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JUST A MUTE WITNESS

There has been no substantive news out of India over the last week, except that the copyright bill has been finally passed. The negatives of a non-functioning Parliament that delayed the passage of many bills proves yet again that neither the ruling party nor the Opposition is determined to change the exploitative — and often redundant — legislations that continue to rule us. Parliamentarians are expected to debate vociferously to ensure clarity in the designing of laws and policies so that they are compatible with the changing times. They need to be revisited frequently to keep them robust and vibrant and to ensure the delivery of good, clean and appropriate governance. It is deeply disturbing to witness the unfortunate manner in which our elected representatives misuse time and privileges, thereby demeaning democratic processes and the pillars of liberty that are in place to protect the citizens.

In Bhutan, it was fascinating to see an intra-party election take place without a ‘party whip’ — a secret ballot based on a ‘conscience vote’ — to elect the leader, all done with the help of electronic voting machines. India needs to follow this example if it is serious about reinventing and restoring democratic processes in internal party operations. Electoral and other systems will have to be redefined. Then the amended systems will have to be put in place. When one makes a comparison between India and Bhutan on issues such as this, one is shouted down after being told that one cannot compare a nation of 700,000 people with another that has over one billion citizens. The truth is that fair elections, empowering individuals with fundamental rights and liberties, have nothing to do with ‘numbers’ but with a ‘mindset’ that has respect for liberty and the community, for sharing and active participation in the many processes of nation building.

Lost pride

If shared fundamentals and diverse legacies are not at the core of governance across all levels, societies flounder and begin to ape alien norms and ethics. True pride disappears, and is replaced by greed and commerce. Pride cannot be a tangible entity if everyday life and work are soaked in corruption and lawlessness. We are in a chicken and egg situation where one horror protects the other to make sure both survive in a desperate attempt to preserve the status quo. There is not a single leader on the horizon who is able to reach out to the people and declare, fearlessly, his intention of rewriting the operating manual in the country.

India could have been a strong and positive leader in the region had it been a ‘listening, hearing partner’ rather than an insular, isolated ‘bully brother’ that is feared and resented. India has set no examples that are worth following in these dynamic times. A misplaced arrogance dominated the foreign policy initiatives in South Asia. Had India been a deft conductor of the political orchestra, South Asia could have become a formidable partner with China. This age is characterized by ‘combating partnerships between nations’. In such partnerships, nations come together on the basis of such fundamentals as peace, democracy and liberty, agree to disagree, and compete in commercial areas.

In a volatile region such as ours, one in which change is fast and inevitable, where traditional, military dictators have smelt the coffee and read the writing on the wall, India seems to have abdicated the driver’s seat. It is shameful that no prominent leader from India was seen on the world television screens praising Aung San Suu Kyi on her electoral victory. We have become clumsy and to cover up for that gracelessness, India has become insular and has lost its voice in the immediate neighbourhood.