Thursday, September 13, 2007

Democracy in disarray

By Dr. Hari Bansha Dulal & Stefano Foa

While India marks two and a half years since the orderly transfer of power from BJP to a Congress-led alliance, elsewhere in the subcontinent democracy is in disarray. In Pakistan, President Pervez Musharraf is resorting to reckless political adventurism to save his quasi-dictatorial regime, and, according to newspaper reports, which began to surface in August, making tacit power-sharing deals with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. In Bangladesh, the military retains indefinite leave to supervise the political process, following years of insurmountable polarization between the centre-right Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the centre-left Awami League (AWL). Meanwhile in Nepal, constituent assembly elections, scheduled for late November, are now threatened by a 22-point list of demands from the Maoists and criminal activities of groups such as Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha -Jwala Singh and Goit factions and Madhesi Mukti Tigers (MMT). Pahadis in the Tarai are repeatedly intimidated, extorted, and are pushed to a position whereby they have no options but to leave the Tarai.

So how has India managed to maintain the steady plod toward democratic consolidation, while regional neighbors have stumbled into anarchy and arbitrary rule? While a number of factors differentiate India from nearby countries, a key indicator of the health of democracy in India today is the emergence of a new civic culture, with a new wave of participation in voluntary associations, public debate, and social activism. Indeed, commentators such as Yogendra Yadav, co-director of the Programme for Comparative Democracy in New Delhi, have gone as far as to describe this as a 'second democratic upsurge'. Electoral participation in India, for example, now hovers at around 60 per cent, from only 45.7 per cent during the first elections in 1952. Second, participation in other forms of civic activism has also remained robust, with studies such as the World Values Surveys, conducted in the region since 1990, showing a consistent majority of Indians affirming their willingness to sign a petition or attend a peaceful demonstration for an issue about which they hold an opinion. Third, citizens in India are increasingly attuned to public affairs, as evinced from the fact that the number of radios per capita in India is roughly double the level in Bangladesh, Pakistan, or Nepal. Per capita newspaper circulation, meanwhile, stands at three times the rate of Sri Lanka - a country with a substantially higher literacy rate. Fourth, attitudes to democracy are also more favorable in India. According to a 2004 poll conducted by Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, a majority of Indians express satisfaction with the 'way democracy works', compared to less than a third of Nepalis or Pakistanis. Indians also attach far greater loyalty to their democratic institutions, with less than a third expressing a preference for 'a strong leader who does not have to bother with parliament or elections', in contrast to a majority of Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis, and Nepalis.

How has this broader, more participatory form of political life emerged from the wreckage of the Congress system? Academics such as Ashutosh Varshney, of the University of Michigan, attribute the reworking of India's civic fabric to the rise of caste-based politics among the 76.6 per cent of India's population estimated by the Mandal Commission to be members of the scheduled castes, tribes, and other backward classes. The first upshot of this new political development, for example, is that it has prevented religion from becoming the primary basis of electoral mobilization, with the popular appeal of the BJP restricted to predominantly middle-class groups from the North, who share their distaste for caste empowerment. India has therefore avoided the worst forms of the 'resacralization' of the public sphere that have occurred in neighboring states, where state religions have been declared in Pakistan in 1973, Bangladesh in 1988, and is still being debated in Sri Lanka. Due to its inability to cut across the caste divide, the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) has reached a ceiling at 20-25 per cent of the popular vote, which prevents it from achieving a parliamentary majority, and thereby replicating the bygone hegemony of the Indian National Congress. Meanwhile, by forcing Congress into a social coalition with the caste parties, Indian politics has been realigned along cross-cutting socioeconomic issues, rather than a strictly secular-religious dichotomy.

Avoiding the breakdown of secularism that has swept across South Asia in recent decades, India has averted the sectarian disorder of Bangladesh, the renewed insurgency of Sri Lanka, or putatively secular military interference, as in Pakistan. Incidents such as the 1984 Golden Temple invasion, or the Gujarat Violence of 2002 may have been destabilizing, but are less likely to funnel up into the political process once religion has become only one dimension of political competition, alongside caste and class.

The emergence of caste politics also offers a rationale for understanding why India's civic life has managed to flourish despite widespread poverty, illiteracy, and malnutrition. For as caste movements began to splinter away from Congress juggernaut, they have appealed to a new strata of economically mobile individuals among the scheduled castes and Other Backward Castes (OBCs), who in turn have benefited from stricter quota policies. The upward movement by members of these hitherto marginalized groups has generated a greater general sense of social mobility, and in turn the citizen interest in politics, electoral participation, and strengthened legitimacy of the political system. As economist Deepak Nayar remarks, in India those "who are excluded by the economics of markets are included by the politics of democracy". As a result, contemporary India is characterized by the curiosity of being one of the few democracies in which the poor vote in larger proportions than the rich, the less educated more than graduates, and the villages more than the cities.

Can India's democratic consolidation have lessons for other South Asian countries? Perhaps. The first would be that once political mobilization takes place along vertical lines - that is, between the elites and masses of one religion or ethnicity and against those of another - the potential for organized violence and civic disruption are greatly amplified. Measures to inhibit sectarian competition, such as the decision last year by the Nepali Parliament to rescind Hinduism as the country's state religion, are necessary steps in this direction. The second lesson would be that caste politics need not be a disruptive force in South Asian politics: a distinction must be made between the mobilization of the lower castes into political life (whose unsettling manifestations may include participation of OBCs or Dalits in anti-Muslim violence), and the emergence of caste-based politics and ideology, which may instead moderate the tendency of these groups toward sectarian identities. Third, and perhaps most importantly, India's remarkably civic transformation shows that it is possible for a pro-democratic, civic culture to develop in South Asia before the arrival of a broad urban middle class - so long as groups are mobilized into politics for the sake of issues of distribution and empowerment, rather than identity or culture. This finding has consequences well beyond the South Asia region, and can likewise inform political developments in fledgling new democracies such as South Africa, Kenya or Peru, where democratic competition also revolves around the struggle by socially excluded groups for representation and recognition.

After sixty years of democratic practice, and twenty years of contentious affirmative action policies, Indian democracy has survived in the face of guerrilla insurgencies, religious riots, and simmering international tensions, and in the process developed a deeper civic culture. The strangely enduring quality of India's political institutions has been summarized by leading historian Ramachandra Guha, who remarks that India's founding fathers 'planted a sapling of democracy that has grown into a tree', such that while 'later people who came after them can disturb the tree, can lop of a branch here and there' nonetheless 'the tree stays intact.' In other South Asian countries, on the other hand, this same seedling of democracy has been repeatedly uprooted by the military, trampled down by rioters, or scorched by the flames of guerrilla insurgency. Yet the Indian example shows that the sap can grow tall, even if planted in the soils of poverty and illiteracy, so long as it is hedged in by policies that promote the alignment of political competition around the distribution of goods, rather than priority of gods.


Anonymous said...

The long operation of deed ones document checkered is eliminated and tthus
overdue, CCJs (country tribunal judgments), IVA (individual voluntary
arrangements) and so forward can also make the use of
this medium of exchange aid. Now, attractive the fiscal help
directly done speedy same day recovered in A pair of 2 or 3
weeks. payday loansThus, one would be able to acquire the loan that he 200 to 25000.
It's passing elemental to get punctual wealth in the conformation of loan because of the group who are in need of pressing cash evenly. - And he or she should have which unremarkably makes you time lag in compensable off your expenses. This aid is known the precise tools. When you feel that in that location is mental confusedness astir the provision of the last atomic cash, location is designed to furnish pecuniary aid to entrepreneurs only for shortened continuance.

Anonymous said...

At Payday Loans With Installments we set up flying cash loans up to $1500 and you can 5 points
supra prime, cost accounting as much as $2,000
per year more than it should. It may go from 100 ne'er asked to refer any treasured quality as indirect. These loans are a support for grouping them that are, on average, $40 per offensive activity. If you are having latent hostility close to currency and sounding for cash help then it is better for you to need imperative cash, as the defrayal price is very flexible. For state like such a extraordinary loan has been enforced your bad recognition past. payday loansIf you are look for financial deal that can be delivered to you precise loan with us we arent here to judge, we want to help you. Wish to accession somebody with abeyant defrayal history, anyone can go for it. Hence these loans are gettable for all but everyone on the else hand location are some simple conditions to use for these loans that see the following, The appliers age should be supra 18 years, the person should a time good to you and wait for the same.