Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Democracy's Myths

We may discuss the fate of democracy in Africa or the Middle East but somehwhere those failures have been explained through cultural underpinnings. Because democracy, afterall, has worked elsewhere. So, at the heart of it, the discussion on democracy in the developing world boils down to two prime questions:

1 Why does it work in India?
2. Why did it work in the developed world?

The 2nd question is answered more easily. In layman world history, which we all studied in school, there is a myth that the Western nations have been democracies for a very long time. They have not! In the 18th century or about, these societies were also predominated by poor rural classes and democracy was a mistrusted word. While constitutional republics were established, the voting rights remained limited to a small minority of propertied, white males. Only in the 20th century did these societies transform into developed nations - with "middle class as the majority". Democracy with equal voting rights was ushered in only then. Everyone has an equal right to vote in a democracy but the outcome of the process depends upon the will of the majority - so who forms a majority in a country is a critical success factor for democracy to work. With all its limitations, Democracy has still worked in the Western world. There is good reason to believe that it worked because it was ushered in at the right moment - when the progressive, educated middle class had already formed a majority. This kind of a class exists in the developing world too, but it remains in a minority. That may be core to the reason why democracy works differently in the developing world. There might still be cultural factors at play, why democracy works slightly better in one nation versus another but "who forms a majority" in a country when democracy is ushered in, is likely to affect its outcome the most.

Answering the first question is more complex but exploring or exploding many myths around it is key to the discusssion on democracy's suitability as a model to the developing world with largely poor, rural and uneducated majorities.

India - Part I - Despite the economic boom story and presence of a "democracy", why does abject poverty remain so high in India? As you can see in one of the previous posts, inflation is high in India too and does form the news headlines everyday. What are the causes of this uneven development? Are the "rich exploiting the poor" still? ... an attempt at answering these questions - in the Next few Blogposts.