Three pitfalls of democracy

Written by Shombit Sengupta | Shombit Sengupta | Updated: Mar 16 2014, 08:38am hrs
India, the worlds most populous democracy, never converges to nation building. A 2013 UN report stated that a third of the worlds poorest people live in India.

Democratic pitfalls in politics: In our democracy, anybody can get a political party ticket to be a member of the legislative assembly or member of Parliament and wield power. Even a murderous criminal, slapped with court cases, can become an electoral candidate, as also a jailbird who can pull strings to emerge on bail. Political parties are ferreting out silver screen personalities to woo as candidates to gloriously pull in their fan base. They mostly win whether through popularity or arm-twisting the public is not clear.

In empowering retired film stars as politicians, their on-screen fame gets transferred to political power. What can a film star deliver to the country Indian film audiences particularly favour fantasy and theatrical plots, so that has become the standard output from Bollywood and regional cinema. Short on real social relevance, these films do not project new ideas nor futuristic social or technology trends. Their history documentation does not help the public to learn something beyond the obvious. Through cinematography, film personalities like Charles Chaplin, Orson Wells, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Stanley Kubrick, Federico Fellini, Meryl Streep, Georges Lucas, Luis Bunuel, Ingmar Bergman, Vittorio Gassman, among others, have incited a paradigm shift in peoples ideation, inspired invention and shown different dimensions that combine art, socio-cultural change and philosophical debates.

Indias film personalities are yet to be credited with having brought in newness that has changed society for the better. Their popularity is based on their professional talent of dancing, acting and dramatic off-screen love affairs. Most Bollywoodians live in a paradisiacal world; they provide low-cost entertainment, particularly to the poor.Nowadays, non-resident Indians (NRI) worldwide also lap up these films of unbelievable, mythical or ideal social life stories not seen in western society.

Can filmy people solve administrative or development issues through politics Do they understand the requirements of the poor, of employment, of city infrastructure Poverty-striken voters who have no choice in the way they live imagine that these film personalities who create miracles in cinema may also create fantasy in politics. They like the idea of unreachable stars being physically visible now. Political parties use stars to camouflage what is unsavoury. Its almost like FMCG products using film stars in advertisements or as brand ambassadors to gloss over the products unknown factors, quality deficiencies or to reach consumers with easy familiarity. Should professionally active stars paint their faces for the studio floor or the Parliament House floor The answer is part of democratic Indias political science.

In this context, a candidate like Nandan Nilekani is unique in every sense, but his party should not use him to hide its defects. I had earlier written (in October 2009; and October 2013 that India needs high-quality technocrats and visionary entrepreneurs to govern and change our political colour. I consider Nilekani an apolitical doer. He has displayed integrity, entrepreneurship with ingenuity, managerial leadership in his business career and successfully devised the mammoth Aadhaar project. Even if his political party does not win the election, whoever forms the government should be obliged to take him in a paradigm changing role. I have seen such an example made by French President Francois Mitterrand who took opposition party people as ministers. He played the role of a national president, not a political partys president.

Underprivileged peoples democratic pitfall: The disastrous way that most of our underprivileged people live, with no shelter, work, education or food and non-existent social security, seems to be a democratic right. Nobody, least of all the government, has made sufficient effort to educate them practically, provide jobs, improve their living style. The longer they live in such non-empowered situations, the less will they know about how to fight for their rights. Is this their democracy Political parties enjoy the underprivileged people vote bank, make them promises that are rarely kept after the votes come in. Pure-play political drama pops up on TV nowadays. Its all about candidates, tomato-throwing, ink smearing, polls predicting party seats, analysts interpreting poll results, rallies, violence, dynasty and tea seller politics. Does the underprivileged 80% understand this circus But they know for sure of that ceremonial day of outing to cast the vote; they expect no return.

Social and infrastructure democratic pitfall: Our democratic code is so tolerant that a man can urinate anywhere on the street, with no civic consideration, no social respect. Hes oblivious to women walking past him. This act becomes disgraceful because its done in full public view, but who cares Is tampering with public infrastructure another democratic right Overloaded trucks damage smaller roads they are not supposed to ply on. To place underground broadband or electrical cables, a road contractor digs trench-like holes. Sometimes, he does not refill the hole for months, even years. Obviously, cars and motorbikes get stuck at night, or people fall in, break bones. After one contractor loosely fixes the road, the next, the drain pipes contractor, starts digging again. There is just no respite for citizens. The trend is never to finish any work elegantly or on time. This is the continuity of jugaad, an intrinsic part of our democracy.

Comparing pitfalls in our democracy to the Rubik cube puzzle, its almost impossible to get the single colour winning pattern. As all political parties in India are looking for coalition partners, perhaps we need to learn from European league football clubs like Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Manchester United on how to lease and mix players of different political parties to make an exciting team. World Cup football represents individual countries, but league football very successfully gets the best players from different countries. Should we get a league team coach from there to train us on how to manage a coalition like European league football

Shombit Sengupta is an international consultant to top management on differentiating business strategy with execution excellence. Reach him at