Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Encouraging Democracy

The Wall Street Journal (Sorry, you need a paid subscription; I don't have one myself) ran an article about the results of the Indian elections on May 19. I haven't been able to locate the article myself, so all quotes are from an editorial in The Hindu today.
"Democracy is perverse," it [The Wall Street Journal] whined about the poll results on May 19. "Although it is natural for the U.S. to suggest that all countries should embrace democracy, the lesson from India is that Western countries cannot be dogmatic about elections."

"As India's election will testify, democracy is not always supportive of coherent economic policy and prosperity." (Read: the voters are too dumb to know what's good for them.) On countries not yet at India's level, the Journal has some advice. The West "should be more hesitant about promoting political competition... " For alas, that "could destroy the leadership" that pursues vital economic change.


So, did 400 million citizens and voters queue in blistering heat of 40-plus to soothe the fretful nerves of the market? Some of us thought they were asserting their sovereignty. To demand the reforms they really needed. And to pass judgment on the market-driven reforms governments have followed. So what happens when poll verdict clashes with market edict?

The Wall Street Journal's answer: Don't waste time on the electorate. "The lesson of the past week is that if India truly wants to become an economic power it has to pay heed to the global voters known as investors, in addition to its own voters at home." We can listen to our people, says the Journal (gee, thanks guys) so long as they vote the way the investors want them to.

Read the whole article; the comments on the Indian Media are equally interesting. I suppose if the Journal doesn't understand, it's too much to expect the rest of the world to. Why did the electorate vote to "destroy the leadership that pursues vital economic change?" Sure, the previous government though they had done a good job with the economy. All the macro-economic indicators looked good, and they thought that meant people were happy. What they overlooked, and a section of the media pointed out, was that micro-economic and social indices were at all-time lows. The BJP has always appealed strongly to the upper-class segments of society. But people aren't going to vote for a government that just makes rich people richer. The average voter doesn't care about the state of our Forex reserves or the Sensex when he can barely feed his children. Development programmes were poorly implemented, with money flowing into the hands of everyone but the intended recipients. That's why people voted, to quote one of the election slogans, for 'reforms with a human face.'

There's a lesson for politicans (and journalists) here. It's very easy to blind yourselves to reality, and that's just what the BJP did. They ignored all the signs that should have warned them they were heading for disaster, and they paid for their arrogance heavily. Let's hope that they've learned that lesson.

Besides, I'm sure that The Journal hasn't forgotten that our Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, was the original architect of the Indian economic reforms. I look forward to five budgets from the UPA government that will allow India to "truly become an economic power."

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