By Aastha Aggarwal:
Democracy is highly idealized and eulogized by all. A government “by the people, of the people, for the people”. What could be better than people governing themselves?
I beg to differ. Democracy lays on the foundation of the public electing its representative and governing periodically. This inherently implies that the primary motivation for any political leader to win office is the accumulation of votes. And today we see that most politicians do so using tactics like smear campaigns, vote-bankism, petty promises and even public bribery.
Political leaders focus on the short term rather than long term development of the state, not because they do not understand what the economy needs, but because their motives of staying in office are fulfilled by much less. Firstly, when the majority of population is poor and destitute, they tend to discount the future very highly. They do not hope to have any major upheavals in their lives and so prefer immediate gratifications over long-term-directed policies. A free good, or subsidized grain that provides instant relief has more takers than a major alteration in work practices that may have much more permanent outcomes, but in the future. Politicians take advantage of this and act exactly how the people seem to ask them to- against them.
Secondly, illiterate and uneducated masses are ill aware of economic and political matters, and so either are ignorant of matters altogether or tend to have strong biases on topics they have little knowledge of. This not only causes them to make uninformed irrational decisions, but also makes them more susceptible to manipulation by rhetoricians.
Finally, structural and fundamental changes most often than not require creative destruction, or the destruction of old practices in order to make way for better, more innovative systems. But this means sacrifices in the short term for benefits in the long run. Also, long-term rulings tend to have a long yield period.
This seems disadvantageous to both the people and the political leaders though. The people often prefer present reliefs over future rewards. Politicians, on the other hand, fear that the results of the outcomes due to their policies may be accredited to future governments when the yields do start showing. This discourages them for taking up such courses of action.
Thus myopic, short-horizon governance is what political leaders in democracies generally stick to. But this can only result in superficial changes in the society and cannot bring about a fundamental revolution in the economy. Unfortunately, that is exactly what is required in India today. Agriculture needs a shift towards large land-holdings, low labour-intensive, high capital-intensive structure so as to have higher returns and living standards for dependent individuals. Though the services sector seems to be booming, the economy needs major development of the manufacturing and agricultural sectors. This needs the government to take up visionary policies, which deconstruct the existing systems and rebuild new and better ones.
Some say that a democracy requires a majority of educated middle class to work. One with a majority of poor uneducated people remains bogged down in its own plight. This does not imply a move away from democracy. Many elements of democracy (fundamental rights and freedoms) are essential and cannot be done without. What needs to change is us- the people.
Thus, I believe, a democracy to be successful needs not a poor, uneducated, ill-informed public, but one that elects leaders according to a radical evaluation of their policies and governance and not by their petty populist methods; a critically thinking, politically and economically aware people.