Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

Launch of the 2002 United Nations Development Program

UNDP Human Development Report (onshi/Flickr)

UNDP Human Development Report (onshi/Flickr)

These fallouts, for a new democracy to manage, seem to be challenges that in some senses at the time one could possibly take heart by saying that well it is really the problem of an absence of institutions, that you didn't have enough democratic institutions to buffer the country against these particular expressions of social breakup and social fragmentation.

What then does one say in the Indian context today? One of the most difficult situations that we face in India at present is precisely the same kinds of fragmentation and deepening divisions within society of a type that we really have not experienced in the country, at least in the last 50 years. And in the Indian context, neither have we had a major economic crisis of the type that the Southeast Asian countries went through. In fact India is consistently held up as younger brother or sister to China in the context of economic growth, at least in the recent period. And whatever one may agree or not agree about the validity of that comparison or that example, certainly India's economic situation at this point is not one of crisis.

Nor is India a dictatorship, not in the traditional sense that we understand it and I would say not in any sense, probably, at least up unto this point. India has been held and is the world's largest democracy. Democratic institutions have pretty strong and deep roots in the country at this point. And yet it is within this same country that we are experiencing and have seen growing over the last few years and coming to some kind of climax in the last six months or so, a dramatic acceleration and breaking out of religious violence, gender violence imbedded in that religious violence, of a form we have not seen in the country for quite some time.

All these, I think, give pause to and pose the question that I asked in quite dramatic ways. And that question that I would repeat again is whether the institutions of political democracy as we understand it can manage the fallouts of economic globalization.

Why do I think that in India, some of what we've seen today in Godhra and spreading into some other parts of the country, are fallouts from economic globalization? I am not a believer in bashing economic globalization for every bad thing that happens in the world. But I do believe that one of the things that we have seen in the country is an increase in aspirations coming through the expansion of media, the expansion of unequal consumption of a type we have never seen in the country before. And at the same time, the knowledge among many people that those aspirations cannot be met for very large numbers of young people who are out on the streets, who are educated and unemployed, not possibly in their lifetimes. What happens to these young people is that they become cannon fodder for every kind of millenarial vision, very often those are visions that draw upon and create identities which have to find a significant other to blame for their own situation. And in India today I think the promotion of violence and of sectarian identities on a scale that we haven't seen for quite some time are in fact part of that fallout.

It is therefore I think time that we looked again at the question of what we mean by democracy. Yes, institutions are important and crucial and the institutions that Sakiko mentioned, in the Indian context, are absolutely critical and important: the existence of a relatively independent judiciary, the importance of a vibrant and vocal civil society movement, the importance of innovations in this regard, the right to information movement that Sakiko also mentioned which began in Rajasthan and has spread to other parts of the country, bringing accountability to the institutions of government as well as the role of civil society in raising the issue of corporate accountability and the institutions of corporate regulation as well. All of these are absolutely critical and important.

And yet they are clearly not enough. They're not enough to buffer a society as vibrant, with institutions as deep as India has, against what we are seeing today. And I don't think I am overstating the position to say that at this point in India, the situation that we face is quite different from many times in the past. Communal riots as we call them are not new to India. And yet the situation today is quite, quite different from anything we have seen in the past. Not so much in the extent of the violence and the depth of the fragmentation but in the extent to which it is spreading into middle class ideas and ethos, in the extent of state support and condoning of the violence in forms that we have not seen before. And I think therefore in the Indian context and therefore given that we are speaking about the world's largest democracy at this point, it is absolutely critical for us to ask this question in a serious way.

My own answer to this question, in a very preliminary way, is that in our thinking about political democracy, in our thinking about institutions' participation and accountability, in our thinking about the importance of elections and political parties, one of the things that we tended to leave out is the importance of an ethos of inclusion. The democracy must mean and must build an ethos of inclusion, an ethos of equity and an ethos of equality.

And if we don't have and don't build an ethos like that and build that into the institutions of democracy in a sustained and systematic way, then the capture of those democratic institutions, not just political parties and governments, but the institutions that hold society itself together is always an open thing -- that you can lose what you build over 50 years if you don't build in that ethos.

What does this say, however, to the processes of economic globalization? Because in India as elsewhere in the world, we have been celebrating, through the processes of globalization, inequality and an ethos of individual advancement. And I think therefore that the experience of Indonesia post 1997 and the experience of India as we are undergoing it at the present time exactly challenge both our notions that economic globalization will somehow deal with all these problems and our traditional understandings of political democracy. Thank you.