US and Indian democracies: Different values!
US has a rightwing, miltarist, authoritarian government. India, with all its economic weaknesses, has a more open society. This is an unequal world. Injustice is the outcome for many weaker countries.
I watched the last two debates of the Presidential candidates, George Bush and John Kerry rather very attentively. Another provocation for me to write about American democracy is my chance buying of an old book, by Harold Laski, “The American Democracy” (1949). There was a time in the late Fifties and early Sixties when I was very much a Laskiite! Those were heady days of my Fabian Socialism and my study at Oxford and my `religious’ reading of the News Statesman and my friendship with its editor, Kingsley Martin. I turned into a full-scale Laski follower.
Thus, I had read all his works, including the book on American democracy. Laski is, as Laski scholars know, in the great tradition of great writers like Tocqueville and Bryce in writing and interpreting what is America, the American spirit and Americanism as “a principle of civilisation”.
Even now a rapid glance through the pages of this largish book of some seven hundred and odd pages makes an exhilarating feeling of something really great, a great nation, a great culture and civilisation.
But under George Bush, the old world admiration for America is largely gone, as a latest survey of voters in 8 out of 10 countries in Europe, South Korea and Japan, show that George Bush single-handedly had squandered the worldwide sympathy in the wake of the 9/11 and these worldwide voters wanted George Bush defeated.
The survey was conducted by world’s leading newspapers and as such the standing of the USA is now at an all-time low. Bush win is no victory for American values at all!
This is the mood in which I am writing this piece. The very massive scale of American operation, be it election or economics, deters one from drawing any easy conclusions. So, I didn’t wonder why such a learned man, a man given to serious introspection and analysis of politics and political ideologies like Laski says it took him a generation to write the book!
America’s economic and military power distorts US democracy. A liberal democracy has an illiberal, even a rightwing dictator-type government! This is in contrast with other democracies of Europe where there is a largely more equal partners, parties and political ideologies at work.
India might have all the positive, favourable features of a liberal democracy, Parliament, an activist judiciary and a bureaucracy that is under the democratic control. But there are some on-going issues of governance etc. This is an internal matter. Externally, India is seen an economically weak power. Moreover, no country would praise other country’s strong points! We have to live in a world of competing ambitions, China with its own motives to align with US, Russia has its own compulsions to align with US.
India too had to tread carefully to align with USA! There is no international rule of law. UN is rendered weak by US war in Iraq.
So, in what way India can move forward? No way! We are in a fix. Our economic growth, our military balance and much else is dependent upon American goodwill!
American democracy, unlike in India where with all our current problems with governance, our Supreme Court stands out the lighthouse of hope and confidence for the average citizen. Some thoughts ran through my mind as I was fixed with the CNN News telecast of the US debates.
Is India a mature democracy, as we can claim, given our track record of the past half a century of successfully running the massive scale of elections?
I was also wondering what sort of clarity Indians would have got from the political ideological orientation the US Presidential candidates? Bush charged Kerry for being a liberal “a tax and spend liberal”! The word liberal had been thoroughly misconceived in the US from its original meaning. Again here Laski himself is an authority, his book “The rise of European liberalism” is another classic. The word liberal is used, I believe, to point to someone who doesn’t believe in strong government intervention in economic affairs. This is the time of liberalisation of economy. But liberal in politics is one who largely supports unfettered private sector capitalism economy, right? My definition of liberal and liberalism is different and yet to fit into the current world realities.
The UPA partners, the Congress and the Left : are these leaders liberals? An embarrassing question? Yes, it is! Criminals in politics! Criminalisation of politics is no liberal politics! What about the Opposition leaders? The BJP wallahs are no liberals, sure! They are fundamentalists, as like George Bush asserting his fundamental beliefs in almost religious fervour.
The real politik of the world is highly unhelpful to the poorer countries. We need a stronger economy, a more honest pro-poor transparent politics! So, the moral is clear. Every country has to live with the real politik of the powerful countries. Selfish countries! Countries with their own vanities like the UK!
Today’s world has its own moral paradigm. A paradigm shift! France, Germany and a few lead in moral stature. They speak for justice. They plead for peace. India has to slowly but on basic principles must move step by step to strengthen the forces of moral opinion in the world and a liberal opinion inside the country.