Economic Divide and Democratic Reconstruction

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By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Up Front

Trident Hotel in Bandra Kurla is one building amongst a big cluster of IT and retail hub of new Mumbai. I was on a vacation in early 2011, overlooking from my room through a window. I saw a poor beggar collecting pieces of used iron late evening. A naked kid was playing near a muddy puddle. A living slum was imagined nearby. It looked like an area of small make shift homes of poor dwellers, waiting to travel again until some issue order would make them do that. Amidst distant smoke from factories and flashes of lights coming from mid-sized buildings, this abject poverty reminded me of a stark class divide.  A class divide prevalent since centuries of discord.

Economic divide is a phenomenon which has left every developing country bereft, but India is an exceptional example. It is a place of filthy rich and the filthy poor. The rich have always loved to subjugate poor for ambitious greed. The middle class works in a form of wage slavery. Caste bias has been the other new phenomenon that is doing injustice in job recruitments. On roads, you can see a wealthy businessman travelling in a glossy sedan as well as a poor Indian driving a cycle rickshaw. Innumerous lanes of India have poor people wandering in a life of contempt and frustration. In distant villages, there has been an evolution of extremist movements like the Maoist movement and the Naxalite movement. It is because the corporate mafia fails to respect local traditions and customs – when a land grabbing takes place, a promised rebellion comes from the poor working class of farmers. Even Labour unions have been subjugated by Indian capitalists in many states. Therefore, the Indian state needs to realise that instead of giving vent to corporate power, they  should rather pursue welfare measures against poor people, in order to remove disparities of class conflicts, rather than giving a catalyst to a more deepening divide.

Today, India is regarded as a safe haven for investments and for that reason, it is one of the fastest growing markets in the world. Foreign Institutional Investors have acquired a major stake in running of the Indian economy. Domestic industries and businesses have yielded positive results at times, for many years, ever since liberalisation started and license rule got abrogated, but with it have come the inherent problems of capitalism. The entrepreneurs in India believe in less sustainable form of businesses and the view of socially responsible investments is still in its embryonic stage. Democratic decisions in higher management through respecting junior staff views is still a distant reality in many top Indian corporates. Also, the historic cases of corporate hegemony have induced many social disasters. Corruption in managerial matters is at its apex, which have even acquired a political backing from ruling governments in pivotal matters. Today, which vision suits best for this emerging economy? The vision of anarchist Gandhi or of the socialist Nehru? American economist, Joseph Stiglitz says that the real debate today is about finding the right balance between the market and the government. Therefore, the corporates in India have to rethink the democratic principles and business ethics that they employ in managerial matters for socially responsible functioning of markets.

Ever since the partition between India and Pakistan happened, the problem of addressing poverty and social inequalities became an important issue for both the emerging countries. During the partition era, Faiz Ahmad Faiz wrote poetry regarding Marxist prophecies of nation building through pure hard work of common people, determination of leaders, and reverence of sacrifices.  Indeed, Jinnah and Allama Iqbal wanted a separate and a prosperous nation, for emancipation of Muslims, but have their visions come true today? They felt the backwardness of Muslims and wanted to transform them into educated beings, but were they right in the implementation of their visions? In south Asia, Iqbal was first to realise the dream of an emancipated society where a state could provide a leading role, but look at the problems of Pakistan today – it’s a country which needs economic development, wants a relief from corruption, terrorism and religious conflicts.  Even Sri Lanka today has slipped into dictatorship. Tamils there are treated as second class citizens, the political dissent has been brutally crushed and media is seriously cowed. Many parts of this country are run by military and locals have accused unprecedented ruthlessness.  Now which political vision would take these countries forward?

These problems should raise a debate on the reconstruction of the concept of democracy, especially in places like South Asia. Let’s go back to the western philosophy of Libertarian Socialism which has its roots in the Age of Enlightenment in Europe. It was a vision of a highly organised society where every major decision was taken through consideration of every member of the community – by voluntary association and economic democracy so that every individual in the community reached his/her full potential. Therefore, in the times today, where social, economic and political conflicts are so evident around the world, there needs to be a continuous evaluation of democracy from responsible leadership, rather than pressing masses to vote only once and then expecting no consideration from all stakeholders of the society.

The views of the stakeholders would only be genuinely accommodated if there is a validation of their opinion whenever it matters. That validation can come only through continuous evaluation of democracy through voting by the people, while a ruling party is in power. Only then the conditions of democracy ‘for the people, by the people’ will be fulfilled. It would result in a democracy that would rule its people in its pristine form. Today, the governments responsible for our upliftment have technology at their disposal and they should make proper use of that. Didn’t we see a glimpse of this exercise during the nuclear deal in Indian Parliament? If masses protest against ordinances that affect their lives, and find resentment from the state, then isn’t that democracy authoritarianism? Power needs to be shared by the people. It will make citizens self-reliant, truly committed to participative nation building.


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