Farooq Abdullah’s bizarre suggestion Controlled Democracy!
Speaking last weekend at The Hindustan Times Leadership Summit on the subject of the Indo-Pakistan Kashmir dispute Dr Farooq Abdullah came up with a very bizarre suggestion. Earlier former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir bin Mohammed addressing the same leadership summit had said that Indian decision making was not sufficiently swift for which he recommended less democracy. Dr Mahathir opined that India had too much democracy which paralyzed decision making. Inspired by the Malaysian leader, Dr Abdullah said that India should introduce “controlled democracy” as it obtains in Malaysia . He drew attention to the long pending Kashmir dispute between India and Kashmir which he implied might be resolved through “controlled democracy”. I don’t quite know the nature of democracy that exists in Malaysia . But it is commonly conceded that Indian governance has become almost paralyzed. This is not only affecting the Kashmir issue but a host of other issues concerning the nation. However, with all respect to Dr Mahathir and Dr Abdullah both leaders are horribly wrong in adducing their reasons for paralysis in India ‘s governance. Indian governance does not suffer as Dr Abdullah suggests because it lacks “controlled democracy”. India suffers because it lacks democracy. Indian decision making does not suffer as Dr Mahathir suggests because India has too much democracy. India suffers because it has too little democracy. There is need to appreciate the basic postulates that define democracy.
Democracy delivers what free people want regarding the problems that affect them. That implies freedom of speech and expression. It implies decisions that represent the majority view. It implies free and fair elections to determine the majority. It implies freedom to associate and form parties that fight elections. It implies the right of people to address problems affecting them through free choice. That in turn implies for a large multi-ethnic, multi-lingual nation a rational division of responsibility that allows a system in which local bodies determine local policies, state governments determine state policies and the national government determines policies affecting the whole nation. In other words it implies a federal democracy which alone delivers at all levels of governance genuine democracy to citizens of a large diverse society.
Contrast this with what obtains in India . Contrary to our Constitution we have the Westminster system of parliamentary government. Contrary to the Constitution, we have a President with the largest singular electoral mandate reduced to being a titular head. The President alone has the ultimate sworn responsibility to preserve the Constitution and law. The Governor of a state who should be the President’s nominee to likewise protect the Constitution and law in his state has been reduced to the central cabinet’s factotum even though the central government may lack the electoral mandate to govern that particular state. We have a central government that exercises powers over states in which it has no electoral mandate. We have destroyed our federal polity. We allow the Prime Minister elected only by the Lok Sabha to encroach on the powers of the states. We allow chief ministers to encroach on the powers of the district administration. We allow district heads to encroach on the powers of primary local bodies. In this distorted version of the system outlined by our Constitution issues are ignored or dealt with by people lacking empathy with the area they govern. Is it surprising therefore if politicians focus only on personal advancement? Is it surprising that there is paralysis in India ‘s governance?
Let us turn our attention to the Kashmir dispute which led Dr Abdullah to endorse “controlled democracy”. Inadequate as our democracy might be our failure to resolve the Kashmir dispute cannot be traced to it. Incidentally Dr Abdullah might note that “controlled democracy” would not have allowed Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to give even a whimper against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). The Kashmir dispute remains unsolved because our worthy politicians do not know what they want in Kashmir . Those who do know what they want are too coy to express themselves. That goes not only for central leaders and state leaders but also for the so called revolutionary separatist leaders. They dwell on all kinds of grievances against the conduct of either New Delhi or Srinagar as the case may be, but never clearly define what their ultimate goal in Kashmir is. Without specifying what we want in Kashmir how can any progress be made in dealing with Pakistan ? Reiterating the desire for peace and normalization is not enough. On what precise terms is peace being sought? Do we want the conversion of the Line of Control into an international border, grab the entire Kashmir, surrender part of Kashmir to Pakistan or make part of Kashmir independent?
The only leader in the subcontinent who clearly laid out a concrete settlement formula was former President Musharraf of Pakistan . He wanted soft borders between the two sides of Kashmir, a measure of autonomy in both sides and joint management by New Delhi and Islamabad of the entire state. It was a proposal deserving a response. But no leaders in Srinagar or in New Delhi responded clearly. I pointed out that joint management was impractical as long as the armies of India and Pakistan remained competitive and were not cooperative. Politicians could have taken up that caveat and confronted Pakistan with a choice. No such thing was attempted. Never mind our flawed democracy, how does Dr Abdullah expect progress in defusing the Kashmir dispute in the light of such politics? Are our leaders too obsessed with other issues, too scared to speak up, or too unconcerned to remain so supine on the Kashmir issue?
Finally, a word of advice to Dr Abdullah: India does not need politicians who control democracy. India needs politicians who control themselves.
By Rajinder Puri