late 2012.
Before we go to the reasons behind Saakashvili defeat, it is important to understand the nature of such reforms. First and foremost, these reforms have noticeably improved the management of public affairs in key areas. But they were all majorly dealing with technical institutions like Central Electoral Commission or the much maligned traffic police. Secondly due to lack of any structured efforts for public education and participation towards durable legal institutions, the reforms remained half way. A glance at the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Competitiveness Report helps one understand the strength and limitations of Georgian reforms. In the organization’s latest report Georgia is ranked second out of 144 countries for the number of days required to open a business and ninth when it comes to “burden of government regulation.” However it comes in 95th place with regard to “judicial independence,” a lowly 131st place when it comes to “property rights,” and in 141st place with regard to “effectiveness of anti-monopoly policy.”
Under Saakashvili rule, in the name of enforcing the rule of law and weeding out corruption, three kinds of excesses happened. These excesses were of three categories. The first involved physical crimes, second comprised crime against privacy and personhood and the third involved economic issues.
On this backdrop, it was almost expected that in spite of the fact that Saakashvili regime brought significant changes and people’s lives were better than earlier, in general; they could not help him win the hearts of the people at large. What was more appalling was the fact that principal players during the Saakashvili regime were convinced about the harsh measures they were taking. Many believed that almost any social and humanitarian costs should be borne in the name of transforming Georgia into “a country of the future.” Many will suffer, they argued, but those who weather the change will live in a fundamentally different state. However, there were not many buyers to this logic. People wanted reforms but were not in favour of the mannerism in which they were imposed. In the ultimate analysis it was a case of misreading the public mind and squandering the mandate given by the people, who while overthrowing the previous regime had pinned huge hopes on Saakashvili. Sadly, Saakashvili failed in giving, what people were looking for that is Governance with a Human Face.
Arab Spring
The Arab spring has a multi-dimensional message. The popular unrest has served a notice to all those elements failing in ensuring a secured future. Secure, both politically as well as economically. The three main factors behind the Arab spring were –

1. A very corrupt or weak government
2.Unhappy wealthy and military classes of people and
3. A desire for change supported and acted upon by different political and popular groups.

At the backdrop of these factors is the fact that most of the countries witnessing extempore popular uprising were governments working under a fa├žade of democracy.

Governments in Egypt and Tunisia were corrupt and more importantly weak on delivery count as well. Autocrats in both countries did not have genuine popular mandate and hence they severely lacked in legitimacy. The abysmal lack of good public administration added to the restlessness not only amongst the poor and disadvantaged sections but also the affluent and powerful sections of the society. Military, too had no reason to not to support and revolt against the corrupt heads of governments. In a situation of this kind, a desire for change got further fillip and people took to streets, without caring so much for the immediate consequences.

What has happened recently in Egypt is a reminder of the fact that while popular mandate could be earned through massive supporter base, as was in the case of Mohammad Morsi; running an administration without giving in to the populist pressures is an altogether different ball game. It is educative, therefore to understand as to how Egypt’s first freely elected president found himself isolated, abandoned by allies and no one in the army or police willing to support him.

It was a fact that during his last days, Morsi and all major institutions together (like judiciary, the armed forces, police and even the intelligence) were at loggerheads with each other. Mutual trust had ceased to exist. Political opponents of the Morsi regime had successfully fuelled popular anger that Morsi was giving too much power to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists, and had failed to tackle Egypt's mounting economic problems. Morsi, like many others; habitually took shelter in the fact that he had won popular mandate in the June 2012. Although that certainly was an undeniable fact, students of democracy must now understand that when people are restive, such mandates become evaporative. Even independent observers in Egypt had mentioned that during his last days, Morsi wouldn't address the mass protests; mainly due to lack of moral courage as he had utterly failed in addressing any of the country's most pressing problems – tenuous security, rising prices, unemployment, power cuts and traffic congestion.

Were the uprisings in the Arab countries merely for democratic rights? To consider that replacing sham democratic structures by genuine one will leave the people happy thereafter is denying the hard reality. Democracy is essential, but perhaps no more enough. Along with democracy, people are now aspiring for State building where quality public administration as a part of overall good governance is delivered. If democracy fails in delivering this the specter of people preferring a dictator to a democratically elected government may not be all that remote. In history, there are several examples indicating that benevolent dictators are preferred to failed democracies especially when there is a guarantee on the delivery count.

It is a fact that strengthening institutions that facilitate the expression of democratic demands is extremely important. Introducing elections is an essential ingredient of this process, but that alone is perhaps not enough. If this process eventually fails in enhancing governance capacity in managing the delivery of basic public goods and services, it will ultimately end up promoting greater public disenchantment. Hence, the future of Arab spring movement is pregnant with the grave challenge of establishing State mechanisms that are open, participative and democratic and at the same time efficient and productive while making democracy deliver.

All in all, the lessons one learns from the Georgian and Egyptian experience is all about –
Political Will
Strong implementation mechanisms and mutuality of institutions.
Multi-sectoral and sustained nature of reforms
Genuine commitment to democratic rights
Greater Public Participation

In a way, all the five aspects are intertwined. Without a strong political will on the part of the rulers or leaders of popular upsurge, nothing can happen. It is only this strong will that would generate a courage of conviction required for twin post-regime change developments: putting strong implementation mechanism in place and ensuring that institutions of democratic governance evolve a mutuality and commonality of purpose. This, of course calls for highly dexterous and visionary political leadership spearheading the movements. Only such leadership, with strategic thinking at its command; can moot multi-sectoral and structured reforms, being introduced one after the other. While doing all this, nobody can ride roughshod. Dictatorial ways are of no use in deepening democratic governance. Hence, rulers ought to give due consideration to and betray their commitment to democracy. For that, involving people at every possible level becomes highly critical.

Here, we can also take recent happenings in Brazil into consideration.  Recently, Brazilians in some parts were up in arms against their own Government headed by popular leader Dilma Rousseff. In an outburst of anger against politicians of all stripes, hundreds of thousands of Brazilians took to the streets in June to protest against corruption, mismanagement of government money, the high cost of living and poor public services.

Rousseff had to scramble to improve public transportation, health and education services, immediately and push for reforms to make the country's political establishment more accountable. When people are not ready to believe politicians, much less the ruling party; they become permanently restive and even an incident or two work as a trigger, powerful enough to bring about change of regime. In Georgia this was prevented at least till the elections were held by the semi-authoritarian regime of Saakashvili, in Egypt Morsi could not prevent it, in Brazil Rousseff could escape narrowly and in India the Govt survived because of unstructured popular movement and its leadership that miserably lacked creative imagination and decisiveness.

When Arab countries were witnessing this democratic upsurge, in India there was Lokpal movement. Two years after the series of protests had begun with fasts undertaken by Anna Hazare, the movement started by him is nowhere on the scene. True however, is the fact that the challenge of finding answers to some issues thrown by the movement, continues.

There are at least four clear reasons that have contributed to the marginal success of movements led by Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev, the famous Yoga Guru. First and foremost, their fight appeared to be against the amorphous challenge of wiping out corruption where the end product (i.e. bringing a strong Lok Pal or an ombudsman to take care of complaints about corruption in high places) was largely technical and difficult to understand with limited capacity to catch the popular imagination in a sustained manner.  Secondly, the movements failed in aligning with the opposition parties and groups as they painted the entire political class with the same brush inviting the wrath—overtly or covertly---of the entire political spectrum. Thirdly, they lacked in intellectual as well as organisational prowess due to incoherence and non-coordination. Fourthly and most importantly, the movement could not carry home the point that every citizen is equally responsible for the spread of corruption and hence if it is to be really wiped off; at least all the participants of the movement – if not every citizen-- need to demonstrably adopt a code of conduct and adhere to some key ethical values to add to the credibility of the leading lights of the movement. Thanks to all these reasons; leaders of the anti-corruption movements in India seem to have wasted a golden opportunity and may end up, perhaps; pushing the citizenry further in the morass of cynicism.

In the Indian context, it would be misleading to get unduly impressed by the increased percentage of voting in Uttar Pradesh assembly elections of 2012. Winning elections has already become a technique and with flawed electoral system, rarely it turns out to be a genuine popular mandate. The sooner people in India stop relishing in being the largest democracy of the world and start introducing reforms to wipe off the wide spread disparagement and frustration about the political system, the better.
Happily, the atmosphere created by the movements has encouraged some state governments take some concrete actions in the form of bringing new legislations aimed at greater transparency and accountability in governance.
Responsive and Effective
From Georgia to Egypt and Brazil to India, events underscore the importance of what has been effectively theorised by Pippa Norris Norris as the combination of democratic responsiveness and state effectiveness. According to her, regardless of whatever the theory suggests, in practice, liberal democracies often prove imperfect on the count of accountability and good governance related procedures “particularly where party competition is limited, electoral systems are manipulated, or channels of participation are skewed towards money votes over people votes.” Norris further argues that “The institutions in liberal democracy can limit the abuse of power, but curbing Leviathan does not ensure that leaders will necessarily have the capability to implement effective public policies addressing social needs.”

Norris further points out that “Moreover the initial move from autocracy, and the rhetorical promises commonly made by leaders during transitional elections, often encourages rising expectations among ordinary citizens. If these cannot be met by elected officials, due to limited state capacity, this can be a recipe for frustration.”
The Arab Spring brings to the fore the fault lines of as well as recent anti-corruption movements in India makes us keep our fingers crossed as nothing could be conclusively stated about the success or otherwise of these movements. Although some measures by the governments in some Arab countries as well as India and some of its State governments leave a scope for hope, popular turbulence in both these countries leave a lot to be desired.
Senior American journalist and political commentator David Broder once pointed out that there is a widening gap between acceptance and effectiveness of democracy. Analysing the reasons for the same, he says that death of ideology, decline of state, decline of religion, low esteem of politics as a profession, and the irresponsible role of media in general, are the causes behind democracy becoming less effective.
On the performance count, new and emerging democratic governments all over the world have more often than not, met with failures. Even countries where democracy was supposed to be already well established, such as Venezuela and Columbia, became “destabilized and seriously threatened in the past decade by economic mismanagement, corruption, and state decay as established parties and politicians grew complacent and distant from popular concerns.” Many countries in South America, suffered a deep crisis of governance that inevitably resulted in sharp erosion in the authority and capacity of the state as also public confidence in democratic institutions. Similar is the case with some of the former Soviet countries. Even after a decade of democratisation, here, power is wielded with the same old style that smacks of authoritarianism, elections are still less fair and rule of law continues to be fragile.
What Pippa Norris has analysed is significant in the context of India and Brazil too. Venomous statements of the likes of civil society leaders Arvind Kejriwal in India will come always under flack, and perhaps rightly. But the emergence of the likes of Kejriwal in India and Marina Silva, also a non-traditional politician in Brazil has a lesson for all those traditional politicians. People are increasingly saying it from the rooftops that they are now sick of the established and routine politics. They want a decisive leader who is strong yet sensitive, resolute yet responsive.  In the absence of any such leader, non-traditional political players may spoil the show.
Continuously widening gap between the electors and the elected is a pointer to the grave situation. When in India we have 78% of the Lok Sabha members today winning the election despite the fact that 50% of the electors in respective constituencies have voted against them, legitimacy of the representative democracy itself has become questionable. Should this continue for long, world may witness democratic governments offering neither good governance nor genuine democracy.
While describing the huge popular response to Lokpal movement, media had compared Jantar –Mantar in Delhi to Tahrir Square. Comparisons like these have limited meaning. But, like those who were spearheading the Tahrir Square upsurge, Lokpal movement also lost its way and failed in unveiling a larger agenda for political and institutional reforms for an effective democracy. In fact, this failure has given a new set of reasons to the people to be more cynical about the system, of which civil society has become an integral part.
Like Brazil, India will be facing general elections in 2014. Elections will establish which of the available alternatives people prefer. However, electoral choice is conditioned by several factors. Through impromptu   and unstructured demonstrations, people are expressing what a laity cannot articulate in a cogent manner. It is the restlessness within. It is their pet up anger against the cluelessness all around. The apparent choice that democracy as a theory offers has been negated by the principal vehicles of given democratic system; parties, electoral systems, media and now even the civil society. This has given rise to the feeling of having been trapped. Interestingly, the liberators in the form of democratic system have themselves apparently become chains. One must develop an insight to understand the meaning of popular risings – whether in Latin America, Middle East, Eastern Europe or South Asia. The strong but simple message of the popular unrest in parts of the democratic world that students of democracy need to understand is very clear: Elections are just not enough for a democracy to succeed. 

Even the democratic world is appearing flat. Factors like strong visionary leadership with organisational skills; strategic thinking and ability to balance strong capacity to enforce reforms while ensuring greater public participation in a strategic manner after all are in short supply on the banks of all, Kura (on the banks of which Tbilisi is located), Acari in Brazil or Nile in Egypt and Yamuna in India.  Time will only tell us whether leadership will shape the nature of things to unfold or the situation will throw new kind of leaders, who are sensitive and still strong.
To a great extent, the democratic deficit in most parts of the world  is  a product of failed institutions. Political parties, Parliaments and Electoral Systems; all need a re-look at their functionality.
Dr Vinay Sahasrabuddhe
Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini, Mumbai
Diamond, Larry et al (Ed.): Consolidation of the Third World Democracies (Baltimore, John Hopkins Press, 1997)

Uncertain World: Saakashvili’s Election Defeat is His Main Achievement by Fyodor Lukyanov (

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A note on Identity Politics presented at the Samvimarsh on Cultural Nationalism  organised by the National Training Cell of the Bharatiya Janata party
New Delhi on May 4-5, 2013
Identity Politics: Handle with care!
-- Vinay Sahasrabuddhe

The dilemma with Identity Politics is like a two-edged sword. It can unite a cultural group but it can also give fillip to fragmentation if the whole gamut of issues is not handled with due care! At the core of the challenge of negotiating with identity issues is the fundamental thesis of developing a synergy between identities and recognising that larger and wider identities are supreme but they also are a sum total of smaller and indelible identities. Pt. Deendayal Upadhyay had rightly emphasised on this principle.

Identity Politics encompasses a broad spectrum of movements woven around a cause, which is essentially of a particular social/cultural or even regional/geographical identity. Prominent themes that have dominated the academic discourse on identity politics include secessionist struggles within countries, indigenous rights movements worldwide, nationalist projects, or demands for regional self-determination. Predictably, there is no straightforward criterion that makes a political struggle into an example of “identity politics;” rather, the term signifies a loose collection of political projects, each undertaken by representatives of a collective with a set of distinctively different social characteristics that has hitherto (many a time supposedly) been neglected, erased, or suppressed.

Identity Politics is both, a unifying force as well as a divisive one. Politicians in several countries where society is very diverse have played the game of uniting to divide very adroitly. There obviously are some short term and contextual gains as well as some longer-term losses in the whole process. A researcher has put this succinctly in the following comment: -
What makes identity politics a significant departure from earlier, pre-identarian forms of the politics of recognition is its demand for recognition on the basis of the very grounds on which recognition has previously been denied: it is qua women, qua blacks that groups demand recognition. The demand is not for inclusion within the fold of “universal humankind” on the basis of shared human attributes; nor is it for respect “in spite of” one's differences. Rather, what is demanded is respect for oneself as different.

In countries that had undergone a colonial rule, the talk of cultural nationalism acquires a distinct dimension, which is that of pre-colonial indigenous cultural past. This involves appeals to a time before oppression, or a culture or way of life damaged by colonialism, imperialism, or even genocide.

Indigenous governance systems embody distinctive political values, radically different from those of the mainstream. Western notions of domination (human and natural) are noticeably absent; in their place we find harmony, autonomy, and respect. We have a responsibility to recover, understand, and preserve these values, not only because they represent a unique contribution to the history of ideas, but because renewal of respect for traditional values is the only lasting solution to the political, economic, and social problems that beset our people. Normally, all traditional cultures abhor divisiveness. About both, African as well as Asian traditional societies one can say that their native inclination is generally towards finding similarities and evolving a consensus. Nigerian scholar Adebayo Adedeji has said, “Africans are past masters in consultation, consensus and consent. Our traditions abhor exclusion. Consequently, there is no sanctioned and institutionalized opposition in our traditional system of governance. Traditionally, politics for us has never been a zero-sum game.”
How this traditional social system had both, adequate space for preserving distinctive features as well as scope for evolving a collective social defence mechanism in the context of India was portrayed by Charles Metcalf is a vivid manner. In 1761 Charles Metcalf has written to the 1832 Select Parliamentary Committee on the East India Company’s charter in brilliantly evocative term. He wrote: 'The village communities are little republics, having nearly everything they can want within themselves and almost independent of any foreign relations. They seem to last where nothing else lasts. Dynasty after dynasty tumbles down; revolution succeeds to revolution; Hindoo, Pathan, Mogul, Mahratta, Sikh, English, are all masters in turn; but the village community remains the same...This union of the village communities, each one forming a separate state in itself, has, I conceive, contributed more than any other cause to the preservation of the people of India through all the revolutions and changes which they have suffered, and is in a high degree conducive to their happiness, and to the enjoyment of a great portion of freedom and independence'.[1]
However, beyond the structures and systems that existed in India, what is more important is the India’s cultural unity in the midst of apparent diversities. To quote Rajni Kothari India is perhaps “the only great historical civilisation that has maintained its cultural unity without identifying itself with a particular centre….The essential identity of India has not been political but cultural….it was through a constant interplay between the political and the cultural, the secular and the spiritual, that the system was able to adapt itself to changing situations.”[2] One can safely infer that this culture of accommodation in India paved way to the smooth functioning of political democracy. Besides, unlike in China where state is also considered as the moral custodian, such a monopolistic stance of the rulers was never acceptable in India, thanks mainly to its tradition of “society’s autonomy”.[3]
All this makes it amply clear that inherent cultural unity with an essential spirit of accommodation at its core was something like a strong foundation on which representative democracy should have easily flourished in India.
In spite of all this, India and several other democracies too are facing challenges of dealing with those streams of identity politics that are proving to be divisive in nature and hence harmful for social and national integration. Factors that are a potential source of disintegration are as follows  --
1.     Limitless yearning for back-to-the roots – Conducting oneself socially and culturally is an evolutionary process. What was relevant yesterday may not always be relevant today. Change, as much as continuity is an integral part of the socio-cultural past of societies and civilisations. Hence, digging too deep into the past through an essentially puritanical approach is an indication of favoring stagnancy. Those who clamor for limitless yearning for back-to-the roots eventually harm the cause of cultural nationalism
2.     Unity in Diversity or other way round? : In India we celebrate our diverse social and cultural characteristics often describing it as Unity in Diversity. Unfortunately, the lure of identity populism is making the reverse i.e. Diversity in Unity appear more true. In our political narrative, political class has been overtly and covertly emphasising on the elements that separate a particular social group from the larger group, a sub-set of a set! Besides in Hindu society, it is very easy to renounce Hinduness as the idea or definition of Hindu is extremely liberal and flexible. To be accommodative and receptive to diversity is commendable but it also invites the dangers of an essentially revolving door approach where one can come and go as per his/her sweet will. The motivating factor behind all such thought processes has ---more often than not ---been politics of fragmentation aimed at electoral benefits.
3.     Employing adroit unifying strategies:  In order to overcome the threats of identity politics, pro-unity and integrity forces will have to employ effective unifying strategies in an adroit manner. These strategies necessarily should prevent social and cultural fragmentation. In that context, while the salad-bowl theory of social assimilation should not be opposed, the integrationists should also try to emphasise the ultimate truth of melting-pot theory. This, of course will have to be done carefully. The onus of making this happen is always on the better placed, socially and economically advanced sections of the society. Unless the aspirational India largely representing the educated, city-dwelling, financially well-placed and socially settled classes sensatise themselves towards the agonies of the deprived sections, this is hard to happen. In that context, imaginatively crafted pedagogical processes making people realise the essential unity of the society and the meaning of one-people, one-nation will have to be vigorously evolved and promoted.
4.     Systemic factors promoting fragmentation: Social fragmentation is inbuilt in our First-past-the Post electoral system. Otherwise fairly integrationist elements too indulge in harping upon diversities when it comes to electoral arithmetic. This happens because the path of electoral victory goes via greater fragmentation as atomization pays rich dividends in this system, and more importantly it is always easier to divide and rule. Harp on diversity- create an emotional insecurity – promote en-block voting through sectoral appeasement and eventually outsmart the social majority has proved to be the most effective strategy of political parties.

[1] Dewey C.J., Images of the Village Community (1972):a study in Anglo-Indian ideology”, ‘Modern Asian Studies’, Vol. 6, No. 3 (1972)
[2] Rajni Kothari, ‘Politics in India’ p.251
[3] ibid.p.264

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Trivializing Terror
Vinay Sahasrabuddhe

Predictably, RSS and BJP workers put up a spirited agitation on January 24 in protest of the Home Minister who has committed two major blunders. Firstly, he tried to link terrorism to a belief system and specifically commented on the growth of what he called as Hindu Terror. Secondly, he went overboard and highly irresponsibly politicized the discourse on terror by taking the names of the RSS and the BJP claiming that in the training camps of both these organisations terrorism is taught. This has added to the pleasure of those who are masterminding terror attacks from across the border. They have already gleefully grabbed these pearls of wisdom of our Home Minister. The minister was so very engaged in obtaining political brawny points that he absolutely had no time to even say hello to Justice J S Verma who presided over the govt. appointed committee to look into the issues concerning safety and security of women.
For the benefit of Home Minister Susheel Kumar Shinde it is necessary to bring to his notice as to how at several instances Congress workers have been caught red-handed while indulging in terrorist and anti-national activities by the law enforcing authorities from time to time. This should bring Mr. Shinde out of selective amnesia and may prevent further trivialization of the issue of terrorism.
Former Fisheries Minister of Gujarat and a prominent Congress leader Mohammad Surti and ten others were found guilty in 1993 Surat twin blast case by TADA court on October 4, 2008. While Mohammad Surti along with four other convicts including former Congress corporator Iqbal Vadiwala received 20-year prison sentence, another six received 10 year prison sentence. Total 21 persons were found guilty out of which five were not traceable.
According to police, a part of the arms cache smuggled into Mumbai for 1993 Mumbai blasts was diverted to Surat. Mohammad Surti had procured hand grenades from the late Ahmedabad don Abdul Latif for the bombings, the court had then observed.
Again, as reported by the The Indian Express on March 5, 2002 several Congress leaders feature in the list of accused in the Godhra train - bogey burning case. Prominent among them are Mehmud Hussain Kalota, convener of the Congress district minority cell and president of the Godhra municipality, Salim Abdul Ghaffar Sheikh, president of the Panchmahal Youth Congress and Farroukh Bhana, secretary of the district Congress committee.

Later, when 31 people were convicted for Godhra roasting, two Congressmen were given life imprisonment while one was given death penalty. The Times of India dated 9 August 2003 reported that at least 25 Congress leaders were accused of being involved in attacks on Muslims. 

Again it is the same Congress party that had allied with Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagham - a party involved in 1998 Coimbatore blasts. So much for 'links' with terrorists, Congress entered into an electoral agreement with this party in Tamil Nadu in the 2006 Assembly polls. 

An incident like the deadly Coimbatore blasts in which Shri L K Advani miraculously escaped but nearly 58 Hindus, mostly BJP workers were killed. The prime accused of this case is PDP leader Abdul Madani. In 2006, the then ruling and Opposition parties had joined hands to unanimously pass a resolution in the Kerala Assembly on March 16, calling for Madani’s release on “humanitarian grounds” from the Coimbatore prison. Later when Madani was arrested by the Karnataka police and kept in a Banglore prison for the 2008 Banglore serial blasts case, Congress and Muslim League along with the PDP undertook a campaign to force the Karnataka Government to provide medical help and other facilities to Abdul Nasser Madani.  

It is a well known fact that the Kerala-based PDP, of which Madani is chairman, and a group called Justice for Madani Forum formed after his arrest by Bangalore police in August, 2010, have been trying to garner support for moves to influence the Karnataka Government for quite some time and the UPA at the centre is refusing to prevent such highly objectionable precedents being set.

The record of the Congress party on the count of resolutely facing the challenge of terrorism has always been dubious. Nation has not forgotten as to how the ghost of Bhindranwale was nurtured by those who were at the helm of affairs at the Centre then. Again, it was Mrs. Gandhi the first who introduced the Illegal Migrants: Determination by Tribunals (IMDT) Act in early eighties with the sole objective of protecting illegal Bangladeshi migrants staying in Assam.

Again, can we forget as to how keen was the Congress to oppose the passage of POTA that it compelled the then NDA government call for a historic joint session of both the houses of the Parliament? And as if this is not enough, read what Madhu Agarwal, the irrepressible RTI activist from Delhi has to say through his personal dispatch of January 29, 2013: “It refers to media-reports about country’s top secret-agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) suddenly aborting its important ‘Operation Morocco’ mission relating to 26/11 militants’ attack on Mumbai aiming to reach out to Faiza Outalha, the estranged wife of Pakistani-American terrorist David Coleman Headly, who acted as a ‘scout’ to identify various targets for the deadly strikes.”

Agarwal further observes: “At a time when India is expressing its anguish over Headly escaping death-penalty and his extradition to India, such media-reports now appearing about RAW aborting its important mission sometime in mid-2012 are indeed a cause of serious concern on working of RAW whose activities cannot be made public under ‘Right-To-Information Act’. However Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) should make a detailed study also because the media-reports doubt if PMO was aware of such aborting of RAW mission. PMO should in larger national interest issue clarification on such media-reports.”

Dear Mr. Shinde, it is easy to single out a particular organisation and apply a particular tag to some terrorist activities. It takes hardly any dexterity to play politics on these lines. But you must remember that people are least interested in this name-calling. They want results and your own irresponsible statements have seriously dented your credibility. What has come under cloud is the very authenticity of your government’s plan to fight with terror. This is downright demoralising for the police and disillusioning for the people of India in general. No wonder, terrorists beyond the boundaries were the happiest lot to read about your statement. Mr. Shinde, you are trivializing the threat of terror and it is we the people who will have to pay price for this.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Mend your mindset, man ...

Mend your mindset, man…

 - Vinay Sahasrabuddhe 

More than three weeks after the December 16 gangrape in Delhi, the nation continues to be outraged over incidents of sexual assault against women. Even those who have never heard anything about either feminism or gender justice are aghast by the utter insensitivity betrayed by some individuals.

A large section of the media and some self-proclaimed champions of women’s cause chose to ignore the utterances of CPI(M) leader Anisur Rahman that were an outright insult to womanhood. On the other hand the lure of scoring brownie points made many wantonly misinterpret what RSS chief had observed. In the ensuing cacophony the fundamental issue of how and why the traditional male mindset needs to change never came to the discussion table. Thus one can understandably be afraid that at the end of the day even all this noise on issues concerning women’s security and safety may not result in any real public education.
It must be noted that gender occupies prime position in the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Apart from gender equality, ending poverty and hunger, universal education, reducing child mortality and improving maternal health are the other four goals where the role of women is critical and needs universal recognition.

Over the last over 25 years, societal perspective towards gender issues has undergone transformation. This has happened due to two principal reasons. First, large-scale self-realisation on the part of women has led to greater awareness about gender issues all over the world. And second, thanks to sound theorisation of gender equality by social scientists, thinkers and opinion makers, gender issues have acquired an element of political correctness. As a consequence, nobody dares to challenge the logic behind gender equality, especially in public. However, sadly but certainly, this pressure of political correctness has masked the mindsets of men — and at times even women — majority of whom continue to believe that men and women are naturally unequal and any effort to bring equality is bound to fail. This thinking prevails not only in the educationally or socially backward societies but also in the most advanced, economically affluent sections, the so-called progressive people.
This makes one realise that women empowerment hinges, among other things, primarily on changing the traditional mindset of men. If men continue to not understand the meaning of women’s rmpowerment, or if they wantonly ignore the applied gender-justice principals, it often adds to the agony of women, already under the burden of changing expectations in the midst of unchanged social climate.
Decades ago, Acharya Dada Dharmadhikari, a well-known Gandhian and Sarvodaya leader, had advocated what can be described as “reverse discrimination” within the four-walls of our homes. In traditional societies, when women started occupying all those spaces that were traditionally considered the sole reserves of men, family-centric societies started experiencing upheavals. It also created a picture of apparent imbalance. To correct this, as prescribed by Dada Dharmadhikari, what was needed was men’s entry into and occupation of those areas that were and are traditionally considered women’s only.  

What he meant was something very practicable and yet very difficult. If women are flying airplanes, why can’t men babysit and cook a meal, was his question. But majority of men are not inclined to do this and this is what has added further to the already stretched relationship between men and women. No wonder many male politicians find it hard to digest the proposed quota for women in political representation.

To correct this, building capacities of men through change-mindset training is the only effective way. We, at Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini, which is South Asia’s only training institute for elected representatives, has been doing this for a decade, right after quotas for women at the local government level were implemented in Maharashtra. Our experience in the context of a structured training aimed at changing the male mindset has been very interesting and the results very insightful.
After conducting a series of interactive training workshops for municipal councillors and other elected representatives, we have drawn four main conclusions. First, it is a must that men take extra effort towards understanding a woman’s world: women, their life-approach, their role in the family, their expectations and revisiting the typicality of the male view about these issues. Second, there is a need for men to empathise with women: understanding the psychological-emotional process that women go through and then developing an intellectual understanding of it. Third, men need to recognise that gender equality is integral to the concept of social justice. And last, understanding and pro-actively utilising the inherent leadership qualities of women while ungrudgingly accepting the fact that women are better managers. At the practical level, one may also think of introducing a set of behavioural norms or do’s and don’ts to ensure that gender justice gets translated in our day-to-day lives.

All this again makes us revisit the question of quota for women in Parliament and also Legislative Assemblies. Quotas are nothing more than accepting the fact that women need to be given the space, which is due to them. But much before that, they need their legitimate share in our mind-space, in our thinking world. Changed mindset of men alone will make way for that space.
For women to be able to walk freely and fearlessly, the one small but powerful step needed is to create enabling environs for them to gain a firm foothold, be it in politics or governance. Sadly but truly, empowering men with the ability to think in this way has become the precondition of genuine and effective women empowerment. The sooner both men and women understand this, the better.

The Asian Age has carried this piece today but with a misleading title. The right title is what appears