Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bon Appetit, Indian Democracy

Hello my friend and compatriot,

Come April and May, our country will be witnessing elections. 714 million voters will have to cast their votes out of a total population of 1 billion and 150 millions. This will make this the greatest democratic exercise in the history of mankind, ever.

We human beings have absolutely no mental conception for numbers of the order of one billion. I will help you visualize. How many are 1.15 billion people ? Well, let's say that I would like to shake hands with every Indian. Assuming that I line up all the Indians in a queue and shake their hands one by one, and assuming that a handshake takes 3 seconds, I will need 109.398 years to complete my job.

The thing is I don't have that much time.

So let's do something drastic. Let's stack Indians one on top of the other in a pipe. And then I send a radio signal from one end. Assuming that the average height of an Indian is 160 cm, and that we stack the Indians up in vacuum (because that is where light travels the fastest), I would need 6 seconds for my radio signal to reach the other end of the pipe.

That's more reasonable.

So what is my message ? Okay, I want you to remember this.

"Take it easy !"

Elections are overrated. Casting a vote is not the same as tying the knot in a wedding, so don't get too tensed up, alright ? Life goes on.

Well, now that we are past that important message, let me elaborate.

Imagine that you go to a restaurant to get your meal served, you expect basic courtesy and service from the waiter, right ? You expect him to lay down the table, give you the menu and look at you deferentially with a polite smile. And when you make up your mind, you expect him to take the order carefully in his notebook, answering any of your questions carefully if you didn't understand the items on the menu. Then, you expect the food to be prepared well in time, and be served to you in the most appetizing manner. Well, then you pay for the meal. And if you are happy with your meal, you appreciate the waiter and leave him a tip. Simple ? Precisely.

So, where were we ? Yes, elections. In a democracy, we have the honor of selecting the waiters for picking up our orders. We do it once every five years. So my advice is simple : just pick the most polite person, one that actually listens to you, and not one that treats you like you are a worm. Don't get too worried this step, or you will never get to eat anything.

It is the job of the waiter to note your orders. Do check if the waiter you picked is doing his job correctly. So here comes my first demand : (1) Every Member of the Indian Parliament (MP) has to hold a public internet forum where the demands of their constituents can be edited and displayed. To cater to constituents without internet access, every MP hires a team of journalists who interview the constituents and list their demands in the above website.

After the orders are noted down, the waiter should go to the kitchen and convey the information to the chef. In a democracy, this step is done by parliamentary debates. You want to be sure if the waiter is doing his job properly. Thus comes my second demand : (2) Every MP displays his attendance of the parliamentary sessions on his website, summarizes the proceedings of the sessions from his viewpoint, via text and video. At the end of every parliamentary season, each MP produces a thesis document, for evaluation on the progress of his tasks.

Then the chef actually starts to cook your meal, and you would be happy to know if he understood the waiter properly. In a democracy, the chef is called the executive. Here comes my third demand : (3) Every executive committee of India displays the plan and proceedings of its undertakings in an open and user-friendly format, with all geographical data superimposed on Google earth for better navigation. Such websites should be welcoming comments from the users. And whenever needed, each such website has a resident team of journalists who interview the users and note their comments on the plan.

Finally, the meal is cooked and arrives on your table. You expect the waiter to lay down the table, and serve you the meal with the utmost decorum. (4) Every MP should interact with the constituents and help them utilize the projects after completion. The opinion of the constituents should be noted down and published in a concise summary over the MP's website.

Then you happily finish your meal and proceed to pay. In politics, this process is called paying taxes, and is the least comfortable part of the whole experience. (5) The tax receipts of every single citizen should be put up for display, and the accounting of how every single paisa of that money is spent should be furnished with detail. It is the obligation of the MP to do this for the constituents.

Finally, if you are happy with the meal, you cast a benevolent gaze at the waiter and leave him a tip. (6) There will be a public voting held at the end of every year on the efficiency of MPs. This is done similar to the Indian Idol program with votes cast by cellphones. The best MPs are selected in various departments and they are given job perks.

See, digesting a democracy is not that difficult. I hope you are as convinced as I am. Here in India, we are living in a free country. So let's celebrate this. The way of doing that is by shouting. Just make sure that you are heard by as many people as possible. Stack the people up in a tube of vacuum if that's necessary (-:

I don't care what you have to say. You want your wife to get a free manicure every week ? Go for it. Shout it out ! You want the coconut tree be recognized as the official tree of India ? Good. Shout it out. You want mosquitoes to be exterminated from the face of earth ? Very good. You want to exterminate human beings ? Sure, oh wait, there is a problem. You don't exterminate human beings, that's outside the rule-book. (But please go ahead and shout so, if that makes you feel any better).


Vikram said...

Indeed, one should vote for the most 'polite' person as you say. But then again, in Parliament, a polite person might never even be heard !

Ray Lightning said...

Hi Vikram,

We should replace live parliament sessions with virtual chat rooms. Or at the least, provide a recording of the entire parliamentary session on the web, which a special page for each member's individual input on each session.

Shouting and disrupting the session will be less common when the members realize that their individual proficiency in the parliament is being evaluated by the citizens.

Santosh said...

I think one of the problems is lack of accountability. What if my dish comes out half-done. I have the manager to yell at, who could fire the waiter/chef that day (at the extreme). In the current scheme, I would have to wait for 5 years to see the MP fired.

Ray Lightning said...

Nice hearing from you santosh :)

Yeah, but if the dish comes out half-done, that would be the fault of the chef, not the waiter. In a democracy, the chef is called the executive and you can very much fire the executive officers if they don't do their job well enough.

You just make your discomfort felt to the waiter, and he will fire the chef for you.

Of course, I know you are trying to link the situation of corruption in India with the scenario that I described :) But in India, we don't yet have all these 6 measures of transparency that I wrote in the blog.

I think the option of changing the waiter once every 5 years is good enough. But the whole purpose of my blog is to convince people that choosing the waiter is not the only function in a democracy.