Every nation has a big idea. The idea of India is perhaps best contained in the word democracy. In India, democracy takes on new proportions, gigantic in scale, expansive in diversity. Democracy is that higher ideal, the ‘big picture’ that is supposed to give us a purpose. So how exactly is our democratic project doing. Is India close to being the democracy envisaged by the Constitution makers ?
A reductionist definition of democracy from Sir Bernard Crick’s book ‘Democracy: A Very Short Introduction’ gives us the framework to perform such an analysis in a simple, clear way. I will also compare India to the US, Pakistan and China, since for a lot of people, the meaning of terms like democracy are perhaps better understood in a relative sense than an absolute one.
- Democracy as a principle of authority: This means that any political authority in the society should come via democratic means i.e. political power be allocated via free and fair elections at regular intervals.
- Democracy as a set of institutional arrangements or constitutional devices: This is the principle of checks and balances. An independent judiciary, a free and lively media and an independent bureaucracy are all part of such a democratic setup. In short, no single entity in society is allowed to function without oversight and become all powerful.
- Democracy as a type of behavior: Sir Crick describes this as “People acting and behaving democratically in patterns of friendship, speech, dress, and amusements, treating everyone else as if they were an equal”. This means that in civic interactions, material and social standing becomes irrelevant. Every human being is treated with dignity.
A simple democracy score for a country can be estimated by combining scores for each of the three components above. I feel that the first two components are of equal importance, while the third is more important than the first two. Therefore, I shall score the first two components out of 10, and the third out of 20, for a maximum total possible score of 40.
First, here are my estimates for the scores of America, Pakistan, India and China in 1960.
Democracy as a principle of authority: US: 6.5/10, Pakistan: 2/10, China: 1/10, India: 5/10
Democratic institutions: US: 8/10, Pakistan: 2/10, China: 1/10, India: 5/10
Democratic behaviour: US: 11/20, Pakistan: 4/20, China: 5/20, India: 2/20
Total score: US: 24.5/40, Pakistan: 8/40, China: 7/40, India: 12/40
In 1960, the US already had a long history of competitive elections, although they were obviously not fair because African-Americans were prevented from voting by various means. China was a totalitarian state in the grip of Mao. Pakistan was already under military rule. India had managed to hold two general elections, but social equality was a distant dream. The US society was quite democratic for the whites but excluded the blacks. China was quite socially unequal but was still more equal than India or Pakistan. Overall, the US was about 60% democratic, India about 30 % while China and Pakistan were not very democratic.
What would the scores look like today, on India’s 63rd Republic Day ?
Democracy as a principle of authority: US: 8.5/10, Pakistan: 5/10, China: 1/10, India: 7.5/10
Democratic institutions: US: 8.5/10, Pakistan: 5/10, China: 2/10, India: 7.5/10
Democratic behaviour: US: 18/20, Pakistan: 8/20, China: 15/20, India: 10/20
Total score: US: 35/40, Pakistan: 18/40, China: 18/40, India: 25/40
Today, the US is socially a very free and equal place. There is still some discrimination, but it is the exception rather than the norm. Pakistani society has moved forward as well, although at a disappointing rate. Chinese institutions and political authority remain undemocratic, however the Communist revolution has transformed the Chinese society. It is much more democratic today than it was in 1960. As for India, in terms of the protocols and hardware of democracy: competitive, free and fair elections and checks and balances, it is almost on par with the US. However, Indian society is far less democratic than the American or even the Chinese one. Overall, today India is about 60 % democratic, China and Pakistan about 40 % while the US is close to 90 % democratic.
In India, we have banked on democracy and liberty to reform society. I feel this incremental social revolution has worked in most parts of the country. And we have to keep this social revolution going. The idea of India was first and foremost about creating a great society, where people of any gender, religion or ethnic group would be equal citizens. Every voice and action against gender discrimination, caste/religious divisions, corruption and abuse of power adds a little bit to India’s democratic score, bringing us closer to the big idea.
Readers may also like to read a similar post on The South Asian Idea blog: http://thesouthasianidea.wordpress.com/2008/07/26/democracy-in-india-%E2%80%93-7/