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Let India Awake Into That Heaven Of Freedom

Indians are protesting that their governments are not accountable to the people. This is the core demand of the anti-corruption movements

Photo Credit : Tarun Gupta

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The global economy is going through a churn. Authoritarian governments are rising on all continents. Globalisation of trade has stalled. Geo-political tensions are increasing. Amidst these gathering storms, what shape should the Indian economy and democracy take? India must become a more just, more inclusive, more sustainable and more economically vibrant society. India must be a beacon of hope. For this vision to be realised, institutions will have to be reformed: institutions of democracy, as well as market-capitalist institutions of the economy.

An inclusive democracy
In this vision of India, democracy will become deep and will become inclusive. Democratic governments are expected to be Governments Of the People, For the People, and By the People.

We have the largest electoral democracy in the world. We conduct elections on a scale that no other country does. Our governments are elected by the people. Therefore, we have governments Of the people in our states and at the national level.

People want their governments to be For the people too. Indians are protesting that their governments are not accountable to the people. They are demanding transparency. They want to know what was done with the money that was supposed to be spent to improve public services and public infrastructure. This is the core demand of the anti-corruption movements. Therefore, governance reforms to make governments accountable to citizens have become imperative.

Deep democracy is Government By the People. A democracy where citizenship is not merely the right to vote members of Assemblies. But a democracy in which citizenship is also the active management by people of their own affairs in their communities and local bodies. Not an election time democracy, but a deliberative democracy in which citizenship is the right to understand the rules, and to shape the rules by which society governs itself.

Here India has a long way to go. When our elected representatives say, “You have elected us, now keep quiet and leave it to us till we come back for your votes next time,” – they kill the very concept of deliberative, deep democracy.

Deep democracy requires elected and accountable governments in our villages and in urban localities. We have passed the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments twenty years ago. But we have not made much progress in implementing them.

An inclusive economy
India must become an inclusive economy. I humbly submit that genuine inclusion is not achieved by hand-outs and by redistribution. In fact, handing out and charity reinforce the idea of exclusion. Some are In and others are Out and it is the moral responsibility of the Ins to give to those who are Out.

Those who are excluded become genuinely included only when they have equal opportunities to earn and live dignified lives and to contribute by their efforts too, to the creation of the wealth of the society.

Just as institutions of government must be reformed to create an inclusive democracy, institutions of business and capitalism must be reformed to create an inclusive economy. Therefore, businesses must be not only For the People. They must also be By the People, and Of the People.

For inclusion, we need innovations to provide affordable and accessible goods and services, especially for the poorest people. This is the business opportunity for ‘profit at the bottom of the pyramid’ that many entrepreneurs are pursuing. By producing products and services for poorer people, they can expand their customer base. For example, shampoo in a sachet enables even poor people to buy a big company’s products. The people pay. But the profit from the bottom of the pyramid goes to the shareholders of the capitalist enterprise.

But this does not address the root cause of poverty. People are poor, and cannot afford to pay much, because they do not have incomes. They need jobs and incomes to lift themselves out of poverty. Therefore, they must be engaged in the processes of producing goods and services for themselves and others. And therefore, we need innovations in production models that provide more jobs, so that business is By the People too.

Share wealth creation
Employees in enterprises owned by others have incomes, but do not share in the creation of wealth, the fruits of which go entirely to the owners. For a fuller inclusion in the benefits of growth, we need more enterprises in which the producers and workers share the wealth creation too. This requires innovations in enterprise design and governance models to shape Businesses Of the People.

Consider an example. Micro-finance institutions can either be capitalist institutions which make profits from people at the bottom of the pyramid. Or they can be institutions of the people themselves growing and managing their own capital. Venture capitalists, sensing the opportunity to make profits by micro-lending, put money into micro-finance enterprises and then take out profits. The purpose of these enterprises is to make profits for investors. This led to crises of governance in some large micro-finance institutions in India and an Indian state government had to call for a stop.

On the other hand, micro-finance institutions like SEWA, are owned and run by their members. The purpose of these institutions is to facilitate the growth of incomes of their members. And the capital of the member-owners of these institutions also increases.

These two forms of enterprise differ in a fundamental way. The purpose of one is to increase money capital. The purpose of the other is to increase social capital. One uses people to increase money. The other uses money to improve the lives of people, Here and Now, and not by an uncertain ‘trickle down’. Democratic institutions and capitalist institutions operate on two different concepts of justice. One dollar equals one vote is the principle of good governance in a purely capitalistic world. Whereas in a genuinely democratic world, one living heart equals one vote, whether it is a rich man’s or a poor woman’s heart. This conundrum is the root of the global crisis of governance.

My Vision Of India
India, which is a country of over a billion democrats, will also be a country of hundreds of millions of capitalists. For this, we will have to create new forms of enterprises.

Indeed, this was Mahatma Gandhi’s vision. His charkha (spinning wheel) was a symbol. In his vision for India, all people would be producers of goods and services that the community and the market need. They would be earners and also owners of their enterprises, even if tiny.
To change our world, a new form of discourse is necessary.

The Oxford – Cambridge format of debate is not suitable. In that format, which goes back to the Greek civilisation, you must support either one side of the debate or its opposite. Each side sees itself as white, and positions the other as black. Whereas, to create new rainbows of many colours, we must listen to others, and create new ideas.

In polarised debates, if you are not with us you must be against us. Increasingly citizens are wanting none of the above. They yearn for a new order. Therefore, we need not just new forms of institutions. We also need new forms of dialogues to create these new institutions. Dialogues with more listening, and less yelling; more reflection, and less tweeting.

Together we can
Therefore, in my vision, India will be what Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore envisioned: a country not divided into ‘fragments by narrow domestic walls’. Let us be less argumentative and more cooperative.

We must stand up against what we do not want. But we must also take steps in our own lives and in our communities to create what we do want. Together we can reshape our country. Let us strive together towards ‘the heaven of freedom’ — a country in which every citizen has all three freedoms: political, social, and economic freedom.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Arun Maira

The author is a management consultant and a former member of the Planning Commission

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