08 December 2011

Controlled Democracy: Do We Really Need It?

Controlled Democracy was the topic of debate among various eminent personalities in an NDTV show. The panel comprised – Dr. Farooq Abdullah, Mr. Tarun Vijay, Mr. Mukul Kesavan, Mr. Patrick French, Ms. Shazia Ilmi and Sankarshan Thakur.

Dr. Abdullah, Minister for New and Renewable Energy, had earlier stated that “our democracy is so much that it destroys ourselves” and that “the time has come that India has controlled democracy like Malaysia has. The solutions will be quicker.” He had also said that we must start thinking about certain things and if we don’t, we will never find solutions. Abdullah’s opinions were in line with those of Mahatir Mohamad, Former Prime Minister of Malaysia. Mohamad said that, “If India is not too democratic, it will be like China in terms of development. It is important for the world to understand the limitations of democracy.” He also said that “too much democracy can obstruct decision making.”

Abdullah’s talks revolved around the average Indian citizen in the debate. He brought forth points like how the people do not understand what is happening, which is around 60 percent, while only the remaining 40 percent do. He also said how this 60 percent needs to be educated to reach the desired level. He mentioned how only the people at the bottom vote, while the ones at the top never do but they are the ones who make the policies. He reassured the public as to how FDI in retail would not adversely affect small shop-owners because FDI in retail will only be implemented in cities having a population of 10 lakhs and above. He also raised the topic of Cold Chain and how it will improve the economic conditions of our country’s farmers.

Vijay, the BJP National Spokesperson, said that Controlled Democracy is “a dangerous idea. It’s an idea that has always been adopted by autocrats and dictators to justify their oppression of the people.” He said that the core factors behind China’s development are patriotism and opening up of the markets. He also said that “if there’s a choice between freedom plus poverty and dictatorship and prosperity, I will choose freedom plus poverty not a dictatorship with prosperity.”

Kesavan, a noted Historian, said that the idea of Controlled Democracy is a very old one and that it mirrors Macaulay’s vision of India as a democratic adolescent which needed to be raised to maturity before it could be properly democratic. He said that Controlled Democracy might even be called a euphemism for Pakistan. He quoted the example of the American system, which is critiqued for not making progress but has never been suggested to redo its constitutional system.

French, another noted Historian, said how India has become generally more prosperous down the years and how politicians have become less important, while people in business have become more important. He also pointed out to how politicians have become less co-operative with each other. He called India to be “hyper-democratic,” which is a good thing because there is a very high level of political engagement. This, however, leads to paralysis in policy making. He stressed upon the fact of how it all boils down to failure of leadership.

Ilmi said that Mohamad had “suspended 3 newspapers from publication and also curtailed the power of the judiciary.” She said how many people called Malaysia a “hard democracy” and “soft dictatorship.” She said how India needs more democracy because “We’re still evolving democracy as a concept.” She called Controlled Democracy an oxymoron. She also talked about “bad governance,” with no accountability and less transparency.

Thakur, the Editor of The Telegraph, said how the present condition of our country is the result of “bad executive behavior.” He called the Indian voter astute and how they have proven themselves in the elections. He also mentioned the importance of growing literacy levels.