America grants another 4 years to President Obama. He has been receiving congratulations from all the four corners of the world. I too join in sending my best wishes to Mr Obama for such a stunning victory, which is a sign of his popularity with the American people. As a political analyst and current affairs commentator, I find it very encouraging that such a fiercely fought and costly election has ended “peacefully”. Elections in India are a lot different. It is common for TV news channels to announce at the end of polling that “the polls ended peacefully, without reports of any untoward incident”. The American people are really wonderful- while they can resort to firing in a school, they are exceptionally peaceful during elections! So my greetings to the American people and congratulations to Barack Obama, Mrs M. Obama and their daughters.
The media, both print and electronic, has not stopped to breathe since the victory announcement. Everybody is debating , analyzing, predicting,forecasting,discussing and hoping. Hoping for what? Hoping for Hope that the President has held out. But can we go back to 2008? Were we not hopeful then? We were promised “Change”. We hoped change will be ushered in or take place. What change has taken place since then? Has the economy changed? Has the world economy changed? Has the geo-political situation changed? Has terrorism changed? There is nothing to criticize or complain about what politicians say. This is the Burden Of Democracy. Politicians say so many things without meaning any. Though President Obama is somewhat different, as he insists that he says only that which he can do. He has delivered on his promises, he says. Well, the popular vote or electoral college vote seems to suggest differently: he is 50% right. For the remaining 50% he can’t be blamed. It is the greatest weakness of democracy.
In a democracy, the Opposition is under some kind of a moral obligation to criticize each and every action of the government. Even though the benefits of the government programmes reach all quarters, without any distinction of the government supporters or opposition followers, 100% credit never flows to any government. A critical attitude can easily lead to negative conclusions about the best efforts of the government. In this process of endless debate, only the citizens suffer. Decisions are taken by the government, not by the citizens. These decisions are implemented by the government, not by the citizens. Then what is the role of the citizens? Simply to exercise the right to vote, even if there is not much of a choice, as in India many a times? To make donations or contributions or campaign funds? Perhaps, yes. And last but not the least, to applaud the winner? While the winner gets a lot of energy in the process, the citizen exhausts all her energy, because the benefits flow to the investors of huge election funds, without which no such applauding opportunity could ever arise. The cost of a fair and peaceful election in any democracy is prohibitive.
The billions of dollars spent on the Presidential elections in America could builds thousands of houses for the needy or add more patient beds in public hospitals or open several more schools for children or help remove poverty substantially. But it was all spent on banners, flags, advertisements, networking etc. The election takes so many months. Is it right to invest so heavily in terms of valuable time and money in any election, even in the election of the President of the United States of America? I don’t think there is any justification. In this IT age and knowledge society, it should be finished in one day. When America spends billions, other ape her and spend millions, when they should not have spent more than a hundred thousand only. In India, democracy has been defiled by heavy spending on electioneering. It promotes corruption. It precludes the worthy to come forward to serve the people. Just note the contradiction in terms- a candidate runs for Presidency to “serve” the people, but he spends billions on the campaign to win. Logic demands that one who serves must be paid for his services. In democracy, it is inverted- he who wants to serve must spend from own pocket! I mention it because it has vitiated the whole election process in India.
India started its march towards democracy in the best possible austere manner, drawing on the Gandhian principles of right means for right ends. This saw candidates for the first Lok Sabha/parliament from among those followers of Mahatma Gandhi, who had incomes of less than a dollar a day. Their opponents were none the better than them. Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri did not own any rich assets and another PM, Mr Gulzari Lal Nanda, stayed in a two room rented flat in Delhi. They were respected for their honesty and integrity. Compare the composition of the first Lok Sabha with the current one and the meaning would become clear- there are more than 350 millionaire members of parliament in the present Lok Sabha. The cost of election to the candidate has gone so high that a communist Party leader was so awe struck by the cost of rupees 25 crores of some colleague of his for the MP’s election that he spoke about it from a public forum, when the cash for vote scandal of the Manmohan Singh government surfaced during its first term in 2004-09. There are many battleground constituencies in India where the expenses cross 100 crores of rupees. Such is the requirement of funds and such are the returns that even then the elections are fought ferociously, with gun touting, kidnapping, booth capturing, rigging of voting machines and even murders or bomb blasts. The kind of service such elected members of parliament render to the people, should be clear to all the votaries of democracy. Some of them also become ministers, Chief Minister or Governor. They are on the Parliamentary Committees. They represent India abroad as members of official delegations. They remember the citizens once in 5 years. There is neither participation of the people in decision making nor in implementation. They behave like kings and queens, live lavishly at the cost of the tax payers’ money, accumulate enough funds to recoup their expenses and provide enough for the next election and their progeny. The helplessness of the citizens-even global citizens- can be judged from the universal cry against “corruption”. What is corruption to the citizen is power to the elected members in a democracy. They call it their privilege to get all the benefits out of turn, while the citizens have rights only. Rights are enforceable by the courts of law, privileges accrue. Democracy suffers from many such weaknesses. It needs to be revisited, fixed and simplified. It needs to be made a no cost process. It needs to be structured in a transparent manner, run honestly and become participatory. China is gradually moving towards democracy. The Middle East is changing. But the form of democracy itself needs to change. Till then we must not have much hope even if President Obama says so.
The world is what it was in 2008 when change was promised. America too is what it was in 2008. The world moves in its own style. Excepting for major upheavals like the world wars or tsunami or earthquakes, change occurs in its own cycle. America can expect change if the world changes. In a globalized world, co-operation of all countries is necessary to make human life on the globe happier than ever. Terrorism has to end. Civil societies should not suffer because they don’t misbehave like the terrorists. Economic policies should aim to benefit all, rather than make one side the exploiter and another the exploited. There will be hope only if fair policies are formulated and fairly implemented. In today’s valueless world, values need to be re-established. Foreign policy of no country should contribute to conflict. Any nation which succeeds in establishing a truly healthy democratic system is going to become the role model for others. As the promised change failed to get such thing, will it be justified to have hope of a better future?
Let us HOPE!