The Case Against Democracy

(Headline ripped off from the New York Times)

Democracy is absolutely great. Who would’t like the idea of people governing themselves, or at least having their chosen representatives in the government? Democracy is fair, and more compatible with concepts prevalent today like free-thinking, freedom of expression, and so on.

Democracy, at least an ideal one, does not discriminate between people on the basis of gender, religion, enthnicity, and other factors. It gives power to media and judiciary, the institutions that help check the government if it veers off in authoritarian direction.
But is democracy perfect? No, far from it. My biggest grouse with democracy is that it allows demagoguery to flourish. The head of the state, and other leaders might be representatives chosen by the majority of the people, but that does not make them the perfect choice. That just means that they ran an amazing (and expensive) political campaign and are good at oratory, and have a commanding personality.

The rise of right-wing populism in the form of world leaders like Modi, Putin, Erdogan, and most recently Trump is a testament of the weakness of democracy. Charm of personal strength, manliness, calllousness against minorities and intense scorn towards their politican opponents are some of the few qualities that these leaders share. But none of that stopped them from being elected. One reason was the weakness or bad track record of their opponents, the other that people bought their narrative. It is the second reason that should worry proponents of democracy.

That being said, there is no credible alternative for democracy as yet. People should still be trusted to make their own choices unless somebody is feeling adventurous and wants to throw the world into anarchy. Perhaps a few modifications are required to iron out the chinks and democracy might turn out to be fine. The press and judiciary should be empowered, people should get better education, children should be instilled with leadership qualities from the beginning so that they take interest in politics and become educated, informed politicians in future. Media should return to objectivity (no matter how boring it may sound) and get their stories across to the people in remote areas so that people actually know who they are voting for.

Democrats and Dissenters

Having finished Ramachandra Guha’s latest book ‘Democrats and Dissenters’, I wanted to pen down a few thoughts. Unlike the other Guha book that I’ve read – the magnificently detailed and painstakingly researched ‘India After Gandhi’ – this one was a little vague. It is basically a bunch of seemingly unrelated essays cobbled together and divided in two categories: Politics and Society and Ideologies and Intellectuals. But essays even within a category often do not have a clear link, so I decided to read it not as a book but a collection of essays – which is not really a bad thing since the essays themselves are very readable.

As I read, I could discern a faint connection. Each essay in the book had something to do with difficulties, concepts, ideologies and individuals that have contributed to India’s ‘tryst’ with democracy. That was expected. While Guha is a true polymath, what he really excels is in the history of Indian democracy, in terms of its politics, sociology and economics.

The second part (Ideologies and Intellectuals) of the book is more focused, and except the very last essay, the entire part involves primarily little known (at least for me) but fantastic individuals who have shaped Guha’s thinking over the years and his understanding of modern India. Since I owe a lot of what I know about Indian democracy to Guha, it was interesting to read about the people he himself has been inspired from, and who have had a role to play in his outlook towards the world.

The book is informative and insightful, and Guha’s skillful writing ensures everything is simple enough for a layman like me. For those who are into Guha’s writing, and are interested in reading about India’s fraught and uneasy relationship with democracy, get rid of those second thoughts and get this book.