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Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Leadership, Politics / 25.01.2008

In our last post (More on Dynasties and Modernity) we had made the point that “it was the mass of Peoples Party loyalists in Pakistan who were clamoring for the leadership to be passed on to a Bhutto after Benazir—hence the addition of Bhutto to Bilawal’s name.” As if on cue, an op-ed appeared in The News (January 25, 2008) entitled PPP's succession -- not so flawed. The author, a barrister and human rights activist currently based in the UAE, had the following things to say: You will not meet a PPP supporter who will not tell you exactly this--that they want a Bhutto to lead the party. From the workers to the leaders, be they of any ethnic or religious background, all want a Bhutto as their leader. Contrary to what the critics imply, the Bhutto family has not imposed its leadership upon the PPP, or in...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Pakistan, Politics / 24.01.2008

We have received more comments from our reader whom we had quoted in the previous post (How Modern is Modern?).  On dynasties and the new generation: A more nuanced argument is required on both sides, either to support or refute the position that the next generation is likely to be less tolerant of dynasties. It is possible that those who benefit from dynasties and also those who do not are not willing or able to protest such practices. What can an individual reasonably do if the son of Benazir Bhutto or Sonia Gandhi is inducted into politics? Sonia herself was a reluctant inductee. So, the absence of protest does not mean such practices are readily accepted by everyone. Indeed, there is some evidence that the younger generation is less willing to accept nepotism in business where it is more common than politics. Perhaps the writer has not taken...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Politics / 23.01.2008

In our previous post (The Degeneration of Politics) we picked up a thread on dynastic politics in Ramachandra Guha’s new book (India after Gandhi, 2007) and commented that in India (and, by extension, South Asia) “the modern and the medieval exist at the same time” and that “the future of Indian politics will depend largely on the proportion of people left behind in medieval times.” Amongst other things, this was triggered by Guha’s reference to a remark by Amartya Sen that as “inequalities intensify, half of India will come to look and live like California, the other half like sub-Saharan Africa.” We have received interesting feedback from a reader that enables us to try and push the argument further: Perhaps the one qualification I would make is that even the small segment one might call modern has never experienced anything like the Enlightenment directly, so that culturally we...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Politics / 21.01.2008

Ramachandra Guha’s book (India after Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy, 2007) is a work of pride—pride in the fact that despite all the doomsday predictions, India is still together and still a democracy. The pride is well deserved. But even in a book like this, Guha is forced to observe the steep decline in the nature of Indian politics (page 675): Once, most parties had a coherent ideology and organizational base. Now, they have degenerated into family firms. The process was begun by and within that grand old party, the Indian National Congress. For most of its history, the Congress was a party run by and for democrats, with regular elections to district and state bodies. After splitting the Congress in 1969, Indira Gandhi put an end to elections within the party organization. Henceforth, Congress chief ministers and state unit presidents were to be nominated...

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...

Leadership / 16.01.2008

By Anjum Altaf Professor CM Naim has sent us a unique news report on the creation of Pakistan from the Nation datelined November 15, 1947 (Jinnah’s New Republic by Andrew Roth). Amongst other things the report remarks on the nature of leadership in the new Pakistan: With enormous problems, Pakistan has only a very ordinary set of leaders to cope with them. The brilliant Mr. Jinnah, of course, must be excepted, but he is over seventy and has been in poor health since a severe pneumonia attack two years ago. His voice can barely be heard ten feet away, and he chose to become governor general rather than premier partly because it was an easier post. He has repeatedly told subordinates, "I have done my part of the job; I've given you Pakistan. It is up to you to build it." Premier Liaqat Ali Khan is a competent administrator...

Miscellaneous / 14.01.2008

The New York Times carried an article on Pakistan (Ghosts that Haunt Pakistan) in its January 6, 2008 Week in Review. It contains some interesting perspectives and unasked questions. A few quotes can highlight the issues:  For 60 years since its founding in the partitioning of British India, Pakistan has seesawed between military dictatorships and elected governments, and now new hope for stability is being placed on the chance that democracy there can be revived. But while attention is currently focused on the failings of Pervez Musharraf, the latest in a long line of military rulers, Pakistan’s civilian leaders, too, have much to account for in the faltering history of Pakistani democracy. Over the decades, their own periods in office have been notable mostly for their weakness, their instinct for political score-settling, and their venality.  Note the unstated assumption that democracy can work anywhere.  And the thrust of the...

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...