Random Thoughts

A Tale of Two Democracies

Democracy, a government of the people, for the people and by the people, as postulated by Lincoln, is a stool that stands on four legs. It requires honest and upright politicians with a goal of public service, an informed, educated and actively participating public, an impartial and incorruptible judiciary and an independent, vigilant and free press. The first two are nearly impossible and self-contradictory paradoxes. The nature of power is to corrupt and the evolved modern day scenario makes it highly unlikely that decent honest persons will seek power. Only those with overriding ambition and often a conspicuous lack of scruples with infinite capacity for compromise of principles, throw their hats into the ring of politics, which is worse than any circle of hell that Dante described. Contrary to the much ballyhooed concept of equality of all persons, we know that there is marked inequality in the talents of persons. Their differing socioeconomic and intellectual status, the time constraints and vicissitudes of survival prevent all from equal efforts at education, information gathering and participation. Thus the burden of stability for democracy rests on the shoulders of the judiciary and the press.

The two largest democracies provide an interesting case study of fatal corruption of a noble concept. American founding fathers, particularly Madison, Hamilton, Adams and even Jefferson and Franklin were not particularly enamored of handing the reins of power to the common people. Thus they restricted the franchise to white males who were property holders and disenfranchised the poor whites, all women, blacks and Indians, contrary to the high-sounding Declaration of Independence which proclaimed that all men are created equal. In fact they were so worried about the tyranny of the majority that they allowed only the Lower House to be elected by the selective electorate, leaving the election of the Senate and the President to the State legislators and the Electoral College. The suppression of the Shay and Whiskey rebellions in Massachusetts and Western Pennsylvania clearly showed that the sympathies of the nascent American government were not with the have-nots or the farmers but with the land rich and big business. The judiciary was more concerned about commerce than individuals, as the endless litany of its tragic and unjust verdicts from its inception to the gross miscarriage of justice in the recent Bush vs. Gore case demonstrates. Interested persons may read Howard Zinn's book "A Peoples' History of the United States".

Through much of American democracy, the press remained a feisty vigilant faction with few lapses. Recently the consolidation of the media with concentration of newspapers, radio and television stations in the hands of less than half a dozen major media companies with the connivance of the Federal Communications Commission and the antitrust division of the Dept. Of Justice, America now has a subservient genuflecting sycophantic press acting as mouthpieces and cheerleaders of the ruling administration. Prior to the current Iraq war and the recent presidential elections they made no effort to inform the public or discuss important issues. The New York Times and Washington Post issued an apology for their unquestioning reportage of pre-war propaganda of the Neo-cons. The Wall Street Journal and Fox News are unabashedly like the Party media outlets, Pravda and the Peoples' Daily. Many other media outlets serve to provide mindless amusement to the electorate like the bread and circuses of the later period of the falling apart Roman Empire. Another method of making Democracy a farce is to put forth Tweedledum and Tweedledee candidates like Bush and Kerry, thus depriving the voters of any real choice and perpetuating the rule of essentially same parties, both beholden to vested interests with no public welfare in mind. Voters are instead misguided by raising trivial non-issues like adultery, abortion, gay-bashing, race and affirmative action, to get them riled up enough to vote against their own economic interests.

This ruse succeeds despite the fact that Republicans from Reagan onwards have brought up this issues at every election time and done nothing to deliver on the false promises and raised hopes.

It is reminiscent of the Indian Congress party's slogan of "Garibi Hatao". A similar paucity of real choice is equally prevalent in the plethora of Indian political parties based on caste, language and communist ideology with a unifying theme of corruption and power lust. We also have major partisan media with their braying editors touting secularism to the point of new and greater Balkanisation or parochial Communalism with the same result. Self-appointed intellectuals and economically motivated film stars crow about how wonderful Pakistan is and how we should make unilateral concessions. Unthinking leftist brainwashed fools look on Bangladeshi infiltration with benign neglect and religion intoxicated bigots wish to deny minorities any rights. Towns in the American Southwest have become Spanish enclaves with Spanish as the official language, non-cooperation with federal immigration authorities and raise the specter of future secession, a methodology used by the gringos to wrest Texas from Mexico.

Corporations and families wishing to exploit the illegal immigrants take up their cause under the false pretext of humanitarianism. Dalit based parties have only one obsession like American Black Caucuses. This is not to deny past injustices or avoid reparations like providing free education and equal opportunity. We should definitely avoid setting up national quota systems that lead to incompetent educational, governmental, judicial and corporate institutions. Judges susceptible to bribery, factional politics and coerced to toe the line of the ruling party for career advancement makes India's case worse than America, where judges weave their prejudices into legal verdicts.

Thus the world's two largest democracies have become Augean stables and repositories of evil without any Hercules to clean them or Bhagirath to bring about their salvation. When all the four legs of the stool of Democracy are broken, it just becomes a stool, a fetid mass of waste without any redeeming value and a hazard to the health of the public.  


More by :  Gaurang Bhatt, MD

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