Governance matters because how a society functions is clearly determined by how it chooses to govern itself. I have my doubts about democracy as a good form for organizing society — smacks of majority rule — but it’s better than many of the available alternatives. Democracy is, in my opinion, a first-best solution applied haphazardly in a second-best world. But given the world we have rather than the world we would like to have, democracy is the best we can do for now. So when it comes to choosing between the least unpalatable of a wide number of unappetizing options in a second-best world, I have chosen to support the BJP in the upcoming Indian elections.
My colleague Rajesh Jain today published his reasons for his personal support of the BJP. Here are my reasons for supporting the BJP.
The first and foremost reason is that that the BJP is not the Congress party. The Congress party is responsible for what India is today — a desperately poor country of 1.2 billion people. For most of its history since its political independence from colonial rule, India has been ruled by the Congress party. For decades since 1947, it had a near absolute control of the country. All the promise and potential that was India was squandered recklessly though decades of misgovernance. It essentially reduced India to a kakistocracy — government by the most corrupt and the least principled.
The Congress party appears to have one aim: to be in power. Its insatiable appetite for power drives it to adopt the most heinous of politics. It divided the country along caste, creed, and religious lines. It fractures civil society, it destroys institutions. The most despicable act has been its wanton destruction of the education system — which, mind you, wasn’t much to write home about anyway. Its policies are calculated to keep the population poor, uneducated and dependent on the government. It does whatever it can to restrict freedom — individual, political, and economic. The license-quota-permit-control raj is the monstrous bastard-child of the Congress party.
In my considered opinion, supporting the Congress party in any of its incarnation is an act of treason, if not an act of senseless ignorance. Those who vote for the Congress after what the party has done to them are either ignorant (like the masses who only need the “Gandhi” name to vote for the party) or are pathologically self-serving who would ride any train that would get them to power, never mind that it is anti-national, anti-development, anti-growth, anti-anything good and reasonable.
The second reason I support the BJP is because it is not wedded to a dynasty. Dynastic rule is worse than democracy because it does not allow competent leaders to emerge. I feel that the Congress party would like nothing better than to have the system that North Korea has. North Korea, as Christopher Hitchens puts it, is a necrocracy (government by the dead). There they have as the titular head of the state Kim Il-sung who died in 1994 but still rules. He rules though his son, Kim Jong Il.
Nehru died a few decades ago, and so did his daughter, and so did her son. But though they are dead, they live on as rulers.
I traveled from the Rajiv Gandhi International airport to the Indira Gandhi International airport to be at an event of the Indira Gandhi Open National University and took the Sanjay Gandhi flyover to spend the afternoon at the Nehru park before going to the Jawaharlal Nehru University for a discussion on the Sanjay Gandhi Yojna . . . Actually, I cannot separate the names of all the places and institutions I had to visit in the last week or so but that is understandable because all were either Nehru or Gandhi.
Rule by a dynasty is a nasty idea, whether in North Korea or in India.
In states that are not ruled by dynasties, at least there is a reasonable chance that policy will be dictated by competence, and not by people whose only qualification is how sincerely they sing the praises of the dynasty. Lest you think that I am making this up, just take a look at Dr Manmohan Singh. He declared that the NREGS is a gift from his dear leader Sonia Gandhi to the nation. It seems that he believes that the thousands of crores of rupees came out of the personal checking account of the Gandhi family and not the taxes of citizens. That’s loyalty. Loyalty to the dear leader’s family matters. Here’s a bit from a blog post from April 2004:
India’s democracy is at best a cargo cult democracy. Here is a brief news item from today’s The Times of India page 3. The Maharashtra Congress Committee vice-president Anant Gadgil plans to switch to the Shiv Sena because he did not get a ticket for contesting the elections. He wrote to the chief Sonia Gandhi and said:
Our family is known for its loyalty to the Nehru-Gandhi family, and to the Congress since independence. We always remember the recognition given by Indira and Rajiv Gandhi to my father for his utmost loyalty. Please let me know whether loyalty has no meaning left in the Congress party.
If those words don’t epitomize what Indian democracy is all about, I don’t know what does. Here is a person who wants to represent the will of the people, his constituency. And all he has to show for his qualifications for that task is his loyalty to a particular family. He does not plead that he has served the people of his constituency competently, he does not point out that he is capable of helping his society do better, he does not say that he understands the problems that his people face and that he has solutions, etc. Most likely he has not done any service nor is he capable of doing anything for the people. In keeping with the prevailing customs of the political parties in India — especially that of the Congress Party — all that he has to show is that he and his father have always been loyal lap-dogs of the of the ruling family.
Mr. Anant Gadgil may be an ignorant wanna-be. But he is not alone. His sentiments are shared by practically all “leaders” of the Congress party, from Messers Manmohan Singh and Narasimha Rao to the lowliest party worker. All they have to demonstrate is unquestioned loyalty to the Nehru-Gandhi family and they will get the nod. As self-interested rational individuals their stance cannot be faulted. The tens of millions of ignorant illiterate voters will vote for the Congress party simply because they recognize the Gandhi name. Therefore all Gadgils and the Singhs and Raos have to do is to plead their loyalty and they will get a ticket and therefore get elected.
The third reason is related to the previous one: I believe that the BJP is capable of building institutions. Institutions matter, not personalities.
Institutions matter because they are rule based. They are not dependent on subjective arbitrariness — the whimes and fancies — of personalities. Institutions persist and outlast individuals and therefore have a longer memory. They are also less likely to be hijacked by narrow personal interests and can pursue socially beneficial objectives.
When institutions are hijacked by personalities, they decay. The Indian National Congress was a worthy institution until the Nehru-Gandhi family made it into their personal fiefdom. The tranformation was tragic and it will continue to be a dysfunctional political party as long as it persists in elevating personalities over the institutional character of the party.
One can conjecture that it is the legacy of our feudal social system that is the cause of our dysfunctional emphasis on personalities rather than on institutions. After all, the raja ruled at his pleasure and did not bother with constitutions. The serfs realized that the law was basically whatever the raja said it was. Survival in this sort of a system depended on unquestioning loyalty to a person.
A modern highly complex economic system requires the rule of law, rather than the rule of men (or women). Arbitrary decisions based on personal prejudices cannot in general lead to socially beneficial outcomes. One can imagine an enlightened benevolent dictatorship but they are rare and rarer still is the possibility of a long succession of benevolent dictators. The odd raja may be good personally but his successors are likely to be rapacious murderers.
Sadly, rajas continue to exist in India. They go about in cars with led lights flashing. They consider themselves above the law (just another institution). They hand out or withhold favors depending on whether they personally gain from the deal. The license-permit-quota-subsidy raj is the only institution that these rajas find worthwhile.
I cannot guarantee that the BJP will build institutions but of this I am sure that the Congress party has destroyed institutions and is incapable of building institutions because it is personality based.
All things considered, I am supporting the BJP in Elections 2009. Though I will not be voting (never voted in India), I will make sure that my family and friends understand why they should support the BJP. I hope to do my little part in seeing that India develops a bit. The first step is to remove the biggest hurdle to India’s growth and development: end the dynastic necrocracy of the Congress party.