Making Democracy Work

— Sunil Kumar


I. Empowering people & Enabling Systems:
Democracy is based on the myth that people are equal whereas the reality is that while we have equal unlimited potential, we have different interests and tendencies and have not yet manifested our potential equally. We are therefore, unequal in all aspects and have our own individual qualities and characteristics. Through education, if not by birth and family, we have to somehow evaluate and find who is good for what, and how to help him grow keeping in view his inherent tendencies. Within democracy, we have to somehow ensure that only the good, fair and just people occupy leadership positions, because they alone can give opportunity to others to grow. Wisdom says: never treat equal people unequally and unequal people equally! And, yet in democracy we disregard this basic wisdom and we see the results.

Democracy is just one of the means of governance and to be considered a success it must focus on creating systems of education, politics and governance which produces good people and puts them in positions of authority where they work for good of society. Modern systems have failed to produce good and competent people with character who can deliver results for the long-term good of the environment as also of all people. Focus in politics and governance must not be only on managing of resources, creation of infra-structure, development, etc. but also on creating empowered systems and people that can deliver results.

We should recognize that people are unequal, are full of desires and will strive to fulfil them – by right or even wrong means. Therefore, one of the important processes of good democracy and governance must be to appropriately educate and empower people and create conducive social systems. We have so far failed to recognize that and ultimately, it is good leaders, leadership and systems for good governance that are responsible for success of a nation, rather than just democracy or any other system.

II. Empowering the Common Man – no greatness without goodness:
While the various democratic processes will keep on improving, the real problem is ‘Nil magnum nisi bonum – There is no greatness without goodness’ (Motto of a school, Life of Pi). Basis of all systems, social, political, administrative or academics, rests upon the goodness of man. No nation is great or good because Parliament enacts this or that. Leaders are to lead towards goodness; not appease different groups or parties by giving lollipops.

Leaders must be men of wisdom to know what is ‘right’ and, strength and fearlessness, to walk the talk. Of course, they must have a democratic spirit. Are we educating them for it?

During our freedom struggle common people and leaders in politics were by and large those who were imbued with the spirit of ‘tyaga and seva’, self-sacrifice and service-orientation. The leaders now emerging from the democratic process are unable to unite people towards a common goal as enshrined in the spirit of Fundamental Duties; and in fact they are creating divisions and hatred among communities in order to secure votes.

Empowering the common man to become an enlightened leader working for the greatest good of greatest numbers, should be our biggest concern. Aristotle had observed that it is better for a city to be governed by a ‘good’ man than by good laws. Plato in his Republic had said the ruler must be a philosopher; and in India we say that a ‘Raja-Rishi’ alone can deliver ‘Ram-rajya’ – pictures of an enlightened ruler and a well governed state.

III. Some ills of Democracy that we are experiencing are as follows:
• Democracy has a divisive and polarizing influence and is not designed to bring people together;
• Instead of party and leader of ‘Opposition’ in Parliament, we should have parties and leaders of ‘Cooperation’.
• The attempt in democracy must not be to prove that we are Right based on numbers; but to discuss and debate to find out what is Right – and for this we must listen and learn from elders, from men of wisdom of other parties as well and take decisions based on long-term good for the greatest numbers.
• Elections often lead to intimidation of voters, bribery, and illegal use of huge amounts of ‘black’ money, corruption, violence and conflicts
• Even Political parties are themselves not democratic! The leaders can issue a ‘whip’ and every party-member has to follow it. Is this fair to democracy? The Party high command selects and nominates and the candidates are foisted on the people by the high command, irrespective of wishes of people.

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• Unless a candidate has worked in the area and people know him and his abilities, and have a say, how can it be real Democracy
• Political parties have a short term vision of 3-5 years
• Democracy is based on the assumption that people are equal, when we know for a fact that people are unequal. And, it is well said, never treat unequal people equally or equal people unequally!
• Another misconception is that people know what is good for them; the reality is that most of us look for immediate short term pleasures and how to acquire the resources to fulfil them.
• The ability to choose the long-term good over immediate gratification, viveka, is not a quality with most of us. If we want it we have to acquire it over a long period of time, effort, and experience, through continuous practice. Only unselfish persons with viveka are likely to work for the good of others.
• Even Supreme Court judges, best trained to decide, having a written Constitution, give differing judgments as per own prejudices!
• Parties do not deliver. They fail to create systems where people are made accountable for results, payments are linked to results and swift punishment is given to the wrongdoers. Political Parties have a very poor record of keeping their commitments and promises.
• Democracy has failed to curb galloping selfishness, consumerism, greed, exploitation, and wide spread corruption and so it is obvious that democracy without good people is bound to fail.

IV. Empowered Common citizens can make democracy work:
What do we understand by a common man? A person silently doing his duties, trying to remain within laws of land and traditions; striving for quality and excellence in his work, not overtly selfish, by and large fair and just, and willing to help solve societal issues. This will be in contrast to political parties who are in politics for self-interests, for status, power, money, etc. The success of a common-people’s party in a recent election shows that common people are the real power centres in democracy; they can actually play a much greater role than the political parties, if they have the will and come together. This also shows that we cannot depend on existing political parties to clean up the evils of democracy because they obviously have selfish interests and are happy with the present ways!

Common men have much greater capacity for work and self-reliance than the established leaders. They work silently, unnoticed by all. They form 90% of the population and are the backbone of the nation and source of power for the leaders. It is because of them that wheat grown in the North India, reaches a small village shop in South. Give it to parties in power and it will disappear on the way! We must learn and follow the common people’s unselfishness and devotion to duty in the smallest of work.

V. Working together for greatest good - Worldview of Oneness:
The ideal behind the idea of democracy and the principles of equality, justice, liberty, etc. is the worldview of ‘Oneness’, that not just the whole society but all creation is our family. The ideal of democracy derives its power from the spiritual truths of all religions: the Kingdom of God (life or spirit) is within us; God is said to be omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. It is our common duty therefore, to first seek the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and everything else will be added unto us. All the social, democratic or equalizing efforts must have this spiritual basis – that the same potential, spirit, life, God or kingdom of God, call it what you will – is within every being and therefore, we are all inter-connected and inter-dependent. Thus the purpose of work and life must be to work together, offering our talents, knowledge and skills, our ‘gifts’, for the good of all. We have to grow from wherever we are, in and through our daily work – sweeping, teaching or leading - to manifest more and more of our potential through every thought, word or action. And, this must be taught in our education systems and by religions.

VI. Education for Democratic workers and leaders to ‘walk the talk’:
People must be educated and trained to be able to ‘walk the talk’ towards ‘perfection’ - being ‘swastha’, which literally means ‘to be established in our own Self’, because our ‘Self’ or ‘life’ within, is the source of all bliss, ananda, power and knowledge; whereas our body-mind complex is just dead matter.

Those who walk the talk towards ‘perfection’ are said to be ‘sur’, in harmony, and they are fit to be our role models within democracy; while the others are ‘Asur’, because they are not in harmony with their own growth potential! Unfortunately Democracy as is emerging is increasingly based on a worldview of ‘Separateness’ which divides instead of uniting people, and, both religions and political systems have become divisive forces!
Democratic processes must focus on inspiring people to march together, towards individual and collective growth towards ‘perfection’ – towards growing feelings of ‘ananda’ and ‘apanapan’, oneness, with more and more

VII. Conclusion – Leaders must rise above party politics:
While we can certainly take pride in our democratic experience, we cannot claim that as our democracy ages and matures; it is throwing up more and more of ‘good’ leaders. The question which parties, academia, and people in democracy need to ask: How, when and who will identify and develop enlightened workers and leaders who will have the expanded heart to rise above party politics and work for good of society as a whole?

About the Author
Suni Kumar is a Director, IC Centre for Governance. And he is a Member, Managing Committee, Ramakrishna Mission, New Delhi - Self-development & Value Education Programs; Formerly: Founder Trustee & Professor, SriSim (a PGDBM Institute), Vasant Vihar, New Delhi, & G.M, The PEC of India Ltd.

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