[Editorial Analysis] In defence of India’s noisy democracy

Mains Paper 2: Polity
Prelims level: Democracy
Mains level: Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States

Context:

• In China, hundreds of millions been lifted out of poverty and social indicators have improved dramatically.

• India’s developmental record has been much more mixed. Poverty has decreased, but the majority of people’s employment options remain limited to low-wage, risky positions in the informal sector.

• Perhaps most surprising of all, progress in basic social development indices has delayed, to the point that, as Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen have shown, India has fallen behind Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The myth of overdose of Democracy

• Making and implementing crucial decisions about public investment and other reforms in the face of many and opposing democratic voices is impossible, unlike in China. Firmer and more autonomous modes of decision-making that are isolated from the cacophony are required.

• Less democracy is not helpful for development, according to comparative, theoretical, and ethical analysis. Contrary to some who claim that economic management cannot be entrusted to democratic forces, comparative research clearly reveals that democratic regimes have outperformed non-democratic regimes on average.

Democracy and Development:

• Kerala and Tamil Nadu have done more to improve the lives of all their citizens, regardless of caste or class, than any other Indian state, and it is no coincidence that both have had the country’s longest and most sustained popular democratic movements, as well as the most intense party competition.

• On balance, democracies are superior at supporting inclusive growth, as evidenced by the comparative record.

• The idea that authoritarianism promotes decision-making that can rise above the din of democratic demand-making to get things done assumes that individuals in power will serve the common good rather than the powerful, and that when given such autonomy, they will know what to do with it.

• This is just arrogance. Democracies are more likely to meet the requirements for good decision-making on both of these aspects. Elected officials, no matter how venal, must win re-election, which necessitates replying to a wide range of voters.

Impact of discussions and negotiations:

• Democracy’s conflicts and noise may make things more difficult, but having to respond to a wide range of interests and identities not only protects against disastrous decisions, but also allows for forms of negotiation and compromise that can bridge interests and even balance otherwise conflicting imperatives for growth, justice, sustainability, and social inclusion.

• Science, profits, technocrats, or authoritarian fiat cannot and should not determine the common good, as democratic theorists have long emphasised. Only persistent societal discourse can reveal what it is and how we get there.

Comparing with China:

• Regardless of how one measures or evaluates China’s development achievements, the human cost of the party-created great famine that killed 35 million people, a cultural revolution that turned neighbours against one another, a one-child policy that devastated families and erased a generation, or the violent, systematic repression of the Uyghur Muslim and Tibetan minorities cannot be overlooked.

• These were not unintentional excesses or unavoidable development costs. These were and are the inexorable tendencies and predations of an authoritarian regime, one that now denounces any readings of the past that contradict the party’s official history as “historical nihilism.”

• Individual liberties, community identities, religion and thought freedoms, all of which confer recognition on human beings, have all been protected in India.

• To even consider a trade-off between these freedoms and the role they’ve played in building a pluralistic nation and some cold, utilitarian calculus of “development” not only goes against the very idea of human agency and dignity, but it also ignores India’s and China’s vastly different social and historical realities.

Conclusion:

• In the name of nationalism and progress, the government has not only pushed to centralise, insulate, and personalise decision-making, but has also aggressively attacked democratic institutions’ independence and repressed and imprisoned Opposition voices.

• However, the development trajectory is bleak at best. While corporate interests and the billionaire elite have prospered, the entire economy has sputtered, with the worst recession of any large economy in the globe.

• On the social front, Hindutva — a prototype strain of authoritarian ethnic nationalism — has shattered India’s democratic norms and institutional foundations, weaponizing a politics of polarisation and demonization that threatens to tear the country apart.

• Rather than looking to China, it is time to safeguard India’s democratic noise.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the constitutional provisions for Chief Minister, consider the following statements:

1. According to Article 72, The Chief Minister shall be appointed by the Governor and the other Ministers shall be appointed on the advice of the Chief Minister.

2. According to Article 164(2), The Council of Ministers shall be collectively responsible to the Legislative Assembly of the State.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: B

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