Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Tale of Two Nations

Some may think I’m just a sentimentalist and a romantic about democracy. Actually, if you think about it, there’s no other way one ought to be about democracy. Despite what our political elites sometimes like to say as they show their contempt for the voice and will of the people, there is but no better way for a nation to thrive towards creating a more just society.

Perhaps you’re familiar with Churchill’s quip on the matter? Of course you must be. But perhaps our politicians could be reminded that this once prime minister of our colonial master is known to have remarked that ‘democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.’ Quite an eloquent characterisation even if it’s difficult for many of our ultra-nationalists to acknowledge it.

In recent days, events in South Asia once again remind us about how imperative it is to ensure that we remain steadfast in our commitment to democratic ideals. As the largest democracy in the world undertakes the mammoth task of allowing the voice of its people to be heard, its neighbour Pakistan seems to be teetering even closer to the edge of becoming a failed state. As Indians on the subcontinent exercise their franchise and part-take in re-affirming their vigilant commitment to the democratic idea (albeit with all its shortcomings), we find the international community bracing itself for even more troubling developments in Pakistan.

For me, two images sum this contrast between these two nations rather succinctly. On the one hand, perhaps the world's most renowned news service, the BBC, undertakes 'the BBC India Election Train' to profile India’s love affair with the idea of democracy.

And while the world is reminded again of the Indian peoples‘ passionate regard for representative democracy, we are all left to also ponder the sobering and ominous warnings and alarm bells being sounded in the international community about Pakistan’s continued spiral toward become a failed state. Indeed, it is shocking to learn that its traditional ally, the U.S., has become increasingly weary of Pakistan, with its Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accusing Pakistan of "basically abdicating to the Taliban."

Well, no matter what redeeming value one may find about the religious zealots such as the Taliban, one thing is for sure: no one will accuse the Taliban of having any sympathy for democracy – let alone any semblance of a commitment to equality of human rights for all.

So there you have it: two nations, practically born simultaneously to become part of the community of independent nations over 60 years ago now, one reaching for the dream of perfecting its democracy, while the other “basically abdicating" to a group of religious zealots.

Need I say more?

Perhaps there's a lesson about democracy in there somewhere for our political elites....

G. Krishnan