Democracy/Governance / 11.06.2009

We have been discussing the census, electoral rules, and the nature of democracy in South and East Asian countries trying to draw lessons from events that happened between fifty and a hundred and fifty years ago. It was therefore eerie to read a virtual replay that took place in Iraq only a few years back. We truly ignore history at our own peril. The account is from the 2006 book by Rajiv Chandrasekaran (Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone), an account of the American occupation of Iraq and the attempts to reconstruct the country. Here we shall reproduce just the bare essence that indicates the overlap with our earlier posts. Readers interested in the details should be able to obtain the book fairly easily. From April 2003 to June 2004, Iraq was governed by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the American occupation administration, headed...

Democracy/Governance / 24.05.2009

Every five years there is an election in India and we interpret the results to conclude what we think the majority of Indians want. But what happens between two elections? How do we know where the majority of Indians stand on the various issues that crop up between elections? Let us take an issue like the relationship of India with any of its neighboring countries that might become salient because of some random incident. What determines the policy response of the Indian government to such an incident? If we are not Indian and are outside India, all we have to go by is the English language media. How representative is this of the voice of the majority of Indians who are rural?
Democracy/Governance, Education, Governance, South Asia / 18.08.2008

It is often argued that illiteracy is the biggest problem in South Asia and also that illiteracy is the reason for poverty. What is the evidence for such assertions? Let us start with a couple of concrete examples: Over the past fifteen years, the proportion of the population living under extreme poverty in Pakistan has risen from 13 to 33 percent but illiteracy has declined during this period. Therefore, the explanation for the increase in poverty in Pakistan cannot be attributed to illiteracy. India has a considerably higher literacy rate than Pakistan but the incidence of poverty in India was comparable to that in Pakistan for many years.Β  The recent trend in poverty reduction in India cannot be attributed to a sudden increase in literacy. This is not to argue that illiteracy does not matter. Clearly a literate work force can be much more productive than an illiterate one...

Democracy/Governance, India, Modernity, Politics / 26.07.2008

Let us put the big question on the table. Modern democracy as a form of governance has evolved following the emergence of the belief that β€œall men are created equal.”  How do we look at Indian democracy in this context? Do Indians believe today that all men are created equal? If not, how does it affect the nature of democracy in India? In the West it took social revolutions to force the acceptance that all men were created equal. So the sequence of events was the following: the emergence of a realization that all men should be equal; a social revolution overthrowing the hierarchical aristocratic order to force the recognition of that equality; the gradual emergence of representative governance (the franchise was extended very slowly with women becoming β€œequal” much later than men) as the form of governance most compatible with a society comprised of individuals equal...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Politics / 20.07.2008

The BBC is doing a fine job in India reporting events that compel readers to think about the broader implications of the story. We had earlier picked up a story about the threat by purists to mixed religious communities. The post (Hindu-Muslim or Muslim-Hindu?) has become quite popular on the blog suggesting that readers enjoy being engaged by challenging questions. Now the BBC has reported on the goings-on preceding the July 22 vote of confidence in the Indian parliament. This too raises some interesting questions about the nature of democracy in India. The story itself states very clearly: β€œWhen India is described as 'the world's biggest democracy' it remains strictly true.” A story like this in Pakistan would most likely have found the reporter on the first plane out of the country. So there is no doubt that in relative terms governance in India has a much better...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Pakistan, Politics, South Asia / 26.06.2008

There was a music program in Washington, DC recently in which the three performers on stage were of South Asian origin – the vocalist from Bangladesh, the tabla player from Pakistan and the harmonium player from India. All three were young and together they created a beautiful music. The Indians in the audience asked for Faiz, the Pakistanis for Nazrulgeeti, and the vocalist herself sang the verses of poets from India. The program was a huge success lasting over five hours. It was an occasion that was symbolic of what was possible in terms of coexistence. Is that an unrealistic dream for South Asia? The election primary in the U.S. this year is a ready reminder of the transformations that are indeed possible. A mere fifty years after the Civil Rights Act when black Americans were second-class citizens afraid of being lynched and cities were burning with...

Democracy/Governance, Politics / 20.06.2008

Can one country bequeath a full-blown democracy to another? There are two ways to approach the answer to athis question. The first is to examine the outcomes of all the cases where such an experiment has been tried. The universe of such cases would include most of the ex-colonies of Western countries. In any such examination of the historical record, it would be hard to find too many examples of a successful graft. More often than not one would find a caricature β€” a democratic form distorted by a reversion to authoritarian rule. The genotype of the latter would be determined by the type of governance that existed prior to the attempted graft β€” rule by a monarch, a tribal chief, or a warlord. This is an easy, empirically verifiable approach to determining whether an alien system of governance can be transferred instantly from one country to another....

Democracy/Governance, Governance, Politics / 20.06.2008

Can one country bequeath a full-blown democracy to another? There are two ways to approach the answer to this question. The first is to examine the outcomes of all the cases where such an experiment has been tried. The universe of such cases would include most of the ex-colonies of Western countries. In any such examination of the historical record, it would be hard to find too many examples of a successful graft. More often than not one would find a caricature β€” a democratic form distorted by a reversion to authoritarian rule. The genotype of the latter would be determined by the type of governance that existed prior to the attempted graft β€” rule by a monarch, a tribal chief, or a warlord. This is an easy, empirically verifiable approach to determining whether an alien system of governance can be transferred instantly from one country to another....

Democracy/Governance, Governance, Politics / 11.06.2008

We have been discussing the census, electoral rules, and the nature of democracy in South and East Asian countries trying to draw lessons from events that happened between fifty and a hundred and fifty years ago. It was therefore eerie to read a virtual replay that took place in Iraq only a few years back. We truly ignore history at our own peril. The account is from the 2006 book by Rajiv Chandrasekaran (Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone), an account of the American occupation of Iraq and the attempts to reconstruct the country. Here we shall reproduce just the bare essence that indicates the overlap with our earlier posts. Readers interested in the details should be able to obtain the book fairly easily. From April 2003 to June 2004, Iraq was governed by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the American occupation administration, headed...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Politics / 10.06.2008

In this series of posts we have thus far highlighted the following propositions: 1. The census introduced by the British in India (around 1870) classified people by religion. This was unlike the practice followed by the census in Britain itself. 2. Instead of using the religious beliefs as reported by the respondents themselves, the census classified them into the broad categories of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, etc. 3. A complex social reality that comprised of many mixed traditions, practices, and beliefs was simplified into set of broad overall categories. 4. When religious identity moved into the political domain with the adoption of separate electorates the rigid classifications assumed a new importance because one group could only gain at the expense of others. In this post we shall see with the help of Kmaljit Bhasin-Malik’s text how this new reality and realization affected the behavior of different groups and the impact...