Indian democracy: Anything but equal

In George Orwell's futuristic book 1984, the citizens of Oceania do not even know what their identity is. They do not differentiate among themselves on the basis of religion, appearance or language. That's because all these concepts have been erased by the government. While the government of 1984 is hardly democratic, its de-recognition of these labels is perhaps the only positive aspect of its rule.

Indian democracy, or any democracy, was all about equality of all people before the law, and before its elected rulers. I say 'was' because I don't see this happening. Even USA could not do justice to democracy, evident by the the uprising of Blacks. In India, our forefathers tried to be 'fair' by recognising each and every differentiating factor that an Indian could claim. India is a democracy of unequals. In every sphere of its working, we see differences among men.

I put my mind to what could be done to make India a better democracy. I may not be able to pull off this Plato-ish task but I would like to put forward my thoughts on what could be done with this country. Some ideas:

End quotas: Quotas on the basis of caste have only deepened the differences. From the beginning, we have put it into the mind of Indians that their caste and religion decides what opportunities for growth they will get. I say, abolish all quotas and reservations, except for the physically or mentally challenged who cannot compete equally, and make the sole deciding factor economic status. Education and employment opportunities should be reserved for people who can prove that their poverty regardless of anything else.

Cut MP perks: If all citizens are equal, so should the servants of the people. Ministers and bureaucrats should pay their electricity and phone bills like everybody else. They should pay tolls. They should pay for their air travel except when travelling for official purposes. Every Member of Parliament who asks for extra security should get clearance from the High Court of his constituency, stating why he requires it.

Public accountability:
Every scheme or programme initiated by the government for the welfare of the people should have a system of accounting to the public for every rupee spent. These statements should be made available in newspapers and websites and be archived for recall at any given time. Possibly, the accounts should track the progress of these programmes every three years. If the Ministry undertaking the programme does not meet its target, it should explain why on a TV broadcast and a public statement, otherwise the Supreme Court should have a right to penalise it by cutting its grants. On the other hand, they should be rewarded for meeting targets by increasing grants.

Local nominations: Some members of the IAS, the 'lifeline' of bureaucracy, should be elected at the local level instead of being appointed by the government. This should be for positions which directly affect the welfare of villages or towns. Locals can nominate worthy members of the community and then vote for them, overseen by a vigilance officer posted by the government. The job of the vigilance officer would be to check corruption. He will be motivated to do so under an incentive scheme. The bigger the corruption he reports, the higher would be his incentive.

Of course, there's a lot more that can be done. And I know all of this is utterly ambitious because for change to happen, there should be a large enough advocacy group to push it. But all of the above measures have no single lobby. Maybe the changes should happen one at a time. Realistically, I don't see it happening. In a country as complex as India, there is no clear cut solution, no matter how logical. To expect India to become an equal democracy is like expecting America to change it foreign policy!

Of course, neither will happen but we must keep the think tank open. Ideas must keep flowing in, to at least remember the ideal that we are a free country where citizens have the real power.
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Anonymous said...

a country's people get the democracy they deserve. maybe we need more - waves of - people using and leveraging services like the right to information act. On a more local, delhi-centric there are helplines like the NCH helpline and the LG's (lieutenant governor) helpline for civic problems.

it is up to the people, at whatever level, to persistently bring up contentious issues at forums and there are many available. that's when the beauty of a democracy comes out.

Whatever be the lacunae in the US, wouldnt it be nice to see a paris hilton-like event happening in India? Or a Jeffrey Archer? Status shouldnt be protection for justice.

The Black King said...

Good suggestions... and perhaps the root of what you are hinting at is to introduce accountability into the system at all levels and introduce a reward and incentive system based on merit rather than pedigree.

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