The next step in democratic evolution is overdue India must change, from a darkening elected authoritarianism to building institutions for citizens’ inclusion in governance

GS 2: Polity


Constitutions, elections, and assemblies are not all that a democracy needs to function. A democratic nation, or any nation, is composed of structures — its constitution and laws. What distinguishes democratic nations from authoritarian ones is the liveliness of citizens’ participation in the governance of their nation.

Elements of a healthy Democracy:

  • Citizen participation: citizens participate effectively in the shaping of the policies and laws by which they are governed. Democratic constitutions provide elected assemblies for citizens’ representatives to shape new policies and pass laws.
  • Open-minded discussions in these forums is necessary to meet the requirements of democracy.  When these forums become chambers for close-minded partisan politics, they cannot find solutions to the complex, systemic problems that all nations must address in the 21st century: climate change, historical inequities, increasing economic inequalities, and violence brewing with discontents within. The poor performance on the floor of the house have been seen rising in India, US and European nations equally.
  • Tolerant Society – democratic discussions within people: People who belong to different political factions, practise different religions, and have different histories within the history of their nation, must listen to each other, and learn to live democratically together every day of their lives. Therefore, what healthy democracies need most of all are processes of democratic deliberations among citizens themselves.

Widening fissures in the recent times:

  • Majoritarian electoral systems of democracy will harden these divisions in India, as they are in the United States. Therefore, stronger processes are urgently required for democratic discourses amongst citizens themselves to bind the national fabric before it frays further.
  • The divisive media: which used to provide space for diverse perspectives to be heard, is divided along partisan lines.
  • Social media, touted as a saviour of democracy by enabling citizens to freely listen to many points of view, has turned out to be a hardener of divisions. Smart algorithms have created echo chambers of people who like each other, and who do not listen to those in other chambers, and lob hate bombs at each other across the walls.
  • Partisan Deliberations: It seems that in any discussion about what ails the country, whether in Parliament, the media, or social gatherings, one must be seen to either support the political dispensation in power, or its opposition. There is little room for thoughtful, non-partisan deliberations among citizens.

Taking a new step for democratic evolution:

  • Kalypso Nicolaidis of the School of Transnational Governance, European University Institute, says, “Consent of the governed is about more than periodic elections or referenda. The process of deepening the reach of democracy remains the same as it has been for the last 200 years: a struggle to expand the franchise. This time around, it is a franchise that does not necessarily express itself through the right to vote in periodic elections, but rather through widespread inclusion in the political process in all its forms.”
  • Online C2C deliberations. A civil society movement, Citizens for Europe, has proposed a solution: a European Citizens’ Assembly — a permanent transnational forum for citizens’ participation and deliberation. However, there are drawbacks of purely online methods viz., “the risk of accentuating ideological cleavages and excluding groups affected by the digital divide”. Thus Online forums must be supplemented by real meetings.
  • Designing a Deliberative system: James Madison, a framer of the U.S. Constitution, had anticipated that coming together doesn’t ensure thoughtful deliberations. He wrote that, “Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.” It is not just the quality of the people in the room that matters. Citizens’ meetings, online or offline, must be properly designed and professionally facilitated to enable all points-of-view to be listened to for new insights to emerge.
  • Tolerant environment: We have forgotten how to listen well, especially to “People Not Like Us”. Monocultures of thought can be as sterile as monocultures in Nature. Diversity in the composition of the participants is essential for ensuring that complex issues are fully understood and new insights can emerge. However, diversity of opinions can create cacophonies unless the deliberations are managed well.

Conclusion: The time has come to learn to listen well, not just speak well; and to conduct dialogues, not debates. The assemblies Emperors Ashoka and Akbar conducted centuries ago in India provide some role models. Technologies of democratic deliberation have advanced since the times of the Athenians, Ashoka, and Akbar, as James Fishkin explains in When the People Speak: Deliberative Democracy and Public Consultation. The soft power of India, the world’s most richly diverse nation perhaps, will increase when it returns from the presently darkening elected authoritarianism to lead in the evolution of institutions for citizens’ participation in democratic governance.

Pyrrhic victory| Religious extremism, militancy in Afghanistan will be counterproductive for Pakistan

“GS 2: IR”

Context: Pakistan’s embracing of Taliban can backfire.

Pakistan’s overtures towards Taiban:

  • Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan was the first world leader who wholeheartedly welcomed the Taliban’s capture of Kabul on August 15 — before its fall.
  • It had maintained that it had little leverage on the Taliban to force them to accept a ceasefire and that it backed a political solution in Afghanistan. However, on August 16, he said Afghans have “broken the shackles of slavery”, leaving little doubt on where Pakistan stands on the Taliban’s return.

A History Lesson:

  • Historical Support: Pakistan not only played a central role in the Taliban’s rise to power in the 1990s but was also one of the three countries to have had formal diplomatic ties with them.  Pakistan continued to support the Taliban even after they were driven out of power by the U.S. in 2001.
  • Its strategic calculus was that a stable Afghanistan backed by the U.S. and India would harm its core interests.
  • It hosted the Taliban leadership in Quetta, Balochistan, and allowed their militants to regroup and resume insurgency in Afghanistan. In that sense, the Taliban’s capture of Kabul can be seen as the success of a long-term strategy Pakistan’s military establishment had adopted. But it is too early to begin celebrations.

Impact on Pakistan-Afghanistan duo:

  • Rise of TTPPakistan has a problem with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the ideological twin of the Taliban, that has carried out deadly attacks inside Pakistan.
  • Rise in Terrorism: Also, the August 26 Kabul blasts are a warning of what is awaiting Afghanistan. Islamic State Khorasan Province (IS-K), the IS affiliate that has claimed responsibility for the blasts, would seek to flourish.
  • Civil War: Without order, the country could fall into a multi-directional, civil war between the Taliban, the IS-K, and the remnants of the old regime.
  • Religious extremism and militancy can help one country tactically but will be counterproductive in the long term.
    • For Example: When the U.S. backed the Mujahideen in the 1980s, it might never have imagined that the Taliban would rise from the Mujahideen and host the al Qaeda that would carry out the deadliest attack on America since the Second World War.
    • Similarly, a chaotic Afghanistan ruled by extremist Islamists is as much a geopolitical victory as a security and strategic challenge to Pakistan.

Conclusion: During the insurgency, Pakistan refused to use its leverage over the Taliban for peace. It should do so at least now because a stable Afghanistan which treats its people with dignity and does not provide safe havens to transnational terrorist organisations is in the best interests of all regional powers, including Pakistan.

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