Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Greatest Democracy on Earth

"Democracy is a device that ensures that we will be governed no better than we deserve.”
George Bernard Shaw

At over 10,000 years old, she is one of the oldest civilizations in the history of the world and yet today is considered one of its youngest nations. She gave the world Chess, Algebra, Trigonometry, Calculus, the number system and developed the decimal system in 100 BC. She established the world’s first university in 700 BC, had a physician performing complicated surgeries like cataract, artificial limbs, cesareans, fractures, urinary stones and also plastic surgery and brain surgeries about 2,600 years ago. She also gave us the art of navigation and navigating, the value of “pi” and the time taken for the earth to orbit the sun, hundreds of years before anyone in Europe did. She is also the birthplace of two of the world’s major religions, Hinduism (the world’s oldest religion) and Buddhism and a place where Christianity has existed for over 2,000 years and where the oldest Jewish synagogues and Jewish communities have resided since the Romans burnt their 2nd temple.

Today, India has no official language or religion but has 30 official languages (and 2,000+ dialects) and has people of every religion in the world, including the second largest Muslim population. It is only in India that you will find the Dalai Lama (and the Tibetan government in exile); a Sikh Prime Minister, a female President who was preceded by three Muslim Presidents and where the head of the ruling party is a Catholic Italian woman. Perhaps, India also faces the greatest geopolitical challenges of any nation with Pakistan bordering her on the West and Bangladesh, China and Myanmar to the East; it is a wonder that she is not just surviving but thriving and a testament not only to the grit and tenacity of her diverse peoples but also an ode to the success of Democratic ideals.

Last month Indians went to the polls to elect a new government. With 675,000,000 registered voters, 220 political parties and 5,398 candidates all vying for 545 parliament seats. The entire process took one month and required almost 1 million polling stations across the country. In the end 450,000,000 people had casts their votes and made their voices heard making this the greatest exercise in democracy the world has ever witnessed!

However, what I find most fascinating about this great show was how the people chose to vote:
India has long been divided by communalism, and parties intent on creating greater segregation through caste politics. As a result she has seen governments formed out of multiple and factious coalitions, with no one party really being given a clear mandate, by the voters, to lead. The main opposition party also went to town about the last coalition governments weak response to the Mumbai terror attacks because they showed a great deal of restraint in not taking the terrorist bait and attacking Pakistan; which would have destabilised an already sensitive region and quite possibly led to a nuclear armed conflict. This restraint was not a sign of weakness but of great strength, in my eyes, but one doubted if the vast majority of the voting population would be able to see through the opposition's smoke. And given that India has one of world’s poorest and least educated electorates it seemed that she was destined to stay divided and a slave to crappy coalitions that led from the status quo of the most compromised center. The fact that the electorate chose to look beyond what was presented to them and vote intelligently with their minds and rise above the communal divides, created by individual political parties, shows that the democracy and this great, young nation have begun to come of age.

Jain Hind!

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