Democracy's hardware in place

Democracy’s hardware in place, we begin working on its software Arun Maira- Chairman Boston consulting Group and RIGHT every WRONG keynote speakers in India

Empowered- Indian Express India empowered to me is every Indian having access to the means to improve their own lives: when every Indian can plug into the education system; when healthcare is available and affordable for every Indian; when access to employment opportunities is unconstrained by caste and religion; when everyone has access to information; when women and men with entrepreneurial spirit, who historically did not have the means, can obtain finance for their enterprises even if they have no collateral other than their integrity.

India will be empowered when those who have—power, money, property—use their assets for their own profit, but in a way that also empowers those who do not have to also have access to the means to improve their own lives. India empowered to me is communities of people taking charge of their surroundings, combining their resources and capabilities and working together to make the improvements they need.

India empowered to me is the spirit of partnership in which people work towards a larger goal they all aspire to—their vision of Pahale India. India empowered to me is the realization of Gandhi’s vision of freedom where the historically downtrodden are able to rise with dignity and their own efforts.

India empowered to me is the realization of India’s tryst with destiny. Nehru and Gandhi had the same love and concern for India’s people. However, their visions of the means to achieve India’s tryst with its destiny differed. Nehru had a top-down model, leading from the commanding heights. As his vision played out, people began to wait for government to solve their problems. Their own initiative diminished. They became dependent, not free.

India will be empowered when people—in civil society, business, and government—do not wait for someone else, but take the initiative to find the partners they need to achieve their goals. As India aspires to accelerate its growth, improve its infrastructure, and catch up with China, many yearn for a strong, central leadership that can align diverse interests, lay down the law, and drive implementation.

However, the model of power emanating from the centre to drive people is not a practical model for India any more. It may work in other countries where their histories provided them, sometimes through violent revolution, a central authority that people dare not question. Though India once had, it does not now have a single, strong, nation-wide party and may not have one for years to come. Nor should we wait for a charismatic leader to emerge who all will trust and follow without protest. Power in India must be with the people, and the power of people will drive change through multiple points of action. India will be empowered by the light coming from millions of ‘Fireflies Arising’, each bringing its own light, rather than light shone on them by a floodlight from a tall post.

India empowered to me is an active and responsible civil society; it is companies with the daring and smarts to compete with giants from other countries and who also act responsibly to strengthen the social and natural environment of India; it is government which has finally shed its colonial culture of babu bureaucracy and has developed instead the capability to provide power to people and communities to develop themselves. It is about participative ‘governance’, and not merely ‘government’, driving change.

A nation drives forward on four wheels: the front wheels of the economy and the physical infrastructure, and the rear wheels of the society and the political system.

China is pulling itself with power through the front wheels, by rapidly improving its infrastructure and growing its economy. Its hope is that the power in the front wheels will drag it out of any swamp in which the rear wheels may get mired when pressures for political change increase.

India’s vehicle drives on power through the rear wheels, of democracy and society, which push the vehicle forward for improvements in the economy and infrastructure—as the people of Bihar have done in the recent election. (Big trucks, auto engineers say, are safer in the long run with rear wheel drive.)

India empowered to me is a country that derives power from its traditions and also adapts and innovates. Building on India’s centuries’ old tradition of tolerance, highlighted by the emperors Ashoka and Akbar, and on Gandhi’s idea of non-violent change, we must evolve an appropriate technology of democracy to govern our vast and diverse nation.

The constitution, with its legislatures and other formal institutions, along with the system of electing representatives to these institutions, is the ‘hardware’ of democracy. However, it is the ‘software’ of democracy—the processes of dialogue in these institutions, as well as the public participation in the debate, that brings democracy to life. We need to improve the software to make Indian democracy fully effective and make India a shining example to the world of an inclusive, equitable, vibrant, free-market democracy.

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