Wednesday, March 21, 2012

India and the future of the world

It might seem that India has too much democracy - elections in one state or another every few months, a fragmented political establishment (with more than 40 parties represented in Parliament) and electoral processes that do little to strengthen a stable system built on two dominant parties. Indeed, some look with envy across the Himalayas at India's giant neighbour, China, which, untroubled by the vagaries of democratic politics, is in the process of stage-managing a long-planned leadership change completely from above.
By contrast, India strikes many as maddening, chaotic, divided and seemingly directionless as it muddles its way through the second decade of the 21st century. Another view, though, is that India is a country that has found in democracy the most effective way to manage its immense contradictions. This should be exciting, not alarming.
"India," wrote the late British historian EP Thompson, "is perhaps the most important country for the future of the world. All the convergent influences of the world run through this society... There is not a thought that is being thought in the West or East that is not active in some Indian mind."
India expresses itself in many ways. Its strength is that it has preserved an idea of itself as one land embracing many - a country that endures differences of caste, creed, colour, culture, conviction, costume and custom, yet still rallies around a democratic consensus.

That consensus is the simple principle that, in a democracy, it is not necessary to agree - except in terms of how to disagree. The reason that India, despite predictions of its imminent disintegration, has survived the stresses that have beset it during more than six decades of independence, is that it has maintained a consensus on how to manage without consensus. This is the India that Mahatma Gandhi fought to free, and its turbulent politics is well worth celebrating.
Shashi Tharoor in AlJazeera. Here

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