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Is a true democracy really possible?

The scholars among the readers please forgive me.  What I am about to write may just be banality or tripe that is already well known to you.  Like all good human beings, I am a narcissistic person who likes to write stuff and feel good about it.  One of the underlying themes of this blog which is now reaching three years, this way or that, has been that of democracy.  This whole thing started with my challenging of the idea that the separate Telangana agitation was democratic and that it was a people's movement.


But over the nearly three years, the posts on my blog have gone in different directions some of them about education while others were about leadership and such issues.  Since I am a pretentious person, I like to think that I can theorize about things and critically interrogate issues to see how much water they hold.  My previous post was about the ills plaguing Indian Nationalism and it ended on a pessimistic note with entreaties on my part to the Prime Minister of India which I am confident have reached nowhere near him.  But there were questions that were whirring in my mind (giving the rate at it which my mind functions the whirring had to be rather slow) and lo behold I have found answers to questions that many had found centuries and millenniums before.  But indulge me and read on my explanation about democracy and its true existence.


For all those of you who are familiar with history of Ancient Greece, the Greek Polis has been seen as the seat of democracy.  You also know that there is nothing true about that particular understanding.  Very few Ancient Greek poleis actually practiced any serious form of democracy.  And if one were to read the Greek philosophers of Antiquity they were particularly contemptuous of democracy as a form of government; the most prominent among this school of thinkers being Plato who likened democracy to mob rule.  If Plato were to see modern India he would have said "I told you so".  But I jump the gun, so let us get back to some sense of chronology.


I do not want to make this a lesson on democracy, so as our American friends would say I will cut to the chase (though I have often thought that chases are dull and dreary affairs).  The revival of democracy happened in the modern period post the Renaissance and the Reformation, concomitantly with the necessities of rising capitalism and the formation of Nation States.  Nation State formation is the natural corollary of spreading capitalism.  Capitalism, everyone tells us is something that encourages competition and tries to enlarge markets all for the benefit of the consumer.  If ever there has been a blatant lie told to the human race this is it.  For the true nature of capitalism is to enlarge markets but restrict competition.  In order to do so some principle is required and that is when the Nation State system was invented.


As opposed to the Greek Polis or the Ancient Indian Janapada or Ganapada, the Nation State system tries to identify capitalists who can be excluded from the competitive process.  Without being disrespectful to social science scholars who spent substantial parts of their life trying to identify the principles on which Nation States were built, I would like to point out that Nation States were formed on pragmatic grounds using any one or more principles to keep competition out.  Language has often been cited as a ground for the construction of Nation States.  But we have a Germany, Austria and parts of Switzerland which speak German and are three different Nation States.  France, Belgium and parts of Switzerland speak French but they are different Nation States.  In Spain, Spanish and Basque are spoken yet it is one Nation State.  So it is the pragmatic principle laid down by an oligarchy that decides whether X or Y is a Nation State and then imposes restrictions on competition in trading and selling in those areas on those who do not conform to the pragmatic norms that have been laid out.


This led to wars and constant interference in each Nation States' affairs and therefore the Europeans signed the Peace of Westphalia where they said that each Nation State is Sovereign in matters pertaining to its internal matters.  And thus colonialism was born.  After shutting each other out from their respective Nation States, European Capitalism and Nation State system went in search of new markets.  Here let us take a breather and return to some important concepts.


While this was happening, it was obvious that neither kings nor the Pope could be trusted with authority to monitor the free market in the new Nation States.  Kings had a notorious reputation that ran for centuries to take monetary favours and declare certain markets as being open only to certain products and arbitrarily levied taxes.  The Pope was even more autocratic and more powerful than the king and since he was the representative of God's monarchy that encompassed the whole world, he could not be entrusted with the running of the new and yet fragile Nation State system.  That is when, while the likes of Adam Smith were advocating a free market, the likes of John Locke were advocating democracy.  But democracy did not mean power to the people.  For Locke and most of the European world democracy was the power of decision making given to people who could earn 40 shillings a week without having any encumbrances on that earning.  Women were automatically ruled out of this process.  This process continued into the 20th Century when finally Universal Adult Franchise became a reality; in countries like Switzerland as recently as 1973.


Now that the breather's function has been served let us get back to the idea of spreading capitalism and new markets.  The only problem with spreading capitalism, which is also colonialism is that it required a machinery (a bureaucratic one) to run the everyday activities of administration in the colonies.  So some of the natives were educated and the unintended consequence of this education was that the natives realized what was being denied to them.  And therefore Nationalism and Nation State system became a pan global phenomena.  There were three kinds of colonies; the first two can be lumped together actually but I split hairs for a reason.  The first kind of colony was represented by the United States of America which declared independent from the authority of the British monarch.  It talked about great things but ultimately it was to be an oligarchy masquerading as a democracy.  French aristocrats like Alexis de Tocqueville were very impressed with this oligarchy and called it a democracy only because it was not ruled by a monarch.  The second example is colonies like Australia and New Zealand; home to convicts who could not be trusted to be anywhere near their home country, Britain.  These were quite contended to be ruled by the British Monarch.  


The third kind of colonialism was to be found in India, Africa, China and South East Asia.  Here foreign rulers came and set rules for the natives.  These countries are of interest to us.  I will leave South East Asia from this narrative since its colonial experience is slightly different from the rest of the world. That can be a separate story in itself.  But India, China and Africa are interesting.  In Africa the only loyalties that people had and recognized were tribal loyalties. But the Europeans fought wars there and created national boundaries most of which are not understood by the people of Africa perhaps even today.  That is why there are coup de tats all the time and no semblance of any collective rule.  China chose to go the Communist democracy way.  Which means that it borrowed the Iron Curtain policy from the erstwhile USSR and maintains it even after the disappearance of the USSR and the so called communist democracy from the rest of the world.  What we know about China is what it shows the world.  It show cases Beijing, Hong Kong Shanghai and Guangzhou and nobody knows what happens in the hinterland.


India is interesting.  It is transparent and there are no mysteries about it.  It is corrupt to the point of embarrassment and its politics are a national shame.  Now let me come to the point of this post.  If the USA the second biggest democracy represents an oligarchy, India the biggest democracy in  the world represents unfettered lumpenism and rule of the goons and thugs. The USA by maintaining an electoral college and by not welcoming all and sundry into the decision making process maintains the oligarchy that Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Samuel Adams along with the modern day Cincinnatus George Washington wanted to maintain.  The minority white population pretty much sets the agenda of democracy and maintains it by keeping the burgeoning population of Hispanics, African Americans; God bless them because they choose to reinforce the white agenda by prefixing African before American while the white populations do not call themselves British Americans, German Americans or Irish Americans and so legitimately are the REAL Americans and Indians who go there with great fanfare become Indian Americans and so I joke that in America there has been a movement from American Indians to Indian Americans and none of them will be the Real Americans.  


In India it does not matter who you are.  If you are willing to be bought or terrorized or a willing accessory to fraudulent democracy all is fine.  So while an old two hundred plus year constitution in America is amended less than thirty times in India a 65 year old constitution has already been amended more than a hundred times.  A wonderful contrast.  But look at the theoretical aspects of democracy and representations.  Democracy is supposed to one person, one vote.  That is the representation principle.  But it is hugely flawed.  Take the case of America in 2000.  Al Gore is supposed to have got the popular vote, but the electoral college voted George W Bush.  After a legal battle decided by judges who are all appointed by various Presidents at various points of time, George W Bush was declared winner.  One person, one vote?  What kind of representation of constituents is this?  In India we have a simple majority system.  So imagine a constituency of 100 people.  A and B are contesting the elections.  A gets 51 votes and B 49.  One person one vote.  In India's simple majority system A wins the election and represents even the 49 who have voted against him.  So somebody talked about a proportional representation system.  A party which wins a certain number of votes will send a certain number of legislators but in this case people do not chose their representatives, the party does it for them.  So I could be represented by someone who I choose not to represent me.  So democracy is not a solution; it is a problematic.  


In this situation why complain about politicians and politics.  Just go back to where we started.  The Nation State system and capitalism and democracy and the bureaucracy are devices to keep people out of power and not empower them.  Some carry that task out in a sophisticated manner, while others like India do it crassly.  And other countries do not even pretend to have this holy cow as their governing principle.  Ultimately, it is all the same where one section disempowers others, some through sophisticated chicanery, others through brazen transparency and yet others through out right war.  The moral of this story is that there is no just system in the world; only a lot of talk about it.