Saturday, December 6, 2008

WHY DO WE NOT HAVE BETTER SYSTEMS?

Why can't we have better systems?, is a question most frequently asked by educated Indians out of sheer frustration at the way our systems function. Some of these educated Indians have been exposed to better systems in the west, and others have seen or heard about them in the media. Well, one thing is clear - we all agree that we need better systems. How do we get there is the next obvious question.
I believe, at the macro level there are two aspects to a system - the first is the most obvious, the design and implementation of the system and the second is the most important - the public acceptance of the system. We as a people generally show total apathy to any system, while living in India. I have seen Indians abroad meticulously follow all systems but once in India they tend to get back to their usual way. Their reasoning is that everyone else is doing it, so why not me? My question is 'what is the use of your exposure to better systems if you cannot help others less fortunate benefit from your experience, by leading the way'. What do I mean by this?
Let me start with an example. Lets take a mundane system like traffic lights. I live in Chennai and travel to other parts of the country too. The situation that I am going to describe is very nearly similar in all our cities. The traffic light system is installed to ensure that the traffic can flow smoothly & efficiently, and also to prevent accidents. In Chennai, I find that the traffic lights are world class with the added feature of time left for the light to change in a large LED display at most prominent cross roads. What is probably a design flaw is that the lights donot take into consideration the amount of traffic coming in from a particular direction, at various times of the day, leading to the red or green light remaining on for a period longer than required by the traffic. This problem is generally overcome by the traffic policeman controlling the lights manually depending on the quantum of traffic, specially during rush hours.
The other problem is that the lights continue with their red, green and amber pre-programmed sequence even during periods of minimal traffic, specially during the night hours. This causes most motorists to 'jump the light'. This is not desirable. All of us are aware of this part. Each one of us must have designed systems for our organisations or home. Did we take the time to study the specifications that the system should meet? Did we followup to ensure that the system is/ was periodically upgraded, depending on the usage pattern?
However, the other part is the more important and that is - how does the public respond to this system. Many a times I have been honked at, yelled at, while waiting at a red traffic light, sometimes by illiterate drivers, and sometimes by educated people. I never jump a traffic light. My family and friends joke about this and tell me that one day I am going to be run over by some one, while waiting for the light to turn green. I don't wish to change. I believe systems are made to be followed because otherwise no system will function, and we can keep complaining about the systems. I can reluctantly understand the illiterate driver honking, but find it absolutely ridiculous when educated people behave similarly. I thought education should help one understand things better, and also help one provide leadeship to our fellow citizens who are less fortunate than us. There are many nuances of how we jump the lights but that is not relevant to this post. There are many other systems like forming a queue - how many of us follow the queue - wait for our turn. These are just two mundane examples of systems in our daily life that we donot follow. There are many more besides these. However, to answer the question.
A system can only be as good as it's design and it's implementation, BUT more importantly, it can only function if we the people follow the system - whatever it be. In case the system does not meet the needs for which it is designed then as concerned tax paying citizens we need to take action to ensure that it is fixed, BUT short cutting the system is not prudent or desirable if we want to have better systems. Also, the more fortunate of us have to take the lead to instil public confidence in the systems that WE educated employed people have created, so that all citizens and our country benefits from better systems. It could be any system - the political system, the economic system, or the simple queue.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

WHAT AILS OUR POLITICAL SYSTEM: PART II: DEMOCRACY, POLITICIANS AND THE ELECTORATE

The only long term solution to resolve and reconcile differences in any nation, specially a nation like India with over 670 million voters (nearly double the numbers in the European Union - not to mention the diversity), is through a democratic form of governance. However, this form of governance comes with its own set of problems. At times some of us get a feeling that we would be better off in a regime under a benevolent dictator or under military rule for a while. The example of Singapore is often quoted. Can these ever be compared - a city state like Singapore and a large country like India? As far as the military rule is concerned, we need to look around in our neighbourhood, and around the globe, and one will get the answer. Are there any other forms of government that would help us grow faster, grow more equitably and help solve all our problems?? No, in my opinion. Democracy with all its warts and moles is best for India, I believe. What is your opinion??

Politics and politicians are part and parcel of any democratic setup. However, we are totally disillusioned with our political setup, specially after the latest carnage in Mumbai. Can we do away with politicians as is being suggested by some anguished citizens? I would definitely love to do so, BUT do not believe so. However, there are issues concerning this that need to be debated, and a solution found to the satisfaction of ordinary citizens of India.
First, like everything else in life, we have good politicians and we have bad politicians. Next, we can only select one out of the lot that contest the elections, and our grouse is that only bad people are taking up politics as a calling. What is stopping the good people? How can we encourage better people to contest elections? Most middle class people feel that politics is a dirty game, and are thus not inclined to join it. Is politics really bad? Working for common good is not bad politics. It is what you do with governance that makes it good or bad. Politics inherently is neutral and necessary for the functioning of a nation. As an example, the atom could be used to light up the whole planet, but could also be used to blow up the planet. In this world of duality, nothing is good or bad - its what you make of it.
At one time we had the cream of India in politics - Jawahar Lal Nehru, Dr. Radhakrishnan, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Maulana Azad and many more such luminaries. Times were different then - some may argue. Yes, the whole country was united against the British and wanted freedom and the only way forward was by selecting our best leaders to lead us. The leaders came forward and people of India followed. Once the British left, there has been no such uniting event, for an extended period. The best minds refused to join politics and we are left with a number of undesirable elements in our political establishment. There are instances of people lodged in jail on criminal charges getting elected.
In the absence of a national issue, local issues have come into the limelight. Politicians are not ones to miss an opportunity to fracture the electorate on divisive issues like religion, caste, region, ethnicity and what have you to take advantage of block votes - it is much simpler this way. This has ensured that regional parties have been gaining ground at the cost of the national parties. No national party is able to form a government at the centre on its own and looks to these regional parties to prop them up. This weakens the Central government because of the perpetual threat of withdrawal of support. Is there a way of strengthening the national parties so that they could work without the fear of mid term polls?
Have you ever wondered why most of our politicians wear typically rural dresses in public life? It is because these dresses represent the majority of the people who vote for them. Majority of our citizens are still agrarian, and live in rural areas. Urban areas are still in a minority. As per the 2001 census, we have 72.2% of our population living in rural areas and only 27.8% of the population living in urban areas. The outcome of elections is thus any body's guess. Once in parliament, all our elected representatives become urban dwellers but their constituencies still remain rural. This is the reason for the total apathy towards teh cities. However, with the economic boom in India, there has been a mass movement of rural people into urban areas in search of a jobs, and this has prompted the Urban Renewal agenda of the government, because the urban infrastructure is close to collapse in most cities.
With the economic boom there has been a noticeable increase in the disparity between the rich and the poor in India. Although the growth of wealth in the country has, through the trickle down effect, ensured that the number of people below the poverty line has reduced, this has still led to opportunities for the Communists to increase their tally in parliament. The communists have single handedly ensured that a large number of economic initiatives are thwarted. How can we ensure more equitable distribution of the wealth being generated in the country, while at the same time generating larger wealth?
There are many unanswered questions in this whole post. Do you have any answers??

Monday, December 1, 2008

WHAT AILS OUR POLITICAL SYSTEM: PART I: POLITICS - A DIRTY WORD???

The Mumbai carnage has angered most Indians, and rightly so. The events have so upset most citizens of the city of Mumbai, and elsewhere too, that a majority of them are expressing very negative thoughts and words about our political establishment ( I donot want to use the word leaders for some of them and thus find it appropriate to use the word establishment). The news media is now full of citizens expressing their anguish at the happenings in Mumbai, and utter contempt and scorn for the politicians and their dirty politics. This was expected as we the people of India have had enough of terrorism to last us a life time.
We have had organised and co-ordinated bomb blasts in various cities of India; we have had random shootings in Bangalore . Each time a large number of innocent people have been killed, beside other damage. The government promises action but nothing substantial happens thereafter, and the events are soon forgotten, so it seems, because there are other more pressing commitments that our elected representatives need to attend to. However this time, these were no ordinary bomb blasts. This was active warfare - guns, grenades, boats, knives and what have you. The city and the nation were held to ransom for an extended period without respite. Iconic buildings in the commercial capital of India were targetted in co-ordinated attacks, coming in from the sea. Pitched battles were fought between the terrorists and the security forces. The whole thing was watched live by a large number of people and the images and sounds of fires, gunfire, blood, helplessness, bravery, courage, and the utter ruthlessness of the terrorists are etched on the minds of most people. The mood of the nation has become very angry, and politics has become a dirty word. In the present scenario there is a need to think calmly about what should be our future course of action and to take some time to understand what is implied by politics and politicians, and who do we think should be an ideal politician in our opinion OR do we now surmise that we do not need politics and politicians. In our disgust for the present bunch of the majority of our politicians we should not shun the word politics completely before we have had time to analyse what is wrong with our system. Is politics really a dirty word??

Politics as defined in the Free Dictionary means 'The art or science of government or governing, especially the governing of a political entity, such as a nation, and the administration and control of its internal and external affairs'. This being so, politics is not only necessary; it is important for the governance of any nation, including India. India is the largest democracy in the world and comprises of about 1.1 billion people. The only form of governance that can reconcile the differences between this large (one-sixth of the human race) and diverse peoples is a democracy. Democracy is commonly understood to be 'of the people, by the people, for the people'. In India we follow a parliamentary form of representative democracy in which the government is exercised by the Prime Minister and his cabinet, which is subject to ongoing review, checks and balances by the legislative parliament elected by the people. Representative implies existence of a definite representative mechanism; periodic elections; political parties competing for political authority; existence of interest and pressure groups; and practice of Universal Adult Franchise. It stands to reason that elections are an inevitable process of a Representative Democracy. Right of the people to elect their representative is the fundamental feature of this system. 'A person engaged in or concerned with politics, esp. as a practitioner' is defined as a politician. Politicians are the people who stand for elections and get elected if a majority of the people in their constituency vote for them. Our politicians are our elected representatives. We have the politicians and the government that we voted for. They have not occupied the parliament by force - they have been elected by we the people. ...................... TO BE CONTINUED IN PART II