Lessons in Democracy

Read this book by Fareed Zakaria - The Future of Freedom, Illiberal Democracy at home and abroad. Stunning and eye opening arguments, similar to Jeffery Sachs - The End of Poverty. Motivated me to think of pursuing some course in Advanced Economics later in life

While reading, a back ground film was continuously playing in my mind; of my time at I
"Elections require that politicians compete for people's votes. In societies without strong traditions of multi-ethnic groups or assimilation, it is easiest to organize support along racial, ethnic, or religious lines. Once an ethnic group is in power, it tends to exclude other ethnic groups. Compromise seems impossible; one can bargain on material issues such as housing, hospitals, and handouts, but how does one split the difference on a national religion? Political competition that is so divisive can rapidly degenerate into violence." (pg. 114, last para, Fareed)

One week into I and the general body elections were upon us. Now I am sure this must be a very common practice in most B-Schools, however the case here was different. We were a heterogeneous community coming from various states of the country. Majority of the representation was from the states of Bihar and Kerala, both having a good history of politics. Hence what should traditionally have been an election based on individuals personality and characteristics was immediately taken over by regionalism. Each state group trying to push forward their own candidate etc. The end result, a pathetic mess, farce, hatred and an atmosphere that was to set the trend for populist decision making at all levels for the next 2 years to come. In fact even the student bodies that were elected were so weakened that they themselves could not take any initiatives and when they did no one supported

Personally for me though this was an extremely disturbing time and something for me to grapple with, given I come from Mumbai and was directly unexposed to this kind of irrational mass/mob social behavior (though Mumbai has had it's riots, bombing, killings etc). Tt was however a deep experiential learning
I believe the management and each and every student at I would greatly benefit by reading this book. The administration's favorite line that our joinees are not students but "participants" rings hollow. What are these so called participants - participants into?
What are their stakes? Has I been able to protect the individual students "Liberty" to voice one's concerns, views in class. Even the classes have become illiberal democracies (our Indian Parliament) in action. Anyone who starts saying something that challenges the common understanding is immediately subjected to mass disapproval and even the faculty are at a loss of power to control the situation. Will this foster learning and development?

This book also talks about the history of the middle east and its experiences with democracy. Transitions between autocratic regimes and democratic ones. Similarly too at I after the departure of Dr. K (supposedly an autocratic head), I is left to a number of smaller but long time lieutenants, few also left along with Dr. K, others of the opposition camp stayed back, whatever happened, I feel one is now dealing with a similar situation of transition. There are a number of smaller interest groups who have come in power, a few individuals who have become prominent, wanting to retain their power.
The new director seems like the titular head, trying desperately to marshal his men and move along a common direction, every thing seems a hotch potch, just like in the middle east!

Hence I feel after reading this book, that much advance can take place at I if along with democracy one also lays stress on liberty. Do away with all student bodies because they only create a buffer layer between those in power and those who they service. Let there be free flowing student teacher interaction, let each teacher select their own representative, let there be some kind of discrimination amongst students, because it exists in the real world.
Let it be positive, encourage students who take initiatives, that will set an example for everyone else, it will create a positive competition and striving for excellence. Let students naturally arrange themselves, as they become accustomed to each other and each others strengths, then you mix them up, imposing, forcing them to work in particular fashion.
It's only after a certain degree of comfort has been reached that such the next level can be dream't or achieved. Immediately asking half baked, new recruits to become responsible participants of a democratic process is too much.

No wonder many third world democracies are also a mess.