Monday, November 18, 2013

Democracy and House Party

At ITM, the five of us were a very close knit gang. After college, work split us though the bond was intact.

And now, after about ten years all of us are in Chennai. We all got together on Whatsapp. Suddenly, it felt as if we were back in the small room at Vanniyambathi Street in Mandaveli, though virtual.

We decided to to have a family get together. And that's when I realized how difficult it was to run the country in the democratic set up.

Here's how the rest of the story pans out or should I say fizzled out.

1. Date: Since weekdays were impossible, there was an agreement that it has to be on a weekend. But would that be on a Saturday or Sunday, that was the question. I preferred Saturday while other friend preferred Sunday. After a bit of persuasion, we decided on a particular Saturday. But soon after agreeing, few days later one member informed that he was not going to be available that particular Saturday. Now, thankfully we all quickly agreed for the next Saturday.

2. Make, Deliver or Go Out: Initially the plan was that it would be a potluck. Each household gets to make a particular dish. While the idea was good, after some considerations we decided to go to a restaurant. So we started discussing which place and type of food. At this point, I noticed that one particular friend wasn't communicating. So I called him. As I had anticipated he wasn't happy going to a restaurant. So we decided to order and I offered to host the meeting at my place.

3. Biriyani or Pasta: The decision was to order bucket biriyani. Just as we got close, a friend checked if we could order pasta instead of biriyani. After discussing the palate of people, we decided against it. Just as we finished the conversation, we realized we had nothing for the lone vegetarian in the gang. An additional logistic load.

Of course as the day neared, I had a hunch. So three days before our meeting, I called each of them to reconfirm. As I had thought, two of them said that something had come up at home and that they couldn't make it. That was three days before our grand meeting. Finally, there was no get together, no biriyani. Just some irritation and acidity.

Now if you were patient reading all these trivial details about dates and biriyani for an insignificant meeting between friends, I thank you. All these happenings reminds me of the state of our nation. It makes me wonder if Democracy is bane or boon to our country. Is it helping the country move forward or pulling it backwards?

Take Andhra Pradesh turmoil for instance. One party brings the state to a halt as it wants a separate state to be carved out. When a decision is taken, the rest bring it to grinding halt fighting against the division. Take my own state for example, the power starved Tamil Nadu. Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project was planned more than a decade ago. The construction of the plant started in 1998, now in 2011 we have protests about its safety.

Seems like democracy in India is only letting the nation take one step forward and two backwards. The consensus building exercise is a task juggernaut with too many voices and so many power centers.

Would an autocratic rule be the answer? Would someone who can rule with an iron hand be better for the country?

And then I think about this example and feel proud that India a democracy. Because the basic bedrock of democracy is that citizens are intelligent. And that ultimately the power lies in their hands.

Think about how China and India have dealt with one of their biggest problems - the burgeoning population. While China decreed one child policy with strict enforcement. Any exceptions was dealt with strongly.

India too had a brief enforcement through vasectomy. But otherwise, India's strategy to controlling the population growth was and has been based on - advocacy and public relations. No one can ever forget hum do, hamare do (we two, ours two). You could see it everywhere, the inverted red triangle. TV programs, Radio Streams, Hospitals...The messages appealed to people's good sense. Apprised them of the benefits. No coercion, no punishment. In fact, if I am not wrong there were no incentives, as well. It was freewill.

Becoming republic was probably the best gift that our leaders gave us. But I guess with it also comes along different voices often with narrow vision. With Federal system, the power becomes fragmented. And this is a scenario not just in India. The United States of America witnessed shut down recently. There are certainly challenges, but I guess this is the better form of governance.

In the end, it is a two way process. People have to exercise their choice carefully and their representatives in the Republic have to act responsibly. Idealistic? Is that too much to expect? 

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