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Getting democracy to work for India

Publication Date : 03-04-2014


To the extent that democracy is a festival of popular representation, there is much to celebrate in India's experience of it.

The fact that a country of 1.21 billion can go to the polls, with full confidence that the will of the people will be respected by the losers, is a measure of its democratic maturity. Peaceful transitions of power that are possible in spite of tremendous diversities of class, caste, creed, language and region, attest to a fundamental stability that characterises the Indian political psyche.

India can depend on the strength of such fundamentals as it kicks off the hustings for its general election next week. Opinion polls point to a change in the air, perhaps an overwhelming one, as an electorate tired of corruption, political gridlock and economic indecisiveness looks for a fresh set of leaders.

A Pew Research Centre survey, for example, has found that Indians favour the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the ruling Indian National Congress by a ratio of more than three to one.

All eyes are on BJP leader Narendra Modi, the enigmatic leader who has helped transform his home state of Gujarat into an economic success. Many young Indians believe that the BJP will do a better job of fighting corruption, creating jobs, curbing inflation, and reducing terrorism. Tapping into the public mood, Mr Modi wants a mandate strong enough to bring about the far-reaching changes which the electorate seeks. However, the incumbents are not without substantial blocs of support. The Congress enjoys as well the iconic allure of the Nehru- Gandhi family, which has given the country three prime ministers.

Whoever wins the election, change will not be easy.

The labyrinthine Indian bureaucracy, a universe unto itself, has survived many a political change. It would take an extremely motivated leader to transform it from a giant mechanism of apathy, inherited from the British Raj, into a responsive and enabling agent for business in particular and the people at large.

India's infrastructure needs to be overhauled if its economic prospects are to match the expectations of its talented and resourceful people. The old mindset of treating wealth as a function of wrongdoing is gone, but now the challenge is to ensure that prosperity trickles down to citizens without the education and employment to have access to it.

It is on the basis of these changes that India would take its place at the international table. Solid relations with the United States, China and South-east Asian countries, among others, will be crucial.

Every five years, Indians have the opportunity of redefining their country's role in the world. This election will give them a chance of focusing on its strengths. Foreign policy begins at home.


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