The democracy disillusionment

Updated: Apr 20, 2019

Every morning I wake up to the sight of the deluge of messages on WhatsApp groups pertaining to fiery political discussions. NaMo, RaGa, NiGa, SuSu and the lot (the latter being droll abbreviations for Nitin Gadkari and Subramanian Swamy).

Not so long ago, it was me who would fervently initiate such debates with the hope of evangelising others into my fold. But this is not the case any longer. I, for the most part, prefer staying away from political debates of all sorts. This is because I am disillusioned. Disillusioned with political parties, disillusioned with the political process itself.

I had followed the 2014 general elections with utmost keenness and had penned down this article exactly five years ago. The impassioned tone of that post quite accurately reflects both my zeal and naivety at that point in my life. Most of what I wrote back then, I still agree with - with the exception of considering the AAP to be a political party with a difference.

That post dealt with the problems plaguing political parties - corruption, criminal charges, nepotism, party hopping, lack of transparency and ethics. Nothing more to add to that really. Things have only gone downhill. Take for example the introduction of 'electoral bonds' in 2017 which allow individuals to anonymously donate upto 1 crores to political parties. Pre-poll promises and rhetorics are a joke, or more correctly, a jumla. Unless the manifestos are treated as a legal contract between the party and the citizens - enforceable and punishable in the court of law - the political shows and rallies are nothing more than a free-for-all circus.

But I digress. This post is not about any or all political parties. This post is about the heart of the matter - democracy.

Consider the scenario of you and your friends trying to decide upon the next destination for a vacation. Three of you choose Shimla while three other prefer Mussoorie. The remaining four vote for Goa. The simple rule of 'majority wins' would dictate that all of you now go to Goa. Unfortunately, this does not take into account the fact that 60% of the people wanted to go to the hills rather than the beachside.

This phenomenon is well experienced by multi-party political systems such as that of India's. It is equally common to see parties win a large number of seats with a pretty low vote share and vice-versa. Even in two-party systems such as that of the United States such anomalies occur. In 2016, Donald Trump won the US Presidency despite polling fewer votes than Hillary Clinton because his votes were better distributed.

These aberrations are just the tip of the iceberg. My biggest gripe with democracy is that it births demagoguery. A demagogue is a politician who appeals to the public's emotions rather than their rationale. He is a modern day pied piper.

Imagine a confectioner and a dentist contesting elections. The confectioner promises tasty treats and sweets for all. The dentist, in contrast, offers strict diet controls and the inconvenience of dental hygiene. It is very unlikely then, that the dentist will be able to garner a lot of votes, even if he had the public's best interest in mind.

A well intentioned political candidate has to resort to freebies and rabble-rousing in order to gain popularity. Had it not been for democracy, caste-based reservations, religious skirmishes and war mongering would perhaps be non-issues. Any political party that dares to dish out a bitter pill risks the chance of not getting re-elected.

Democracy incentivises the politicians to please the masses (or at least a majority portion of it) with evanescent euphoria rather than work for the long term upliftment of the society as a whole. Democracy also encourages a citizen to elect governments that caters to the demands of his denomination, which may be at the cost of the collective interest of the citizenry. Democracy rewards both the elector and the elected for creating rifts and divisions. At the end, it all boils down to numbers, arithmetic and counting of the heads. It boils down to realpolitik. We, as a society, have learned to euphemize and applaud political amorality as 'masterstrokes'.

It would therefore be in the best interest of a political party which claims to champion the cause of the Dalits, to never actually uplift the Dalits, so that they can continue milking their deplorable condition election after election. At the same time, it would be in the best interest of a Dalit, to continue voting for a such a party that makes unmeritorious promises of quick-fixes only for Dalits. (Side note : This makes for an interesting game theory problem.)

Would you rather blame the politicians for their behaviour, then? No.

In a democracy, the politicians are merely a reflection of the society. We simply elect what we deserve and not what we need. The wealth of the whole (taxes) is utilised by the government for ephemeral gratification of the majority. This is why we see more money being poured into statues than stem cell research.

Democracy is only as strong as the people around it. A predominately xenophobic, jingoistic country will elect a xenophobic, jingoistic government to implement xenophobic, jingoistic schemes, causing a 'tyranny of the majority'.

Implementation of 'universal suffrage' or the right for all adults to vote is hailed as a momentous feat in human history. Is it time to rethink 'universal suffrage'?

Voting should be perceived as a skill and not someone's birth right. Only those who are capable enough of making an informed decision should be allowed to cast their vote.

My problem with democracy is that it puts people in charge. And people are inherently selfish and irrational. They need to be taught how to vote. It is similar to allowing only those who have cleared the driving test to operate vehicles on the road to ensures the safety of all those on the street.

When I say selective voting, I do not want to sound elitist. No one should be debarred from voting on the basis of caste, creed, sex, religion or race. When I say, informed decision, I am not hinting at literacy or education as a criteria for exclusion. A poor, illiterate farmer may very well be more adept at voting than a wealthy, scheming businessman.

Voters should be quizzed to affirm that they are making a critical assessment of the contestants and the issues and not getting swayed by rhetorics, charisma or personal biases. Of course, screening voters (especially in a populous country like ours) will be a mammoth task unto itself.

I would definitely prefer democracy over autocracy. It is just that democracy in its current state, is a far cry from the panacea that it is universally portrayed to be.

Churchill famously said - "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

But what about those forms of government that haven’t yet been tried?

Please go out and vote even if it means choosing between the lesser of two evil confectioners.

Check out this moving post by a friend on why we all need to vote :

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