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'India's democracy is something of a miracle'
Matthew Schneeberger
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December 19, 2007 15:45 IST

India may believe it's the toast of the world, but at least one expert has some words of caution for the world's largest democracy.

"There is a tendency in America to romanticise Indian democracy. These analyses ignore growing insurgencies, corruption at the state level and increasing political and religious violence," says Dr Larry Diamond, professor of political science and sociology at Standford University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

An American passage to India

One of the world's leading figures on democracy, foreign aid and democratic governance, Dr Diamond believes there are many problems that must be engaged and solved. "Frankly, this most recent trip to India has shed light on how serious these problems are," he said in the course of a lecture at the American Centre in Mumbai on Tuesday evening.

Beginning his talk with the question, 'How can India survive as a democracy when surrounded by non-democracies?' Dr Diamond spent the next one hour answering it.
"Today, there are pervasive problems worldwide for democracy. Mainly, there is a lot of bad governance by self-seeking leaders who put family, party and private interests above public ones. This is particularly true in South Asia. If democracy here is survive, it has to perform better. There must be more transparency and accountability of governance," he said.

"Democracies tend to flourish when they reside in a democratic neighbourhood, meaning that they are surrounded by other healthy democracies," Dr Diamond continued. "With the fall of democracy in Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and to some extent, Sri Lanka [Images], India stands alone in the region� Given the circumstances, India's democracy is something of a miracle."

Fighters for a corruption-free India

Discussing the October 1999 military coup in Pakistan by General Pervez Musharraf [Images], Dr Diamond said, "Pakistan's democracy failed because it didn't work very well. It featured bad governance, profound, pervasive corruption, endemic abuse of power, theft of public resources, a feudal social structure and a bitter rivalry between political parties and their leaders. It was a sham democracy."

"General Musharraf was viewed as a reformer. He was supposed to eradicate corruption, clean up the system and leave quickly," Dr Diamond pointed out. "Only, he didn't change much and he didn't leave."

The military is so entrenched in Pakistan, Dr Diamond said, and military officers are making so much money, that to try and reverse everything at once would be disastrous. "The strategy must be an incremental one. The country's administrative levers must slowly be removed from the military's control."

India's eastern neighbour, Bangladesh, held out no hope either, he pointed out.

Why Bangladesh hates India

"Today in Bangladesh, there is massive corruption, feckless governance, competing political parties and the use of radical Islam as a controlling tool. It looks like a description of Pakistan in the 1990s."

Dr Diamond, who helped author the constitution of the fledgling democracy in Iraq, discussed insurgencies around the globe, using Nepal and Sri Lanka as his examples.

"You cannot defeat an insurgency by military means. You must address the social misgivings and grievances of marginalised groups. This is not an affirmation of their violence, of their willingness to eschew political channels to voice their message. It is an acknowledgement of core, entrenched inequalities that exist, and very often, ignite these insurgencies."

In the question and answer session that followed, Dr Diamond elaborated on his views about Indian democracy.

"If India wants to improve its democracy, it must create stronger institutions that allow for horizontal accountability," he said.
"India needs a counter-corruption commission that is set-up like the election commission. It should be independent from the election process, and autonomous in its authority to check efficiency and punish corruption.

He was not an advocate of the two-party, presidential form of governance either. "If India was to switch to a Presidential system, with consolidated, two-party governance, I'd have my reservations," he said. "The range of ethnic, religious and lingual differences in India is truly amazing. The current system gives voice to all these competing interests, but that's why there are some 30 parties. I believe India is condemned to complicated, coalition governance, at least for the next ten years."

Asked about the hot-button India versus China debate, Dr Diamond didn't mince his words.

"Only 30 years ago, people said India would go the way of China, to the Maoists. That didn't happen. Instead, 20 years from now, China's political system will look like India's," he said. "Even if China were to sustain growth of 6 or 7 per cent, forget about 8 or 10, there will be a massive upheaval in the next 10 to 15 years."

That's because, he said, polling data show that the Chinese people are increasingly placing value on personal autonomy and are much less likely to defer to authority. "I just hope it doesn't end in a military crackdown or a right-wing, nationalist uprising. But, regardless, it's inconceivable that China will still be an authoritarian State in a few decades."

The event, sponsored by Asia Society, represents the last stop on Diamond's whirlwind, two-week tour of India during which he visited New Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai.

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