Democracy & free markets: precious possessions of the country

Written by Dhiraj Nayyar | New Delhi | Updated: Jan 1 2009, 07:38am hrs
India is a nation on the move. Nothing indicates this better than our resilience in the midst of a major global slowdown--India is still expected to grow at an impressive 6-7%. Still, every free market democracy must strive to improve itself at all times and India is no exception. It doesnt always take much to damage the credibility of the two most important institutions we havedemocracy and free markets. The recent Mumbai terror attacks provoked an extreme backlash against our democratically elected politicians (and institutions of governance) and the global financial crisis is provoking a backlash against free markets not just in India, but everywhere.

Yet, there is no denying that democracy and free markets are likely to deliver the best outcomes for India over the longer run. Of course, there are weaknesses, which must be strengthened. We believe that the best ways to force the necessary changes are to enforce higher standards of accountability and transparency in our political/public and private/ corporate sphere. And in a free market democracy, citizens must be the driving force of constructive change. Hence, the theme of Citizen Democracy for our four page special inside this first 2009 edition of FE .

The supplement is divided into four themes, one for each page. Given that a general election is due in 2009, it is only appropriate to begin with politics and elections. We take a peek at 2009 with the biggest stories of 2008: the multiple assembly elections in India and the extraordinary (both in terms of outcome and participation) US presidential election in 2008. The Mumbai attacks and the civil society protests that followed are an important addition to the theme.

Away from politics, the Satyam-Maytas scandal at the fag end of 2008 once again brought the issue of corporate governance to the fore. The highest standards of corporate governance are an essential component of a well-functioning market economy. Corpwatch, the theme of our second page, has stories on shareholder activism, corporate valuations and regulator transparency.

A special issue on citizen democracy would not be complete without a look at some of the big stories around the theme in the economy and in governance. We look at the thorny issues of the quality of government data, banking & RBI reforms and the chaotic telecom policies in the economy. And we look at the performance of NREG, our internal security apparatus and consumer rights under our governance theme.

Obviously, these are only a small selection of stories around a very big theme. We hope that 2009 will produce many more stories on the themes of citizen democracy, transparency and accountability. In 2009, let us all begin to engage constructively with these issues in our own capacities.