Three thoughts on Independence Day

New mantras for a new India

It’s been a tradition on this blog to post three thoughts for quiet contemplation on Independence and Republic days. Today, there’s a song to go with them.

Hum Hindustani (1960). Music: Usha Khanna, Lyrics: Prem Dhawan, Singer: Mukesh

The three thoughts: A mantra for the alternative; who says nationalism must be intolerant and what is wrong with asking women to learn martial arts.

The three thought archive:
Three thoughts on on Republic Day 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005;
and on Independence Day 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004.

Three thoughts for the Republic

Organising our republic, keeping it united and improving its lot

For reflection on Republic day: Pragati’s inaugural editorial; on the grand strategy of uniting India and why we urgently need Reforms 2.0.

The three thought archive:
Three thoughts on on Republic Day 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005;
and on Independence Day 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004.

My op-ed in Mint: Indifferent India

“Failure of governance is as much a failure of the government as it is of the governed to be engaged”

In today’s Mint V Anantha Nageswaran and I renew our call for citizens to set aside civic apathy.

That leaves the middle class as the key catalyst for change. But it is focused on inflation in goods and services, in property prices and in the stock market. It needs to display sufficient grasp of the common thread between price rise, budget deficit and security threat. All three are marked by a failure of governance. Failure of governance is as much a failure of the government as it is a failure of the governed to be engaged.

Sadanand Dhume wrote in a Wall Street Journal article carried by this newspaper on 29 January that, over time, Indians would start demanding the same intellectual sophistication from their intellectuals that they do from their mobile phone service providers. Whether or not they demand that of the intellectuals, Indians need to demand integrity in governance and sophistication in public policy. After 26/11, there was a flurry of initiatives for active citizen engagement in governance. They died down as the stock market and property prices recovered in 2009.

Although United Progressive Alliance II is yet to get into a governance overdrive, it has opened up some avenues for us to demand better governance. They remain under-appreciated and under-utilized. [Mint]

Three thoughts for the Republic

On putting people first; on fixing drains; and on expanding geopolitical horizons

For reflection on Republic Day—why territory is not a big deal; why fixing drains will help counter terrorism and on the need to see beyond the subcontinent.

Also, don’t miss the brilliant editorial at Mint—that points out that “while we have protected the process of democracy, we have deeply violated its spirit.”

From the archive: Three thoughts on on Republic Day 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 and Independence Day 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004.

Experimenting with compulsory voting

Let’s find out whether it works

This blog has long argued that for governance to improve more citizens must vote. So what should we make of the Gujarat state’s decision to make voting compulsory in all local body elections?

Constitutional and philosophical reasons apart (see Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s op-ed for this) this is an interesting experiment and it will be valuable to see what it leads to.

Narendra Modi, Gujarat’s chief minister and a proponent of compulsory voting calls it a “historic move to strengthen democracy” that will take “drawing room politics to the polling booth level.” But Mr Modi might be making the OMIPP—mistaking correlation for causation.

High voter turnouts might bring about responsive accountable governments because voting rate is a sign of an engaged electorate. But forcing everyone to vote might not have the same effect, because the people are merely forced to queue up and press a button on the voting machine—they are not being forced to “engage”. A non-engaged, apathetic electorate when forced to vote, might vote randomly, whimsically or spoil the ballot.

So compulsory voting might be equivalent to introducing a political wild-card without necessarily improving governance outcomes. The effect might vary ward by ward, constituency by constituency and region by region—it’s hard to answer the question of “who will it benefit?”

The experiment should be allowed so that we can add empirical evidence to the list of criteria we use to assess whether the idea of compulsory voting is a good one.

Vote, you fools!

There are no shortcuts to good governance. Certainly not negative ones

A group of well-meaning citizens and organisations came together in Mumbai on 11th January and “discussed strategies for networking, shortlisting common activities and adding value to each others’  core competencies”. Among those present were members from Youth For Equality, Yuva, Association For Democratic Reforms (ADR) and Praja. Also present were incipient political parties like Loksatta, Jago Party and the Professionals Party of India. [Update: See ADR’s clarification at the bottom of the post]

These groups “consensually decided” that  “a pan-India platform of groups, individuals and political parties should be formed  with an  initial focus on Mumbai in the lead up to the April-May Lok Sabha elections.”So far so good. Greater middle class engagement in civic life is a good thing. Until you see that these groups—which includes political parties and a well-regarded election monitoring NGO—“consensually” decided to

4. Have a single point “NO VOTE” campaign for the April-May 09 (Lok Sabha) elections. The plan is to tap into  public disgust with political incompetence by asking people to vote for candidates who add an alias “No Vote”to their name, thus giving voters an option to use a NO VOTE option even though there is no such provision in the Constitution. [via email]

What an astounding waste that will be! Some of the most promising, public-minded young people come together and decide not to vote! Just why couldn’t these ingenious people decide to put up one good candidate and campaign for him? Wouldn’t this send an even more powerful signal to those incompetent politicians?

Isn’t it tragic that when the decent citizens decide to engage in civic activities that they long neglected, they come back to trivialise, undermine and ultimately subvert Indian democracy? The Mumbai meeting did mention some other proposals to improve governance—but the adoption of as wretched an idea as a “no vote” campaign fatally undermines its credibility. The good people behind this ill-considered move would do well to jettison the “no vote” plan when they meet later this week.

On the importance of voting: A common bank of votes & notes, on DCubed; Vote, you fools! here on this blog; Rohit Pradhan’s article in Pragati; V Anantha Nageswaran in Mint

Update: ADR’s Professor Trilochan Shastry writes in an email:

We never said this. There is some mistake.

We are only saying there should be a button on the EVM saying “None of the above”. This is also a demand of the election commission.

If you have been sending out emails on this, please send out corrections as well.

The paragraph you have highlighted below is not from ADR.

Since the minutes of the January 11th meeting are of public interest, I have decided to make them available here, sans phone numbers and email addresses to protect privacy. The minutes indicate that the “no vote” plan was agreed upon consensually in the presence of an ADR representative. Professor Shastry’s clarification is therefore welcome.

My guest post on Dilip D’Souza’s blog

A common bank of votes and notes

As the ghastly chapter of the terrorist attack on Mumbai came to an end, long time reader Jai_Choorakkot wrote to Dilip D’Souza, Rohit Pradhan and me suggesting that posting on each others’ blogs would be a great way to show that Indians are united on fundamental issues. So here, on Dilip’s invitation is my take on what we—as individuals and citizens—could do in the wake of the terrorist attacks. To keep the discussion in one place, do leave your comments there too.

Police-public partnership in Surat

How a city beat the terrorists

No less than 18 bombs were discovered and defused in Surat. That’s nothing short of an amazing achievement. It happened because citizens and the police force enjoyed a relationship that made it possible for the city to react quickly (linkthanks Swami Iyer). Now there is something that needs to be investigated further.

The chief of the city’s police force, R.M.S. Brar, lauded residents for taking the lead in providing information to investigators that resulted in the recovery of 18 live bombs from 10 locations, most of them around the diamond hub of Varachha.

The people in turn believe the police should be given credit for succeeding, so far, in averting a tragedy and saving innocent lives, unlike in Ahmedabad where a series of 16 explosions on Saturday killed dozens.
[Calcutta Telegraph]