11 September 2012

Democracy, the Equality Problem

We have a democracy problem.
I am not saying we have problems in democracy, or problems about democracy. We have a poverty problem, we have a climate change problem, we have a terrorism problem; likewise, we have a democracy problem.
Democracy is conflict. It may appear that democracy is the management of conflict, but that is not so. Democracy feeds on conflict. The energy of democracy is the energy of friction, it is the energy of opposition. You may have observed that every activity in democracy seems to have an equal and opposite activity.
There are builders and businessmen active in destroying the ecology. There are environmentalists active in trying to save it. There is a ministry for destruction of village communities and building SEZs. There is another ministry for 'rural development' and upliftment of villages.
There is a government department active in giving permits to mow down forests for timber. There is another government department active in trying to plant tree saplings in these very same forests.
Processed food companies are active in producing substandard food with toxic chemicals. NGOs like CSE are active in analysing these products and finding out all the harmful things they contain. People are active in consuming such industrial food and becoming unhealthy. Doctors and pharma companies are active in selling them medicines.

There are uncouth businessmen active in producing liquor and spreading the habit throughout the country. There are organisations, usually of women, who are active in protesting the sale of liquor. In rural Garhwal where I live, village families are actively getting destroyed by alcohol. Every state government has a 'social' department active in spreading the message of awareness about dangers of drinking. Every state government also has an 'excise' department which is active in selling licences to liquor vendors.
There are companies active in producing and selling tobacco products - cigarettes and ghutka. The government is active in insisting that cigarette and ghutka cause cancer. Hospitals are active in treating the cancer cases. Pharmaceutical companies are actively making profits. The tobacco companies are active in indirectly advertising their products through movies.
The government is active in allowing companies to use toxic chemicals and pesticides. NGOs are active in showing evidence of its health hazards. Chemical companies are active in lying to the farmer so that he buys their hazardous product. Amir Khan became active in conducting a show on television about the dangerous endosulfan. Just a week later, the government got active and went to court asking that companies be allowed to use endosulfan. Meanwhile, children affected by the deadly chemical are becoming less active, some are dying.
Television and internet media are active in peddling their dirt. The government is selectively active in banning books and arresting cartoonists. Young adults and even teenagers are active in watching violence and pornography. Some youngsters in sick societies are active in taking guns to school and shooting their classmates and teachers. Many among the Indian elite are active in imitating the behaviour of such sick societies. Many others are active in warning us about the dangers of such imitation.
Multinational companies and many western nations are active in putting tremendous pressure on our government to allow them to swindle our natural resources. Many politicians and bureaucrats at the highest level are active in colluding with them. Businessmen are active in becoming their partners. People's organisations are active in protesting such anti-national moves. Some citizens are active in taking things to court. Team Anna is active in exposing politicians and holding demonstrations. The home minister is active in calling whoever protests, a maoist. The protesters are active in calling him corrupt, and a hired agent of foreigners.
This is the democracy problem. This can also be stated as the 'equality' problem. Because this democracy is based upon a notion of 'equality', and it assumes that activity in opposing directions will make things 'equal'. You give A permission to build a dam, and you give B permission to protest against the dam. That makes it equal. You allow A to manufacture and sell toxic food to people, and you allow B to manufacture and sell them medicines. So that also is equal. Or you allow both A and B to print pornography as well as spiritual philosophy. That's a third type of equality. Such are the strange ways of balancing the equation in present day democracy.
Is it not obvious then that there should be constant conflict in society? Surely there will be chaos if there is no definiteness of direction. Does each of us pulling society in different ways make things equal, or take us nowhere? Nowhere meaningful, that is. This is the democracy problem.
So why are we at it, playing this democracy game, for so many years?
Who benefits?
Good question.