martes, marzo 24, 2009

An inept government may be India’s best choice

By Aravind Adiga (THE TIMES, 23/03/09):

Imagine that ten men from a neighbouring country - boys, almost - get on a boat one night, go to London, spray bullets, kill, take hostages and paralyse the nation for nearly three days. During this time the police have no idea what to do. The Government has no idea what to do. Months later, the Foreign Secretary still can’t get that country to close the terrorist training camps that still operate with impunity in its territory.

Now it’s election time. Would you even think of voting a government like this back into office?

If you’re an Indian, you may have little choice but to do just that. Starting on April 16, India holds its general elections, one of the world’s great exercises in democracy. More than 700 million voters will decide who rules the world’s largest democracy for the next five years. Proceeding in stages for nearly a month, the elections will be great entertainment. Bollywood stars will campaign (and contest); and a political party has bought the rights to Jai Ho, the signature tune from Slumdog Millionaire, which it plans to play at rallies. International media will swoop on the subcontinent and people across the free world will applaud what usually gets called “the carnival of democracy”. Anglo-American adulation, a sure thing each time India holds an election, is likely to be especially intense this year, given that Pakistan is in chaos and appears to be sliding into military rule.

The adulation isn’t misplaced. Alone in South Asia, India has done both things required of a democracy - elected governments by popular vote at regular intervals, and guaranteed that those governments do not encroach on the liberties of their own citizens - for more than half a century. This is a tremendous achievement and Indians are rightly proud of it. However, it is time also for some sober reflection on what goes on during the great “carnival of democracy”. Consider the choices facing the voter at these elections.

The present Government, a coalition led by the Indian National Congress party, has done a few good things since winning office in 2004. Led by the soft-spoken and dignified Manmohan Singh, the Government has made an earnest attempt to improve India’s neglected villages, where most Indians live, by funding new employment schemes and loan forgiveness programmes. No one is sure how much of this money has percolated through the bureaucracy to the poor- but after years of apathy, Delhi is at least trying to do something for the countryside.

On the other hand, Dr Singh’s Government has almost entirely lost the plot on terrorism - a fact highlighted by yesterday’s decision to move the hugely popular IPL cricket competition abroad because of security fears. Thanks to the Government’s general ineptness on security and defence, terrorism has risen steadily, culminating in the Mumbai attacks late last year.

In any other democracy, a failure of this magnitude would suffice to have the Government swept out of power. In India, however, the alternatives range from the merely corrupt to the outright criminal. The main opposition party, the Hindu nationalist BJP party, would probably do a better job of improving India’s roads and ports, and reducing its fiscal deficit; it may also do a better job in forcing Pakistan to close the terrorist camps that created the ten murderers who attacked Mumbai. But a BJP government will make Christians and Muslims feel like second-class citizens, as it has whenever it wins office: it does not deserve to rule one more time. Only slightly worse is the possibility of an “alternative” government taking power - a hodge-podge of regional parties perhaps led by the controversial Mayawati, who heads a party of the Dalits, the former “Untouchables”, in the north of India. If previous “alternative” regimes are any indicator, such a government is likely to be chaotic, corrupt and will be ineffective in fighting terrorism.

Which brings us to the depressing fact that the present Government appears to be the best option. Even more depressing is the certainty that whether it is Dr Singh, L.K. Advani, the BJP leader, or Mayawati who emerges as India’s new prime minister, they will have to rule in alliance with one all-important party: the party of criminals.

Many Indians speak bitterly of the “criminalisation” of their polity - a term that can seem puzzling as their prime ministers, like Dr Singh, are usually men of impeccable integrity. Yet the term is accurate. Of the 543 men and women elected to India’s Parliament in 2004, 125 were facing criminal charges ranging from murder and rape to corruption. This time too, men and women accused of serious crimes will emerge as a big power bloc in the new Parliament. No party can afford to ignore them, such is the stranglehold of criminals over large parts of the country, especially the North. No matter who becomes prime minister, these rotten men will play a role in the nation’s future for five years, and will steal a slice of every programme meant to improve the lot of the 400 million people who live in crushing poverty.

Indians have every right to be proud of their democracy; yet that Indian democracy is a bit like a Gulliver tied down by a gang of kleptocratic and criminal Lilliputians; every five years they let the giant get up and stretch, and then order him to lie down again.

Can this election bring about real change? It’s possible. The anger that many middle-class Indians felt after the Mumbai attacks - the feeling that the system simply had to change - is still alive. The country’s most powerful magazines and newspapers have been publishing lists of candidates with criminal records, urging citizens not to vote for them. I hope that after the loudspeakers blaring Jai Ho have been turned off and the “carnival of democracy” ends the real work will go on: the work of cutting Gulliver free of his captors.

Fuente: Bitácora Almendrón. Tribuna Libre © Miguel Moliné Escalona

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