Let me take a position right away. Modern democracies are not a patch on the first direct democracy practised in the City state of Athens in the 5th and 4th centuries BC. That old model had only one objective: the welfare of the common man with his direct participation. He was a strong stakeholder. It was initiated at an age when business sharks, armament industry, banking moguls, Oil cartels and drug mafia didn’t exist. Nor did self-serving politicians and their astronomical electoral funds and the financial clout of their patronisers come into being. Modern democracy we know demands a huge treasure chest back-up that alone can assure a nomination and 50% chance of electoral success by hook or by crook.
It seems to me that Democracy is now used as a brand name to market credibility in the world of politics. The success game in the marketing world is to spread a proprietary name as a ‘mantra’ citing the superior quality of commodities and services offered under that banner so that an average buyer will blindly prefer everything sold by that proprietary name. That is how branding works by and large. That is how the power to push products is acquired.
The brand can do no wrong. Examples are P&G, Unilever etc. This business model works beautifully on the back of ads splashed in visual and social media who also go all the way laughing to the bank. The consumer rarely questions the price break up of ‘ethical products’ offered by a strong brand. He is blissfully unaware of the extent of advertising and packaging costs (that don’t add any value to the product) included in the price of products sold to him. For cosmetic products this component could be anything up to 90% of the price paid by him! Patent of drugs is another legitimate right to loot. Recently a Delhi Court has ruled that the expression ‘Nation Wants to Know’ is an exclusive right of a private TV channel!
A similar phenomenon is happening in the practice of most democracies. The packaging and advertising costs are rising. Not just time slots, but whole news channels are available on hire. Paid journalism is rampant. Campaign expenses are rising from one election to another. So are governance costs, while tangible benefits to citizens are diminishing. In financial management of democracies, taxes rise to meet the growing expenses since cutting the latter to match available resources means shooting oneself in the foot. (I hear that a certain defeated President will need to nurse his feet for many years particularly for trimming taxes at the wrong end.)
Like it or not, in today’s world, democracy has clicked as a credible brand and is a clean winner as a form of governance. Everybody swears by it. Everywhere everyone demands their individual rights in the name of democracy, never mind their duties. In country after country there are outcries for change of regime and political leadership. Corona has worked as a catalyst for this demand. When change finally happens the disenchanted electorate discovers that it is only old wine in a new bottle!
The so called certified democratic countries mock at others as uncivilised and brutal. Yet they selectively go to bed with some of the worst tyrants provided it suits their self-interest, while assuming high moral grounds if a country acts independently of their ‘guidance’, never mind it’s adherence to democracy.
In a modern democracy the ordinary citizen’s role begins and ends on the Election Day. He casts his vote if he feels like it. Then he vanishes into thin air until it is election time again. This is hardly a participatory form of governance. Ironically it is a form in which all vested interests gang up for mutual benefit. These interests are politicians, big business and bureaucracy aided and abetted by lobbyists operating in the garb of legal, medical and business professionals. Judiciary being a product of this environment is also not above this collaboration. Political parties themselves decide the rules of governance generally by mutual consent for mutual benefits.
In some countries the winner takes it all, under the system of First past the post. In others it is a formula of proportional representation or sharing of spoils. Some countries have Presidential form of government and others have what is called the Westminster form with the PM elected by the legislatures. In both systems the contesting candidates make holy promises to work for the common man and the country, only to break those promises the next day and every day after election. This approach has greatly widened the gap between the very rich and the very poor and in turn nullified the slogan of equal opportunities for all in education, health care, employment and social justice. Have money, go places. Race and gender discrimination have remained no matter which party has been in power. Even a basic step of reaching education to every door step for a nominal cost has not been attempted despite revolutionary changes in technology. This could have made education affordable to all. Only Corona has compelled elementary moves in that direction.
The only argument in favour of democracy is that other systems are worse. Bad is the enemy of worse. This explains the political conflicts among countries following different systems. The aim should have been to convert bad into good instead of wasting energy and resources on fighting with ‘worse’. Is that possible? The intuitive answer is ‘Yes’.
The first baby step is mass education. The second is to banish election campaigns. Fortunately in the Internet era and post corona environment the common man has the chance to act wisely if not exposed to and influenced by political propaganda of lies by vested interests.
Next I believe, the party system, party cadre, professional politician and dynastic succession are all evils and must go. The current 2 or multiparty system is the first enemy of a democracy as it skews and corrupts an individual’s judgement of right and wrong in the name of alignment with party’s views.
Every candidate must contest elections only on personal record of service and standing. Fly by night operators should be kept away. All the successful candidates should then elect the leader for governing undisturbed for a specific term but not for a second term. He/she should form a team of ministers comprising not more 5% of the elected candidates. The remaining members should vote freely in parliament based on the merit of the proposal. The defeat of a proposal should not lead to the fall of the government. Unfortunately only an enlightened dictator can usher in this drastic change.
Modern democracy is too weak to pull itself out of the rut and rot. For this reason we may have to look in the right direction for a new dawn. I hardly need to say in which direction the sun rises.
This is my take on this week’s Friday blog post topic suggested by me.
The other bloggers who write on the same topic every Friday are Shackman, Conrad, Ramana, Sanjanaah, Gaelikka, Srinivas and Padmini.
Please do go over to their respective blogs to see what they have to say about Democracy.