Friday, December 26, 2008

Recipé for building strong politics

A strong leader does not make a strong nation. A strong people do.

What do we mean by strong people ? A society of citizens where every individual is strong and has his voice heard and respected. In other words, what we need are strong politics.

From Kashmir to Afghanistan and from Pakistan to India, I hope my message reaches every thinking person who is patriotic for his motherland.

When a random young person is asked about the biggest problem facing the country, he replies without blinking "corrupt politicians". And the solution to this problem is equally simplistic - "Good people should get into politics", "We need strong leaders". Unfortunately in real life, nothing is black and white. There are no absolute good people. Every person is a little bad. Depending on people, the badness ranges from moderate to extreme.

In such an unsure world, it is always better to postpone our judgement. We should trust that together, we will find a solution in the future. The art of doing this is called politics.

The word civilization comes from the Latin word civitas meaning a city. When you have a lot of people living together in a city, there are bound to be disputes and disagreements. But for the success of a civilization, the basic requirement is to avoid conflict - to ensure that these disagreements do not result in violence, and that they are settled in a civilized manner with the utmost respect to human dignity. This is the ultimate objective of politics (coming from the Greek word polis meaning a city) : to ensure that nobody resorts to violence on any grievance.

Thus having defined our objective, what can we do to bring in strong politics ?

There are two principal requirements, and the entire public needs to participate in both of them, as I will explain in detail.

1) We need to respect the facts :

We are all entitled to our opinions, but not to our own facts. The facts are the common meeting ground for any dispute, and they have to be investigated objectively and independently. This is usually the work of journalists, scientists and media watch-dogs. The facts also need to be transparent and open for the entire public. In today's world, the facts pertaining to any dispute can be displayed over the world-wide-web.

Sometimes, a complete inspection of facts is sufficient to resolve a dispute. For example, imagine that we want to construct a bridge that offers the best value for money. What we need to do is to select the best design amidst competing bidders. When all these records are public, independent investigators can validate whether the government has indeed done the right job.

As another example, consider the global warming problem. In science, we develop a theory that best explains the facts. For anything that has not been validated, we need to cultivate scepticism. The art of doubting (what is explained by facts and what isn't) is the main driving force of science. Today, there is a scientific consensus (with more than 90% scientists agreeing) that global warming is happening and that it is extremely dangerous for the future of the planet. In such an issue, the government should listen to people who are competent in reaching this judgement. Again, all the facts are transparent and open for the entire public.

2) We need a left, and we need a right :

But facts are not sufficient to resolve every kind of dispute. There are disputes which require finer levels of judgement and which appeal to the collective mores and ethics of the society. On such issues, most people don't have a fixed opinion and stand in the middle. This is where politics gets interesting.

A good example is the Indo-US nuclear deal. True, there were lots of half-facts and lies that were tossed about in the parliament. And these can be eliminated by a thorough fact-check as I have advocated earlier. But even after this, there are bound to be divided opinions on whether nuclear power is essential for the country or not, or whether a strategic partnership with USA is good for the country or not. If you read the other posts in my blog, you will know that I strongly support nuclear power. But this is a judgement that I do not want to impose on the society. On such a matter, I will agree to go with the collective mores and ethics of the society as represented by a majority vote.

Another very good example is the human rights of homosexual people. I think that no person should be discriminated based on his/her caste, religion or sexual preferences. But some people do not think exactly like me. Even though we cannot agree on this topic today, we should trust that we will reach a solution in the future. This comes from my belief in politics : we need to be patient and mutually respectful of each other. Barack Obama has mentioned a very good similar example in his historic speech on race : the US constitution was tainted with the original sin of slavery. But the very constitution had provisions to reach a mutual judgement to abolish slavery, as people did at a later time.

In reality, there are a huge number of similar political issues : Should we have a common civil law for every Indian citizen or have laws based on religion ? Should we have a strong central government or strong provincial governments ? Should the government control banks or leave them completely deregulated ? Should the defence budget be decreased for spending on education ? Should women have a right to abortion or not ?

A strong politics would ensure that every single individual has his voice heard and presented in these debates. This means that there has to be a political current that represents each of these positions, and which presents them with character. As Voltaire has said, "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it". This is the responsibility that we owe to every fellow citizen.

Do we have strong politics in our country ? Absolutely not.

Opportunism has become the rule of politics. Communist parties rub shoulders with Islamist parties on opposing the US imperialism which they see as a joint evil. The right wing Hindutva parties rub shoulders with socialist Janata Dal to grab power. None of this makes any sense whatsoever.

So here I propose a clear distinction of left and right, which we need for bringing in strong politics. These are related to be innate human desires of "drawing together" (left) and "having an individual space" (right) - both of which are obvious in any human relationship. These left and right parties are expected to complement each other, and serve as the yin for the other's yang.

Needed - Right wing with a character :

  1. To support individual freedoms, including the right to possessions.
  2. To reduce the size of the government.
  3. To preserve the identity and ensure the authenticity of a race, religion or language. (Michel Serres argues that these loyalties are related to the oral, writing and printing eras of human society respectively. Thus, language-based loyalties ought to be more respected than other loyalties).
  4. To ensure that native populations have priorities over immigrants.
  5. To ensure proper defence of the society, and protection of its citizens.
  6. To ensure that the government is extremely federalized, with maximum control at provinces.
Needed - Left wing with a character :
  1. To ensure that all basic human rights are respected, as mentioned in the universal declaration of human rights.
  2. To ensure that there is a minimum wage for every person.
  3. To ensure that every person achieves basic requirements on education, health and nutrition.
  4. To ensure that the society permeates a spirit of tolerance for religious, cultural and sexual minorities.
  5. To prevent war and ensure that peaceful dialogue is attempted before drastic measures are taken.
  6. To increase the size of the federal government and provide it with the necessary funds to oversee these obligations.
From the very nature of these parties, it can be noticed that the objectives of the left are antagonistic to the objectives of the right (and vice-versa). Every political problem needs to be a trade-off between the two. As people, we need to explicitly recognize these contradictory requirements and evolve a collective societal judgement and ethic.

The right wing is a "local" party which targets the interests of each region and group of people. Such a party is difficult to be formed at a federal level. The left wing is a "global" party which speaks out on the common brotherhood of man. They are difficult to be formed at a provincial level. To ensure a strong politics, we need to have a thorough representation of both these political currents - both at the provincial and federal levels.

The practical way to achieve this : Make every political party list explicitly whether it stands for right-wing objectives or left-wing objectives. Let the party split if the members disagree on the nature of their work. When forming coalition parties either at the federal or at the provincial level, we need to ensure that it is either a left-wing coalition or a right-wing coalition. This kind of binary nature of coalitions also eliminates political opportunism and the uncertainites of having a hung parliament.

To ensure that a real debate is made and heard, a few members of the opposite-wing should be accomodated into the government as a good-will gesture. This is already a common practice in several western countries.

I would like to conclude with two finishing remarks. Firstly, being part of a federal union (such as the Indian Union or the European Union) has distinct advantages for the nurturing of a democracy, as it explicitly encourages the formation of a strong left-wing party devoid of any particular nationalism. However, the right wing parties tend to be very fragmented, and this could inhibit economic growth. Secondly, terrorism is often an unholy mixture of the right and left wing ideas into one single ideology (the left-wing idea of a prophet merged with the right-wing idea of a king, who has used the religion of the prophet as a conquering device).


Koshur said...

Ray brother very well written!

What I like about well written articles such as these is that the writer has taken time to correct the grammar, which makes it so much easier to read.

I believe that the concept of right-wing parties and left-wing parties is sadly confined to the west. You correctly identified the traits that distinguishes these two types of parties (right-wing: low taxes, less government etc; and left-wing: socialism, etc) that list is pretty good.

In India, I am hard pressed to find any party that squarely fits into this category. Religion plays a huge role in defining which pary is right-wing or not. For instance BJP is right-wing solely because of their intolerance of other religions. Congress would be left-wing because they are secular.

Similarly in Kashmir, I cannot see the difference in the platforms of any of the pro-India parties. Each one of them, except the congress, proposes maximum autonomy for KAshmir.

Therefore, I feel that democracy and politics in the subcontinent is still in it's infancy and it will take time to categorizing parties based on how religious fundamentalist they are to idenitfying them apart based on real issues such as those you listed in your two tables.

NB. In one of your earlier comments you had mentioned that you feel Umar Farooq is a religious heir, a cleric in other words and therefore you feel uncomfortable with him being the chairman of APHC. You might be surprised to know that he is considered the more moderate of the leaders in the Hurriyat conference. Some even go as far to call him secular!

Best regards

Ray Lightning said...

Thank you very much Koshur for your comments :)

The level of politics and the nature of the government in any place in the world depend primarily on the technological advancement of that society. So it is natural that the politics of India are very underdeveloped : Indian society is not technologically very advanced yet.

Religion plays a crucial role in organizing the government during the era of feudalism. In this era, only a small minority of people are educated (reading/writing). Indian literacy rate is still very low, and this explains the huge role of religion. In such a period, even the few educated people subscribe to religious politics, because they are influenced by their sorroundings (family,friends,relatives etc) who are all uneducated. Only a society with 100% literacy can achieve a functional democracy.

But I have good hopes that this will happen in India. The economy is progressing well, and due to the internet, many people are getting educated rapidly. This will be good for the future of democracy.

To suit this changing reality, we need strong politics which can cater to a people who are becoming more and more conscious of their democracy. If our politics are not strong enough to meet the requirement, our society will erupt in a crisis.

About Umar Farooq, I have respect for him. He is a dynastical heir, but he is a well-spoken person. I know that he holds moderate views. But still, as a matter of principle, I think politics should be divided from religious responsibilities. Even though his action would be just symbolic, it will be great if Umar Farooq sacrifices his religious role to take up political responsibilities. That will send strong signals to the lovers of democracy across the world.