Is Democracy possible without a chance for everyone to argue about issues that matter to them?

I am delighted and relieved that,

“US voters chose women of color, women with disabilities, women who are gay, pro-choice women, and rejected men who minimize rape. … A big night for progress.” [Read more at Shakesville]

But I am even more glad that many of us in India watched on our television screens, how elections and politics in a Democracy can be.

“That’s what politics can be. That’s why elections matter. It’s not small, it’s big. It’s important. Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy.

That won’t change after tonight, and it shouldn’t. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that as we speak people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.” [full transcript of Obama’s speech here]

‘People in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter.’

Is Democracy possible without a chance for everyone to argue about issues that matter to them? And without ensuring that nobody is silenced with either fear or shame?

Related Posts:

Why I am jealous of the Americans.

56 thoughts on “Is Democracy possible without a chance for everyone to argue about issues that matter to them?

  1. Democracy is pretty much dead without transparency. Thankfully we live in an age of technology, where transparency can really built into democratic systems. Though I think in India we will have to fight tooth and nail for more transparency as I doubt there is a single politician who is transparent about his/her politics.

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  2. BTW I do not find the American democratic system very attractive. The two national parties have basically create a political monopoly. Yes, they have one on one debates, wearing fancy suits and speaking excellent English which make great television but it is absolutely undemocratic in nature. The TV debates do not include other Presidential candidates from smaller parties.

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    • I always believe that the two party concept is always better. Making more no. of parties who are just focusing on the regional issues of their state wont do any good at the national level. As we can see the situation in India, more the coalition at center, worse is the corruption and mis-management.

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      • Firstly having a limit to the number of parties is undemocratic. Regional parties in India are there because national parties were not paying attention to local issues. Regional issues are still issues and it is undemocratic to wish them away.

        Also more coalition at center means more mis-management is not really factual. Coalitions have worked great in Germany and other European countries. Even in India, national parties had massive corruption when they were not part of coaltion governments. Remember one such party actually brought us the “Emergency”, where effectively democracy was abandoned.

        The present government can also impose an Emergency to cut down on the criticism it is getting and also a probably defeat in next general elections. But guess what, they cannot impose emergency because it does not have the numbers and coalition partners will not agree to it.

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        • I may be flamed for this but I’ve come to think that the Western model of liberal welfare democracies just doesn’t work in India.

          The same democratic system works perfectly well in Britain, Germany, France and the US, to name a few. Import it into India and voila, the system creates corrupt politicans and vote-bank driven politics.

          Maybe Indians don’t collectively have the discipline, honesty and committment to a higher ideal that the citizens of other successful democracies have.

          We’re too narrowly focuessed on “what’s in it for me” and “mujhe kya”. Democracy requires discipline and an abiding faith in the rule of the law. That’s missing in India. We’re a quasi-democracy, if you ask me.

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        • No you are generalizing on ‘Indians not being disciplined for democracy unlike Europeans’. That sort of ethnic generalizing is actually ‘racist’ whatever spin you put on it.

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      • I agree. The two party system may create bipartisan interests and agendas, but its way better than our multi-party system where every disaffected politicans with a few thousand crores create his own party to show us who’s the boss and hold the nation to ransom. Thank god Mamata Bannerjee doesnt read IHM’s blog.🙂

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        • Interesting point of view but if you do not want regional parties, lets not pretend to be democratic.

          Also there is absolutely no data to prove that a two-party system is better than multi-party system.

          Lesser the number of parties, the more closer a country is to a single party rule. There is plenty of data on that, check Sri Lanka’s political scenario, Russian politics after the cold war ended and so many Latin american countries.

          Also suggesting that Indian are not disciplined for democracy compared to Europeans is more or less a racist comment, so I wont comment on it any further.

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        • @Aditya Kane. Umm, so criticising fellow Indians makes me racist? That’s an interesting point of view too, one that I won’t comment further on; for fear of being called racist.

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  3. I knew you were going to do a post on this one!😀 Very Prophetic, I am…

    Haha, anyway I am glad Obama got elected. Not because I like him very much (which I do) but I most definitely did not want a bunch of politicians who talk about “legitimate” rape and all that misogynistic stuff which seemed to flow out of their party like a never ending stream to come to power in US. They would have taken the US at least a couple of decades back in terms of women’s empowerment.

    If the US is going back in time, then what hope do us people in India have?😦

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    • Wanted to add: We live in a Country where we can’t even make a cartoon of a CM without going to jail. We can’t even voice our opinion without receiving death threats.
      Yet, we are here on this blog discussing and arguing about so many issues relevant to India.
      So, are we living in a Democracy?

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    • As Jon Stewart put it so eloquently, Claire McCaskill “legitimately raped” Todd Akin in the elections. teehee.

      And Richard “rape-pregnancies-are-intended-by-god” Mourdock got a sound beating too. As God intended.

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    • That is the reason I am glad Obama won too. An acquaintance of mine mentioned that people in her church(Evanlangical christians in Singapore) were sad that Mitt Romney did not win because his teachings are more in line with the Bibile *roll eyes*

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  4. One fundamentally important aspect about Democracy is how it treats it’s minority and other marginalized groups. So no, it’s not possible if those voices aren’t included. Democracy can also allow for those who are normally silenced to create a platform for themselves so they can bring awareness to the issues that are important to them. The sad part is, there will people who will try to silence them.

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  5. Nice to see a change of topic for once. Anyway, I am surprised men who tried to minimise rape got rejected. Isn’t less rape a good thing? Or are you talking about minimising rape statistics and being a rape apologist?

    “And without ensuring that nobody is silenced with either fear or shame?”
    Not in a country like India, no. We have a lot of issues that come in the way of democracy, issues similar to Europe as a continent but unlike EU, India refuses to handle it.

    1) Way too diverse. Unlike United States, which has a WASP majority with microcommunities who are required to submit to the Federal constitution to be deemed a citizen, in India, it is pretty much cultural and racial minorities who are ethnic to their land but forced to submit to the North Indian paradigm of Indian-ness.
    2) Ethno-racial outliers way too under represented. Why isn’t the AFSPA repealed? Because it is not an issue when there are only 7 MPs protesting against it, in a parliament dominated by people who are not encumbered by such fascist ‘acts’.
    3) Majority of voters uneducated. Even among the educated, the majority are political illiterates. I have seen it play out when the US-Indian Nuclear deal debate came up. The mainstream newspapers, which were pushing for the deal misrepresented the clauses of the 1-2-3 agreement and the arguments of the left, to make it look anti-American, rather than pro-India. The people fell for it, hook, line and sinker without any curiosity that maybe, just maybe, those ‘leftys’ might have an argument that should be heard without embellishments. In a country where people can be so easily swayed by propaganda, do you honestly believe democracy will work.
    4) The lowest class of people unrepresented. It doesn’t matter who forms the bulk of voters, the poorest in India are pretty much fodder for the corporations, in states where the ruling party are funded by the said corporations and capitalists. The Mandi Act, which discriminates against farmers trying to sell their produce directly in the market is one such good example.
     
    I could go on and on, but no, democracy is an exercise in failure in India. If democracy has to work, India will have to disintegrate, so that populism doesn’t make democracy a tool for the majority to impose its socio-cultural values and paradigm on the non-majority.

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    • I completely agree with Atheist Indian. Democracy is a farce in India. It is just a projection of majority-minority dynamics in the country.

      But if India were to disintegrate, Atheist Indian will have to think of a new screen name. Unless he is a typical North Indian ‘Indian’.. LOL !😀

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    • I do wonder if India disintegrating will actually help. I think democracy is always a majority/ minority thing and the dynamics would continue on a smaller scale. However, I don’t have enough personal experience on this to be sure.

      I think this can only transform when a population’s focus becomes common things like education and economy rather than religious/ caste/ cultural validation. It’s like, once upon a time, southern American states and northern American states had a civil war over the right to have slaves and open racism. Now, the south is more religious, but their larger concerns are more similar (education, healthcare, economy) which allows their democracy to function. If you looked at the US at the time of civil war, you wouldn’t think that their democracy could ever function as well was it does today.. but it has matured along with the country’s progress (less poverty, more education, more opportunities).

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  6. I am an American. In fact, my ancestors on both sides came here in the 1600s. That’s not totally irrelevant because I feel a very great stake in this country. I beat up on the USA because it could be so much more than it is.

    We have gone through a very trying time and it continues, but there has been some growth. Last night, the country rejected social Darwinism, misogyny and religious extremism. I, too, wish we had more viable parties and was really upset that the debates didn’t include more of the candidates. I am registered as a Democrat, but really preferred Jill Stein (Green Party); I voted Obama because I believed the election would be close and saw Green Party votes give the presidency to an idiot in 2000. The idea of Romney as President still makes my blood crawl.

    I believe that very soon the American Experiment will end. Even Plato taught that democracy will degenerate eventually and we can watch this process now. The USA has become an oligarchy ruled by a small group of power brokers and this has choked off true democracy at the national level, although it still operates at the local level to some degree.

    BTW, the USA is not actually a democracy, it is a democratic republic.

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  7. A rant than a response: I listened to both, Obama’s acceptance speech, and Romney’s concession. Having educated, progressive men/women at the helm of affairs makes so much difference. It feels so fresh to hear speeches from opposing parties that is devoid of hate. The persons speaking are conscious of the media, of being observed, of being accountable, of the need to sound right. It sends out such a positive feeling to common people. What they do /fail to do is a different matter altogether. What will it take for India to have such a cultural shift? Democracy here is a farce. The politics in the US may not be as clean as people like me perceive it to be, still, we have a long way to go. It takes ages to bloody get a voter’s ID. In the last local elections, when my FIL went to the booth to cast his vote, somebody had already done it for him! I have applied for the voter ID about thrice in the last 10 yrs. It is still on its way! And am just trying to exercise my basic right to vote. I will not be surprised if I’m asked to apply again this year. Our democracy ends with the leaders wooing the economically backward sects with grinders, TVs, microwaves, 1Re. rice etc for votes. From where the people will source power to run the grinders, micros, no one cares. They know these items will be re-sold. Common people like me will continue to rant about how things never change. And stick to mommy-blogging and believe everything is alright with our lives.

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    • Only the victory and concession speeches were “hate-free” Vidya. If it helps you feel better about our country’s politics, the campaigns went something like this:

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  8. Before commenting on this post let me share here one of my tweets of yesterday.
    “”Racist” #USA elected a black as their President for second time When will ‘casteless’ ‘secular’ India elect a Dalit or a Muslim as it’s PM?”

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    • oh… 8 thumbs down and no opinions! in a way it proves that Indian elite needs to mature a lot to allow someone to become their PM regardless of their faith and social strata.-:

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      • Yes, I’d like to think people were thumbing down the idea of having a muslim or dalit pm. That’s pretty much all you said though, so it’s hard to see what they disliked, if not that.

        Anyway, I thought this exact thing yesterday and then I was reminded that India had a female prime minister (Indira Gandhi) before many other countries (the US still hasn’t had one) and she was absolutely powerful. But sadly that was not an indicator of the absence of sexism, so I wonder if a dalit pm will actually be a sign of the absence of casteism.

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        • “sadly that was not an indicator of the absence of sexism, so I wonder if a dalit pm will actually be a sign of the absence of casteism.” Exactly. And even in the US, most Whites did not vote for Obama. It was the African Americans and a large portion of Hispanics who did. So his re-election doesn’t necessarily indicate a move away from racism.

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        • I was comparing Obama’s reelection based on merit to a probable similar election in India of a popular leader based on merit who happened to be born in a depressed class.
          Indira Gandhi or similar Woman PMs of South Asia were all part dynasty politics and not that of gender sensitive politics. It only shows our feudal mind set of subservience to political ‘Royal’ families. Muslim and Dalit Presidents were just tokenism in powerless positions.
          I think most people, though vocal about discrimination at far away places seem to forget discrimination around them. India is far more divided than USA on basis of class caste and religion, so that people are very uncomfortable and suspicious thinking about ‘others’ in powerful positions.
          Another reason for lack of enthusiasm in
          discussing this issue is virtual absence of people of those communities (whom form around 40% of our population) in discussion forums like this.

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      • Correction, I meant ‘I’d like to think people were not thumbing down the idea of having a muslim or dalit pm’..

        @ Arun, totally agree with what you say about the feudal mindset. Indira Gandhi might never have come to power if she wasn’t of her lineage.

        @starry, yes I’m glad there was a consequence for the republicans totally alienating women! Next time, they might pause before doing that. It’s an interesting thought that the ‘outcasts’ in america are a large enough voter group to decide elections.

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  9. Democracy and election system in USA is inferior to that in Western Europe. The money power involved is enormous and the Media-Military-Corporate caucus rules. That is why USA is always at war though majority of it’s citizens are for peace.
    Obama is the best option available for Liberty, Peace and inclusive Growth.
    Hope in this second term he matches his oratory skills with visionary actions.

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  10. Hmmm. I’m just disappointed that Obama does not call for a reinvestigation of 911, given the collapse of WTC tower number 7 at freefall speed even though it was not hit by an airplane, and given the fact that large quantities of nanothermite (a military explosive) were found in the debris of the WTC. This is not my opinion, this was confirmed by thousands of scientists.


    etc.

    By the way, I just came back from a trip to Northern India. Yes, other countries have problems too. But: Intolerance, misogyny and corruption were omnipresent in India. Democracy starts in every day attitudes and behaviour of the individual citizen.

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  11. First the answer to the question raised by the author. No, democracy is not possible under any constraints.
    Now for some issues raised in the comments section..um..I better write a blog of my own.

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  12. I’m looking forward to the time when prime ministerial candidates in India have multiple debates the way the US presidential candidates did.

    I also look forward to the time when they target the middle class – in English since I don’t fully understand any other language. Let them come to companies and campuses to tell people what they are going to do for the country.

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    • That will be the day! Right now it’s all about “I am from your caste, vote for me”, “I will give you Rs. 200, vote for me”, “I will increase the reservation for your caste, vote for me”

      We can’t even blame the politicians alone. Even the electorate are to blame. After all, we do have a few good people running as Independents. One person I know of is JP Narayan. But, no one votes for him! In spite of all the promises he makes to improve the Country – not for a particular caste, region or religion.

      In the end, it all boils down to Caste and Poverty. Once we rid the Country of these 2 evils, things will start improving.

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    • Indian middle class participates the least in the democratic process. It is always more concerned about being left behind in the ‘rat race’ instead of realizing that it is an essential part of the democracy. A middle class individual is neither interested in becoming a politician nor a voter. The voting day is taken as a welcome holiday. Whereas most of the politicians are either from the lower class background who made it through several years of party politics or are from the elite upper class with loads of wealth or from political dynasties. So how can the middle class expect the present day politician to identify with the issues of the middle class ? All that the middle class does is to crib about the system. But the most it does towards the existing system is to get recruited into the civil services in expectation of a much better life even if that requires serving the corrupt politicians to the best of their needs.
      Would such politicians even care about going to the middle class and address their issues knowing well that the middle class doesn’t even matter in their vote banks ? No they won’t. They will only care for the class/caste/community which votes them and the corporates who fund them. Nothing will change unless the middle class actively participates in the Indian democracy.

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    • Let’s just hope the debates are much longer where it takes longer than a few minutes to explain complex issues like the economy, foreign policy, etc. The Presidential debates with Governor Romney and President Obama was just the two of them aggressively agreeing with each other.

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  13. PS: Did anyone feel like they were watching the happy ending of a nerdy movie – where all the outcasts – the losers, the nerds, the goths, (blacks/hispanics/women/asian etc) take down the bad guys during Obama’s victory speech?

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  14. Democracy is not possible without freedom of speech (the chance to argue). However, we get the quality of democracy that we deserve. Currently, Indian democracy is marked by ministers buying poor votes with samosas and as educated middle class that doesn’t want to vote. These two populations have such vastly different lives that a politician that a mill worker chooses (because maybe caste-based politics benefits him) would be irrelevant for a middle class executive. http://themonkeycage.org/blog/2012/09/28/is-india-unique-in-having-higher-voter-turnout-among-the-poor-than-the-middle-class-and-rich/

    Our cabinet reflects our electorate. The politicians will have to target the educate middle class when that becomes that largest voting group (instead of brahmin or dalit or whatever). I hope I see such a day in my lifetime but as Sarkywoman says, India needs to overcome caste and poverty for that.

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  15. India is not a democracy in many ways. We live in a country where you are surprised when the roads are suddenly mended one fine day and you think – Hmmm. I wonder if the elections are round the corner.
    Elections are largly a time when all the political parties spring to action believeing the whole nation to be full of idiots who will forget their deeds from the past 4 years. I believe that is one major reason why a large population is kept uneducated.
    We simple cannot compare American system of democracy with ours. I agree that there is corruption in American system as well but it is our country which has the largest amount of money stacked away in Swiss banks.

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