Democracy/Governance / 19.01.2008

Reader Ali Sohail has pointed us to a paper (Second-Best Institutions) by Dani Rodrik of Harvard University that asks why "best practices" are an unhelpful way to think about institutional reform. The paper is about economic institutions but it complements very nicely the theme we explored in the last post regarding governance and pure democracy in developing countries—that the best can be the enemy of the good and that the best is often dangerously innocent of contextual realities. Here are some relevant excerpts from Dani Rodrik’s paper: The focus of reforms in the developing world has moved from getting prices right to getting institutions right… “Governance reforms” have become the buzzword for bilateral donors and multilateral institutions, in much the same way that liberalization, privatization and stabilization were the mantras of the 1980s.  But what kind of institutions should reformers strive to build?  Developing nations are different from advanced countries in...

Democracy/Governance / 18.01.2008

We go back to the quote on the cover of Dr. Ambedkar’s book mentioned in an earlier post: More brain, O Lord, more brain! Or we shall mar, Utterly this fair garden we might win The point we want to emphasize about governance is that the alternative to unadulterated democracy is not dictatorship. But the consequence of reaching for a first-best solution can be the tragic loss of lives we are seeing in Kenya and Pakistan today. Fareed Zakaria in his 2003 book (The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad) has this to say: One effect of the overemphasis on pure democracy is that little effort is given to creating imaginative constitutions for transitional countries. Constitutionalism… is a complicated system of checks and balances designed to prevent the accumulation of power and the abuse of office. This is accomplished not by simply writing up a list of...

Democracy/Governance / 12.01.2008

Constitutional morality is not a natural sentiment. It has to be cultivated. We must realize that our people have yet to learn it. Democracy in India is only a top-dressing on an Indian soil, which is essentially undemocratic. This is what Dr. B. R. Ambedkar said after the departure of the British from India in 1947. The point for us, as it was for Dr. Ambedkar, is not to be dogmatically pro- or anti-democracy but to note the facts and deal creatively with the reality. Perhaps this was one of the reasons for the different trajectories of governance in the two countries – India dealt with the reality a lot more creatively than was the case in Pakistan. Think of the approach to the reorganization of states as one example. Of course, there were other important differences and we shall elaborate on them as we go along. We will also...

Democracy/Governance / 04.01.2008

It is important to record the fact (without prejudging it at this stage) that China has postponed till 2020 the date of direct elections (under universal suffrage) to the legislature in Hong Kong. We will take this into consideration when we develop our thesis on governance in developing societies. It is also of interest to record that the British ruled Hong Kong for 150 years without it occurring to them how wonderful it was to be governed through the exercise of universal suffrage. It was only guaranteed in the Basic Law that was established when Britain handed the territory back to China in 1997. So it was a parting gift that China has refused to accept. And this refusal is quite enough to trigger a lot of thinking and rethinking. Let us think before we rush to judgment. But lest we be misunderstood, let us also reiterate that...

Democracy/Governance / 01.01.2008

These notes are intended to record our thoughts about two aspects of governance that, in our view, need serious reflection by analysts of developing societies in general and of South Asia in particular. We intend, with the help of contributors, to build on these notes throughout the year. First, we have been reiterating our view that the ethos of South Asian societies is still monarchical. By this we mean that both the rulers and the majority of the ruled continue to view the world in a monarchical perspective and act in accordance with it. The latest dynastic succession in Pakistan provides proof of this assertion yet again and does not need elaboration at this point. But even a cursory examination of the situations in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka will bear out our point. What we intend to do is to examine the implications of this reality for...