Indian election is quickly turning into a battle between democracy and development. Underlying this tension, there is a thesis that democracy is only a luxury and can wait. Despite India's pride in being a democracy, this idea is as old as the country itself. Many people thought it was madness to have democracy in India, a poor and illiterate country at the time of Independence, in the first place. The privileged, the upper caste Hindus, the landlords, the princes, the educated, almost always thought this was a disaster. Indira Gandhi's brief adventure in authoritarianism was cheered on by many of these people: This was perhaps the reason why she was so wrong-footed eventually - everyone around her told her that this was great idea until the voters threw her out. Wealthy Indians nowadays point to China's development and blame their own democracy for failing to catch up, and this has become well accepted among the rich, powerful and the non-residents. Middle Class Indians therefore desire a 'strong leader', who can ride roughshod over democracy. The talk now is of the 'Gujrat model of development', which means better roads and e-Governance, though the assembly only met a few days every year and all dissent is ruthlessly suppressed.
One could attempt to justify democracy morally. The strong state that the middle classes advocate may not look that appetising if they try the famous test proposed by John Rawls: How would it look if you are on the losing side? But if we set aside the moral question for a moment, because all morality in India now is treated as a left-liberal dogma (something that the left-liberals should be happy about), and deal solely in the realm of the practical, the arguments against democracy looks fatally flawed.
This logic that development brings democracy, which is now lapped up by National Chauvinists who argue that democracy matters less in an underdeveloped country. Though they profess to hate everything European and stand for truly Indian identity, this 'development first' is indeed a very Western idea. Worse, this is a Western neo-imperialist idea, entertained by those who would privately rather believe that India should not be exist as an independent country at all. If anything, that a poor country can indeed boldly experiment with democracy while it attempts to bring about development is a very original Indian idea, which lies at the very heart of the modern Indian state. And, I shall argue, despite all the disappointments we may have had, this idea that democracy can precede development was remarkably prescient and is still very relevant.
The problem of development, as modern Political Scientists show, does not come from democracy; it rather comes from the lack of it. To understand its reason, we should look closely at the nature of Capitalist development itself. Why is it that this has proved to be a more durable model despite the great initial achievements of the command economies such as the USSR? Surely, those economies built the appropriate legal structure, and a very effective mechanism of power, to focus solely on 'development'. However, the development as we know it, the ability to develop technologies, to continuously strive for productivity, to take risks and start enterprises to solve existing and future challenges, goes hand in hand with one of Capitalism's least liked features, the 'creative destruction', the itinerant liquidation of the structures of powers and creation of new hierarchies in its place. So, it is not just the socialism that the rich and the powerful should be afraid of: Capitalist development should be at least as disconcerting.
A reading of history shows that countries developed as that country's elite had been defeated and was forced to give up their privileges. This is why revolutions and civil wars, tragic as they are, often brought about 'development'. One could argue that one reason for China's progress and USSR's demise may have the former's 'Cultural Revolution' which destroyed the elite: USSR indeed had the same through Stalin's purges a few generations earlier. Now, democracy can run this process without so much blood-letting, and indeed proved to be a good system in resolving disputes. So, one way to foster development is to situate it on the basis of an effective democracy, one that greases the wheels of creative destruction by denying the powerful a chance to block progress, without wrecking everything and setting the economies back through bloody revolutions.
Indeed, the Indian version is slightly different from USSR: The idea is not about creating a command state producing by everything itself, but rather a state which stands behind its business classes and let them do whatever they wish. This state makes sure all the legislations and institutions are business-friendly - Banks lend them money easily, they can acquire any land as they like, they can hire and fire people without bothering about unions - in short, a Capitalist paradise. However, building this, which sounds a lot like Dubai rather than England, or USA, or Japan, countries that could build sustained long term development models, does not guarantee development or widespread prosperity. It only means that some rich people will have more opportunities to get rich. This will, however, not mean better education, more innovative products, better aware consumers with more rights, more new businesses, better jobs, enhanced disposable income and growth of demand, because all those things depend on things that this model will effectively stop: competitiveness, productivity growth, innovation, efficiency, enterprise.
My argument is only democracy can ensure, bloodlessly, that the economy remains dynamic. This does not mean that India does not need institutional reforms: It sure does, and those need to happen immediately. But there is less discussion about the failings of, say, the Courts system, than the need for a different political system: Indeed, the elite in India does not want the courts to function better, more efficiently and hold them accountable. A democratically elected government which throws its weight behind the reforms of the judiciary will do more to unlock 'development' than one which merely believes building roads by awarding contracts to friendly industrialists will do so.
So, in the end, my contention is a positive one: That democracy and development do hand in hand in India. As for China, it is a different cultural and historical model, and besides, who could say whether China wouldn't have developed faster had it been democratic. Democracy is not a mistake, and we shouldn't treat it as one.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Reli
India's employment data is sobering ( see here ). The pandemic has wrecked havoc and the structural problems of the economy - service sector dependence, uneven regional development and health and education challenges - are more evident than ever. Something needs to happen, and fast. To its credit, the government acknowledges the education challenge. Belatedly - it took more than 30 years - India has come up with a new National Education Policy. It is a comprehensive policy, which covers the whole spectrum of education and perhaps overcompensates the previous neglect by advocating radical change. As I commented elsewhere on this blog, it shows a curious mixture of aspirations, cultural revival and global competitiveness put under the same hood. However, despite its radical aspirations, the policy document often betrays same-old thinking. One of these is India's approach to foreign universities. The NEP makes the case for allowing foreign universities to set up operations in Ind
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
It's not often that I get to do things I like, but, as it happens, the lockdown came with a little gift. I was asked to develop, by an Indian entrepreneur with a strong commitment to education, a framework for a Liberal Education for one of his schools. And, as a part of this exercise, I was asked to develop a critique of Indian Education, if only to set the context of the proposal I am to make. I claim to have some unusual - therefore unique - qualification to do this job. I am, after all, an outsider in all senses. I have lived outside India for a long time, but never went too far away, making it my field of work for most of the period. I have also been outside the academe but never too far away: Just outside the bureaucracy but intimately into the conversations. I worked in the 'disruptive' end of education without the intention to disrupt and in For-profit without the desire for profit. Along the way, the only thing I consistently did is study educatio
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.