Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Gujarat: ‘But people want him’

Narendra Modi was re-elected as Chief Minister in the 2002 elections - ten months after the post-Godhra riots. He was re-elected again in 2007, after defeating the Congress by a wide margin. An argument made even by those who are willing to consider the charges of state-sponsorship or negligence levelled against Modi, is that the people of Gujarat themselves want him in power. If he is a democratically elected leader, who are we to question him?

It was through democracy that segregation was entrenched in America; the majority voted for a system founded upon discrimination against Blacks. Similarly, free and fair elections have led to the emergence of dictatorships in some places in Central Asia. In both cases, democracy was at odds with freedom. Just providing the argument that democracy is flourishing through a system of elections - does not automatically imply that freedom is flourishing, or that equality is being promoted.

In the 1990s, Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats were forced to flee their homes and expelled from Bosnia and Herzegovina by Bosnian Serbs. Almost 3 lakh people were displaced. In 1995, more than 8000 Bosnian Muslims were killed and 30,000 were forcefully expelled from the town of Srebrenica. All this took place under the auspices of elected officials.  This does not justify what happened, nor does the fact that the Serbian president enjoyed tremendous popular support.

That people want a particular leader does not automatically justify his holding office. Popular opinion can often be belligerent towards ‘others’, and may even support discriminatory policies, or agendas of ethnic cleansing. Public opinion may also be influenced through silent, gradual indoctrination against a particular race, nation, religion, or caste. But can a system that allows several heads to be broken after counting them be called ‘democratic’? Indeed, to be meaningfully democratic, head counts must be followed by policies which reflect that each head counts, that every person has been treated as an equal.

Popular support through elections is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for a leader to justify his position. Any democratic leader must be judged against other criteria that qualifies a country as a liberal, constitutional democracy. In such a democracy, actions of elected officials are constrained by constitutional provisions and a commitment to civil liberties. In other words, no elected leader can act arbitrarily­. He must follow the rule of law, respect the separation of powers (between the executive, legislature and judiciary), and ensure  protection of the basic freedoms of speech, press, assembly, religion etc.

The same applies to Narendra Modi. Those who are raising questions about freedom, equality and justice under his rule must not be stumped by the retort that ‘the people themselves want him in power’.  Questions about whether the other criteria of a constitutional democracy are being met by him need to be asked, and satisfactory answers must be given on those accounts. For one must remember that procedural democracy (regular elections and competitive politics) is just one among many values. Although an important one, it is by no means the supreme value- it cannot override other important values like freedom, equality and justice.  


2)  Ethic cleansing during the Bosnian war -

3)     Charges of genocide in Bosnia -

4) Who was the Serbian President? -

5)     Srebrenica Massacre -
6)     More on democracies and illiberalism  (and for what constitutes a constitutional democracy) - Fareed Zakaria, The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracies at Home and Abroad  

7)     More on democracy and violence - Jack Snyder, From Voting to Violence: Democratisation and Nationalist conflict


Cyberswami said...

Good point. I like the 'necessary but not sufficient' bit. After all, Hitler too received a landslide electoral verdict in 1933.

However, if you use equality as your criterion, pause to consider the truism that you may provide equality of opportunities, but you cannot ensure equality of outcomes. This is not directly relevant to what you have written, but I hope you see its implications.

Vanya said...

hello, Cyberswami! i see what you mean. but first we must ensure non-discrimination, then equality of opportunity - only then can we even look at whether equality of outcomes is being achieved. also, one has to define equality of outcomes, otherwise theres a danger of being too idealistic also, na?

Anonymous said...

I guess, I added my comment for this post to the previous one by mistake.

Anyhow just wanted to point out one thing that I noticed here.

Not really in tandem with the post, but the source you mentioned after the post caught my attention, because of this -

Alagiri said...

Great correlation between various worldly events.

But, the blog is very biased, it might also be true that i'm on the other side.

Anyways,loved reading it.

Vanya said...

A bias is usually something which is a belief/opinion not backed by a good argument. But Ive tried to give arguments for the opinion I hold. One cannot dismiss it as bias unless you point out holes in the argument. :) Glad you enjoyed reading it though!

DoomMelon said...

In the end, the only alternative solution would be to counter the democratic vote and institute a pro-Congress alternative.

In such cases, as much as it challenges India's democracy and secular values, one must take a step back from our deeply ingrained liberal values and look at the undeniable bigger picture - that Gujarat has flourished under his political rule and that he is a master facilitator for business.

Based on Congress track record with the nation, the overall per-capita income of Gujarat would not have increased (in fact, would have probably reduced) under the Congress.

Basically, it boils down to a purely economic argument to counter the one of values and secularism - He's just better for them.

Vanya said...

I'm not saying the Congress is a good option. And im certainly not saying that the democratic vote should be discounted. Its a choice between bad options in Gujarat, in my opinion.

I am skeptical about attributing Gujarat's economic 'success' only to Modi - Gujarat has more or less always done well economically because of its merchant ethos/culture. Moreover, the nature of development under Modi is also questionable. Is it really inclusive?

Anyway thats besides the point of my article. i've often heard that "you can't say anything because the people THEMSELVES want him" - my argument is against that particular line of argument. Anyway, Economic success and development cannot ever be an excuse to trump values of freedom and equality and justice. If Hitler or Sadam Hussein trumped such values, but achieved a GDP of 13% GDP for their country, it still doesn't excuse their ideology/policies, in my view. Economics isn't everything, what about rule of law? justice? healthcare? education? malnutrition? freedom of expression and press? and yes, secularism. the question of 'he is just better for them' depends on how he fares on all these aspects also. That's just my opinion.