Confusing weddings and marriages

In response to my post about the KGB and Indian democracy, one reader responded by writing that “should we abide by your definition of democracy, there would be very few truely democratic countries around.”

My response to that was that perhaps my insistence that at a mininum voters actually exercise an informed choice for a society to qualify as a democracy is indeed too stringent a requirement and we should all be content with a cargo cult democracy (please do click on the link to see what I mean.) While we are at it, we should also paste pictures of a monitor and a keyboard on every school desk so that we can also claim that we have a fully digital school system, since we cannot really afford a computer (for whatever it is worth) on every desk in our schools.

I think that we Indians have been brainwashed into worshipping an idol called “democracy” without an understanding of what democracy means and what is implied in terms of rights and responsibilities for the functioning of a democratic society. Democracy is definitely not an event such as periodic general elections; it is a process that permeates the fabric of the political lives of all its citizens. It has something to do with the people taking ownership of their own governance at all levels–from the neighborhood citizens’ group involved in keeping the streets clean to the national level where the matters relate to which party most effectively does the job that a government is supposed to do.

Merely having periodic elections full of sound and fury with totally clueless voters every so often does not constitute a democracy any more than having a very loud wedding full of hired guests consitutes a marriage. A wedding however lavish is merely an event and is not a substitute for the daily process of sharing and caring and coping that goes into the making of a marriage which is a process.

I have seen too many fancy weddings which end up as lousy marriages.

Author: Atanu Dey


5 thoughts on “Confusing weddings and marriages”

  1. You make a valid point. However, I don’t think the problem is limited to India. I think voters in most democracies vote out of short term self interest (“Whee! Tax cuts!”) or loyalty to a political group, rather than making reasoned decisions based on the facts.

    Incidentally, the cargo cult also makes an appearance early in Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel.


  2. Nath, I see nothing wrong in a person voting based on self-interest. One has to do what one feels is the best for oneself. But one has to know whether who one is voting for is good for one’s self-interest or not. My concern is that often Indian voters choose people who are actually against the voters’ interests both short-term as well as long-term. Informed voting does not mean that one should vote againsts one’s wishes; it just means that one knows who stands for what.


  3. Well, the phrase I used was ‘short term self interest’. Perhaps I should have put more emphasis on ‘short term’ and less on ‘self interest’.

    To quote your earlier article: “Promise enough freebies and they will vote for you, never mind that it may bankrupt the state and that eventually it will impoverish the same voting public”. I think that’s a fairly universal truth.



  4. Hello Atanu,

    Its a self evident truth that the current political systems in place have not worked entirely in favour of the Indian populace. We’ve had almost 4 decades of a communist/socialist rate of growth, abysmal social health indicators and periodic episodes of civil violence.

    Where does the fault lie ? You and many others argue that this democracy is flawed and nothing more than a dead idol – as it has not brought any tangible gains to the Indian people. People are misinformed and dont know enough to understand that politicians are taking them for a ride. In other words, people get the government they deserve.

    I agree with the fact that people are not well informed, but IMO – more or less – this is the case world wide. More importantly, when can we say that this group of people deserves the government they have, and when can we say that this government is a usurper of its populations rights ? Even dictators like Saddam had substantial support in their countries for its obvious that if “everyone” got up and said NO to Saddam , his dictatorship would have been long gone. My point is that while Indian govt. of the day may have substantial support within the Indian population, nevertheless, it is also a system that usurps the rights of the general population.

    A second point is, that politicians are as much creations of the Indian political system, as much as they are the creators. Sometimes, they are also victims of the same political systems in place (Rajiv, Indira, Phoolan Devi,..) that they used to victimise others. Clearly, all the blame can not be laid at the doors of politicians when the system within which they exist is flawed !!

    My opinion is that the adopted British parliamentary – first past the post wins – system is unsuitable to govern heterogenous communities living together in relative degrees of conflict and peace. In fact, when added to a general public that is uninformed and that takes decisions based on short term interests (like general public anywhere in the world), this is a system that perpetuates conflict, doesnt resolve it. As evidence, its enough to see that none of the important conflicts between Indians (Hindu-Muslim, caste based conflict, class based conflict, regional conflicts) are any closer to resolution in 50 years. In fact they appear to be following a high-low tide pattern.

    The “first past the post” system ensures that in order to win, a politician needs to tie up perhaps 30% of a voting block, to be wooed with unreasonable sops at the cost of the other fragmented 70%. Combined with an economic system where the government is the largest economic entity, this system ensures that the said 30% take a *rational* decision to vote in *their* politician and use him or her to extract economic and social gains out of the government.

    Perhaps having a preferential voting system in place will solve a lot of the conflict resolution and resource allocation problems. In such a system, since each vote will count (distinct from being just counted) even small communities, shall not be marginalized and politicians shall have to take decisions that benefit all.

    So yes, while I agree with you that the Indian Democracy is flawed, I dont agree with the connotation that Indian people are too stupid or illinformed to run their own governments. Only the system within which they elect their representatives needs to be changed.


  5. I was in Hyderabad in August, at the wedding of a friend’s daughter. (The wedding reception and ceremony were amazing!) And lived there for a year about 30 years ago. So, although I am a new Zealander, I feel a little qualified to comment … I’d say India is going to rise above China as the world’s manufacturing superpower because of her healthy democratic traditions. These precious traditions have survived the ravages of Mrs Gandhi, the corruption of many Central ministers and state ministries, and firebrands who have ignited some fearsome riots against race / caste / religious groups. When you have a country where the law makers can be voted out of office, you have a ship on a steady course. Contrast that with China, where a tiny group at the center attempts to shore up their own position and impose their limited ability on the great masses of the disenfranchised and powerless. A large country needs the brains and effort of everyone in it to stay on course for prosperity and harmony. A ruling elite will never be intelligent enough for this gigantic task. Democracy will make India supreme.


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