Wednesday, Jun 19, 2024 | Last Update : 12:42 PM IST

  Books   23 Mar 2024  Exactly how do we bring in selfless leaders, redraft democracy?

Exactly how do we bring in selfless leaders, redraft democracy?

Published : Mar 23, 2024, 1:42 pm IST
Updated : Mar 23, 2024, 1:42 pm IST

In effect, what democracy and democratic institutions require is periodic review, reflection, audit and redesign

Cover image of The Idea of Democracy
 Cover image of The Idea of Democracy

In my opinion, democracies across the world are in a free fall, which comes pretty much from not caring about where they are headed. With most politicians barely able to see past an upcoming election and their years in ‘power’, there is an urgent need to instil long-term thinking in democratic institutions so they go beyond their myopia. Failing this, we will, among other things, effectively disenfranchise not just people at the bottom of the economic pyramid, but also future generations.

Global democracy has had a long history of colonization, slavery, racism and violence in the West and of a deeply rooted feudal and hierarchical mindset in India. The power struggle between the rich and poor, the educated and uneducated, whites and blacks, Brahmins and Dalits, majorities and minorities, continues. And the rich and the privileged are trying to protect and expand their position, power and profits by keeping others out. The net result is that millions of people at the bottom of the economic pyramid are systematically excluded from the benefits of democracy.

In addition, the expansionist policies of the Western powers and their military-industrial complex1 have focused on war and violence at the cost of investing in preserving the environment and human development. This has further exacerbated the developmental divide between the erstwhile colonisers and the once colonised. The military-industrial complex feeding wars has, in turn, also had a huge impact on people and their mental health. These enormous human implications, however, are often ignored by the Western powers in their lust for power and profits.

The problem with most democracies also is that the three fundamental institutions of democracy—the executive, legislative and judiciary—which are designed to deliver development are prone to attacks by bad actors and vested interests. In fact, I feel democracy is at a crossroads because the leaders in politics, in administration and in business are working to optimize for profits and power as opposed to working to benefit the planet and people. Democracy is at a crossroads because the personal agenda of political and business leaders has become more important than the public agenda.

The regular template that we have been witnessing in recent times begins with a formal election victory, which is based on false promises, misinformation and even outright lies. With a populist leader at the helm, in my opinion, slowly, but surely we see the rise of a robust authoritarian regime that tends to control people, politics, the economy, institutions, civil society, media and the very mindset of the masses through a carefully planned and well-orchestrated centralized propaganda machine. With hate and misinformation as its primary tools, it draws repeated attention to the enemy at the border and to some fabricated enemies within as it continues its narrative of hyper-nationalism. Along the way, leaders distribute contracts to cronies, make deals abroad, sell public assets to private individuals and corporations and increase the money supply to their machinery so they can remain in power. They also use the broadcast megaphone while carefully avoiding any interactive communication where they would have to listen to the voice of the people and respond to fair criticism. Needless to mention, this is a slippery slope to scale.

The survival of democracy and its deepening requires committed, concerned and courageous people who continue to keep a watch against organised attacks to distort, distract and derail democracy for narrow personal or party gains. In effect, what democracy and democratic institutions require is periodic review, reflection, audit and redesign.

How exactly do we redesign democracy and innovate to ensure the Promised Land to people at large? How do we empower people at all levels to take responsibility for their own destinies and participate in community development and nation-building? How do we encourage, enrol and build selfless leaders with character, values, empathy and love for the people? These are questions that deserve our greatest focus.


Excerpted with permission from The Idea of Democracy by Sam Pitroda (Penguin)


The Idea of Democracy

By Sam Pitroda


pp. 216, Rs 699


Tags: book review 2024