India has been hailed as the world’s largest and most vibrant democracy. The world is full of praise for the rule of law and democratic freedoms that are enjoyed only by India in its neighbourhood. 57 years of democracy has failed however, to improve the lives of the masses in India. Very few freedom fighters will exclaim proudly that their sacrifices in the struggle for independence were worth it.
Being a Bombayite, I would like to take the example of my much-abused city, which was renamed ‘Mumbai’ by a democratically elected government. Bombay is the capital of India’s Maharashtra state, where elections will be held on October 13. Andheri, a suburb of Bombay city, lies in the centre of the Greater Bombay Municipal Area. The very location of the suburb demands that it be well-developed and have excellent infrastructure.
The actual picture is horrifying! Jai Prakash Road, the main thoroughfare in the western part of the suburb (Bombay’s suburbs are divided into eastern and western parts by the railway line) is a nightmare for motorists and pedestrians alike. This 8-kilometre road that connects Andheri’s railway station to the sea is full of potholes, open gutters and most of the road doesn’t have a sidewalk. In many places, where a sidewalk does exist, it has been taken over by hawkers selling everything from food to shoes and belts. Please keep in mind that the highest income tax collections in India come from this suburb.
The municipal corporation is completely corrupt and the officers suffer from terminological ineptitude. What choice do the tax payers of Andheri have? Enter the state elections in this suburb. NGOs often criticise the middle-class Indian citizen for not voting. Here’s what residents in Andheri have to choose from.
(1). A candidate who hasn’t studied past secondary school and is accused in several rioting cases and has an attempted murder case pending against him. This man’s net worth is around two and a half million dollars and note that he has no professional work experience!
(2). The next candidate’s net worth is around 3 million dollars and has 30 criminal cases pending against him in court. Note this candidate also lacks a basic education
(3). Candidate number three’s net worth is 7 million dollars! This candidate was a driver of a former-movie star turned Union Minister. He’s the most educated of the three and has a higher secondary school education.
(4). Our final candidate is one of the prime accused in the March 1993 Bombay bomb blasts.
Please note that since electronic voting machines are being used, a voter can’t vote against all candidates. While slums keep mushrooming in Andheri, the roads get worse, and crime is also rising. The good folk of this suburb are supposed to put their faith in the democratic process. I would like to remind readers once again that I am not writing about a God-forsaken place in the poverty-ridden Bihar or Uttar Pradesh. This is the exact centre of India’s largest, most cosmopolitan city.
At the centre, the Prime Minister is busy trying to please the communists that keep growling about the process of reforms. These communists oppose the same reforms that their mentors in China are implementing rapidly. These same communists are democratically elected and the ‘people’ have given them the right to rule with their outdated ideas.
This is not to say that I am against democracy, but the undeniable fact is that different systems suit different countries. The Soviet Union needed authoritarianism in the 1920s to rid itself of rampant poverty and lack of education. Singapore needed Lee Yuan Kew’s strict discipline to straighten out the mess of a country that it was in the 1960s. Democracy has not helped improve the lives of the ordinary Indians. Democratically elected leaders have done nothing but make themselves rich at the expense of the state, while at the same time extorted as much taxes out of the middle and salaried class under the pretext of using the money to develop the country.
The loyalists, who opposed India’s freedom struggle from the British claimed, that the Indians just wanted freedom to steal from, loot and oppress the common man. 57 years after the British left India, the loyalists’ words seem prophetic.