A CASE FOR SWARAJ
A case for Swaraj
India did not become truly independent in 1947. We just traded our masters. The new masters continued to treat the masses as their subjects. Instead of embarking on developing a participatory democracy, a modern day aristocracy was cultivated in form of a new class of political elite.
I see no difference between the Invaders who robbed India of its precious treasures for hundreds of years and the political elite who have slashed away vast sums of money from government treasuries in Swiss banks for enhancing their purchasing power in the electoral marketplace. Political parties have got used to collecting large amounts of black money to finance candidates before the elections and ensure support of potential defectors in the process of government formation. Empowering people to effectively participate in India’s democracy has never been a consideration for the new elite. The British built educational institutions to mass-produce public servants loyal to the throne. Likewise the new political elite only focused on rewarding sycophants and punishing independent thinkers to build their power bases.
Sixty-six years after independence India has a long distance to travel in building a path to prosperity for all of its citizens. A recent survey by Legatum Institute has profiled 142 countries along a prosperity index. The countries have been ranked along eight high level criteria (see the methodology used at http://www.prosperity.com/#!/methodology), Economy, Entrepreneurship & Opportunity, Governance, Education, Health, Safety and Security, Personal Freedom and Social Capital. Majority of the top ten countries featured in the results are primarily social democracies (the United States features as 11th and UK at the 16th positions). Norway ranks no. 1 in prosperity followed by Switzerland (at 2), Canada (at 3), Sweden (at 4), New Zealand (at 5), Denmark (at 6), Australia (at 7), Finland (at 8), Netherlands (at 9) and Luxembourg (at 10). India ranks at 106th position even behind some of our neighbors, such as Singapore (at 18) Hong Kong (at 19), Japan (at 21), Taiwan (at 22), South Korea (at 26), Malaysia (at 44), China (at 51), Thailand (at 52), Sri Lanka (at 52), Philippines (at 66), Indonesia (at 66), Nepal (at 102) and Bangla Desh (at 103).
Even more alarming aspect of the findings of the Legatum Institute’s research is that in 2013 Bangla Desh has overtaken India on the prosperity Index for the first time. The report concludes, “Over the past five years, India has slid down the rankings in seven of the eight sub-indices and in overall Prosperity, while Bangladesh’s performance over this period is the complete opposite—rising in seven sub-indices and overall Prosperity.” The report suggests that development and progress are not solely reliant on rapid economic growth”. It attributes performance of Bangladesh to its success in poverty management through effective implementation of micro financing. It also points out that relative to Bangla Desh overall loan portfolios for microfinance institutions across India shrank by 33%, from $5.25 billion to $3.52 billion, between March and December 2011. The report concludes,
“India’s economic problems have been compounded by governance failures. Since 2009, India has fallen 18 places on the Governance sub-index to 54th. Over this period, faith in the country’s political class has been shaken by high-profile corruption scandals, including the selling of mobile phone spectrum at below market rates and the numerous instances of bribery and incompetence associated with the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Events like these—and the fact that 14% of the current Indian parliament is accused of criminal activity, including murder, kidnapping, extortion and rape—may have contributed to declining standards of governance as well as the largest anti-government protests on record, led by India’s middle class.”
Another source of information to consider in this context is a report produced by, Transparency International which has developed a corruption perception index through results of a global survey of 177 countries,
Incidentally there is a significant overlap between the countries identified as high on prosperity index by Legatum Institute and those identified as least corrupt by the Transparency International. The top ten ranked countries (least corrupt) include Denmark (1), New Zealand (1), Finland (3), Sweden (3), Norway (5), Singapore (5), Switzerland (7), Netherlands (8), Australia (9) and Canada (9).
India ranks 94th in this ranking, behind Sri Lanka (91), China (80) Malaysia (53), Mauritius (52), Taiwan (36), Israel (36), Bhutan (31), UAE (26)Japan (18), and Hong Kong ((15). The countries ranked more corrupt than India in the region include Thailand (102), Indonesia (114), Nepal (31), Vietnam (116), Pakistan (127), Russia (127), Bangla Desh (136), Iraq (171), Afghanistan (175) and North Korea (175.
Review of the data provided by the two research agencies led to creation of a model that allows mapping of countries with different
levels of prosperity and corruption. I have also placed the ideal concept of Swaraj in this model.
The framework consists of two dimensions- dimension of governance (Trickle down versus Participatory) and Dimension of Social Mores (Elitist versus Egalitarian).
A majority of countries with highest prosperity and lowest corruption fall in the quadrant that shows participatory governance and Egalitarian social mores. Through clustering of countries based on their governance and social mores, it became obvious that the lowest prosperity and highest corruption is found in dictatorships that practice top-down approach to governance and the rulers are prone to indulge in elitism.
The concept of Swaraj, which is essentially based on participatory method of governance and aimed at establishing an egalitarian society, will alone provide a perfect path to ensuring prosperity and reducing corruption. Egalitarianism does not mean redistribution of wealth within a stagnant economy. Cultivating egalitarian social mores and building citizens’ interface with the government through innovative participatory approaches will help cultivate people’s capacities and harness their imagination. Such an approach alone will help build a sustainable infrastructure for a prosperous and egalitarian society.
The example of Scandinavian countries stands as an initial proof for this hypothesis. For those who make excuses that small size has made it easier for Scandinavian countries to manage growth and contain corruption, the concept of Swaraj provides a befitting response. Swaraj envisions delegation of governance to the smallest unit of governance- the Panchayat. The Panchayati Raj envisioned in the concept of Swaraj has not been successfully implemented in India only because the rulers in Delhi have been averse to giving up their control over resources.
Gandhi explained his vision of Swaraj in 1946, “What we mean and want through Poorna Swaraj is an awakening among the masses, a knowledge among them of their true interest and ability to serve that interest against the whole world. Harmony, freedom from aggression from within or without, and a progressive improvement in the economic condition of the masses.”
Recently AAM Aadmi Party’s decision to seek citizens’ approval for forming a government with support of the Congress party through Muhalla meetings was severely criticized by some in the media and ridiculed by most of the traditional political parties. Those who are used to centralized decision-making process; the concept of citizens’ referendum appears as a threat to the authority at the top and to the integrity of the republic.
India needs to follow a participatory development path that would involve grass root level development models on the lines of some of the social democracies that feature high on prosperity index and low on corruption index. Key to achieving prosperity lies in encouraging and cultivating in every citizen a capacity for pursuing his/her curiosity, for engaging in critical thinking and for innovative problem solving. Every citizen must have the opportunity to prosper irrespective of his/her cast, religion, gender, or economic status. The socialism India practiced under the congress rule was pseudo socialism- hollow promises of equality were made only to capture vote banks. After the collapse of Soviet Union the Indian government moved closer to the United States. Under the garb of liberalization the Congress party switched gears from pseudo socialism to pseudo capitalism. - True intentions were always to keep the levers of power and wealth concentrated in the hands of a small coterie of rulers. The ruling elite managed to switch public mores from socialist era focus on equality and social justice to capitalist era obsession with conspicuous consumption.
The advent of AAP on the political horizon of India provides an opportunity for ordinary citizens to replace the rulers who have never cared for a participatory democracy with empathic, intelligent and creative problem solvers. We need to put AAM Aadmi (not the party) in the legislatures with a mandate to implement the concept of Swaraj. The goal should not be to reverse people’s aspirations for prosperity, but to help them pursue their aspirations with egalitarian
values. We need to create abundant opportunities for all, so we don’t have to fight for a piece of a small pie. In Gandhiji’s words, The call for Swaraj represents a genuine attempt to regain control of the self- our self-respect, selfresponsibility and capacities for self-realization