Wednesday, August 10, 2005

India – A Case Study for Democracy Promotion

Critics of democracy promotion often raise the fear of either a hostile regime to the US or a religious or ultra-nationalist party will be elected to office. They fear that a Shiite theocracy will rise in Iraq or that an Islamists government will replace the government of Saudi Arabia or Egypt. These critics exist both on the Left as well as the Right (I call them paleo-conservatives). Perhaps a case study is needed to put to rest the alarmists.

A recent article in the Economist cites the case of India. This article does not require subscription – so read the whole thing. I would like to draw readers’ attention to 1998 when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lead coalition came into power. The BJP is a Hindu Extremist Party that advocates “Hindutva” – a xenophobic ideology. It publicly wants to establish “a Hindu state and Hindu glory.” It is important to remember that the Party was responsible for instigating anti-Muslim riot and destroying Islamic mosques. The BJP ascendancy worried many – including this blogger. I was quite shaken by the event at the time and became unsure of my commitment to Democracy. But in 2004, the BJP lost the election to Congress Party and is in steady decline.

The Economist analyzes the Party demise.

…Yet an Indian news magazine last month splashed across its cover the question: “Is the party over?”

It is not alone in asking. The BJP is going through more than a bad patch. Its continuing quarrel with its parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), or National Association of Volunteers, calls into question the party's purpose. Is its main aim to win elections or to promote the RSS's ideology of Hindutva, (Hindu-ness)? Adherents of the organisation portray Hindutva as a demand for equality, in that it would end the special arrangements, such as their own family-law system, enjoyed by India's 150m Muslims. The Muslims fear that Hindutva's aim is to promote Hinduism over Islam.

The Economist offers two theories. The first is…

…Many in the BJP believe that “with a narrow Hindu-only approach, [the BJP] will never occupy the dominant position in Indian politics that the Congress once enjoyed.” Those words come from a paper written in March by Sudheendra Kulkarni, then an aide to Mr Advani. Most observers outside the Hindu “family” agree with his analysis. They blame the BJP's poor electoral performance last year in part on the bloody anti-Muslim pogrom in 2002 in Gujarat, a BJP-ruled state, and its failure to take action against Narendra Modi, Gujarat's chief minister, whose government was accused of complicity in the violence. The BJP's identification with hardline Hindutva, it is argued, cost votes.

The second theory is argued most vigorous by Hindutva’s adherents.

However, other party members and RSS leaders argue the exact opposite: that the problem was that, in office, the BJP was not Hindu enough. To forge a governing coalition, it had agreed not to pursue the three big Hindutva demands: the building of the Ayodhya temple, a matter it left to the courts; the adoption of a uniform civil law to supplant Muslim family law; and the revocation of the special constitutional status of Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state.

The Hindu right argues that it was the failure to deliver results on these demands that alienated the BJP's core voters and demoralised its activists. Prafull Goradia, a former member of Parliament for the Jan Sangh, the BJP's forerunner, calls the notion that moderation is the only way of coming to power “absolute hogwash”. He argues that the RSS should end its reliance on the BJP alone and “license” more Hindu parties. This, he insists, would increase the total Hindu vote.

This is similar to the US Democratic Party argues that it lost three elections in the row because it was not liberal enough – the argument put forth by Howard “The Socialist” Dean. It is delusional talk. The BJP was plenty Hindutva and the Democratic Party was plenty liberal.
The BJP defeat was due to more pragmatic reason – because they governed badly. It was easy to blame the incumbent when on is the opposition. Most extremist parties can talks the good talk. But once coming to power, extremist parties are often cannot govern wisely. Their radical ideology prevents them from implement practical and common sense measures. Getting the train to run on time is easier said than done. The Indians soon became delusional with the BJP.
Furthermore, records have shown that when radical parties participate in politic – they become less radical and more pragmatic in the process. Electoral politic tend to moderate people. This can be easily seen in the BJP after their defeat. The BJP had moderated the rhetoric significantly.

The RSS's row with the BJP centres on Lal Krishna Advani, president of the party and leader of the opposition. Mr Advani upset “family” members on a visit to Pakistan in June. He praised Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Islamic country's founder, and said he was sad about the destruction, in 1992, of a mosque built on the alleged site of a Hindu temple in Ayodhya.

The phenomenon can be seen elsewhere too. Hizb-Allah in Lebanon is still an extremist party – but it rhetoric is significantly toned down. Just compare Hiz-Allah public position on Israel today and five years ago; the contrast is startling.

One should have faith in Democracy. Fear not that Hamas will win the next Palestinian Authority election. Once winning office, they either have to moderate their position or risk loosing power. Critics of Democracy often deride its proponents for being idealistic. Their cynicism prevent them from seeing Democracy for what it is. Democracy is not an ideal, it is the most pragmatic concept. It has worked consistently in modern time and with Democracy came other things equally pragmatic - good standard of living, strong economy, and wealth.


Blogger MaxedOutMama said...

An excellent post.

I think real democracies work because they shift responsibility for choosing leaders (and therefore the agenda) down to the people who are most vulnerable to the effects of policies.

So democracies work to produce moderation and effective governments in the long term, even though they may look inefficient in the short term.

If you go back to the 30's and the rise of the "efficient" fascist governments in Europe, you can see clearly that what looked like a winner was in fact a wave of self-destruction.

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Blogger summermobile said...

Furthermore, records have shown that when radical parties participate in politic – they become less radical and more pragmatic in the process. Electoral politic tend to moderate people. This can be easily seen in the BJP after their defeat. The BJP had moderated the rhetoric significantly.

2:44 AM  

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