Democracy is literally, ‘rule by the people’, derived from the Greek dēmokratiā, which was coined from dēmos (people) and kratos (rule).
Well, are we ruled by the People of this country?
The Business Standard reported on 29th May 2019, “the average assets of an MP are now 345.8 times that of an annual income of a tax-filing individual. This means it will take the average Indian taxpayer 345.8 years to earn the equivalent of the assets of the average Lok Sabha MP”. No, I am not addressing the question how such obscenely wealthy politicians get elected to represent the people of India. Enough has been analysed and written about it.
The point that should cruise home to all is, ‘we are not ruled by the people and hence we cannot be a Democracy’. It is the un-industrialised, non-middle class ghettoised society deliberately kept simmering on the coals of caste, language and religion barriers, that has instead given us a Plutocracy. Pluto was the Greek god of the underworld where all mineral wealth of the earth rested. Our MP’s wealth too reportedly comes largely from parcels of earth and what is built upon it. No wonder, it is called the ‘Real’ Estate. Whether they are all devotees of a Greek god or not, they seem to have garnered the boon from Mr. Pluto in dollops. India is ruled by Plutocrats, not the People. And, this is despite the fact that our intellectual founding fathers bestowed upon us a very modern Constitution that oozes Democracy wherever you touch it.
Hence, the Constitution does not give us Democracy. Period!
Of late, mainstream TV channels have been hosting a lot of debates on, “Democracy is in danger”. I wonder if the protagonists of such a narrative meant, ‘Plutocracy is in danger’. Again, I have no axe to grind against the wealthy or even the obscenely wealthy. There are enough examples of the super-rich from the IT or the classical industry, who have made their fortunes and even distributed more than a bit to their minor shareholders including a few of their chauffeurs. Some of them have committed large chunks of their wealth and experience in building educational institutions and indulged in abundant CSR or charity. Isn’t it intriguing that these guys do not make their way into the Parliament of this country? In fact, a few of these illustrious knowledgeable capitalists failed miserably when they tried. Well, they were not dependent on the boon from Pluto, the god of the underworld of mineral wealth that sends its blessed to the temple of Democracy to turn it into a citadel of Plutocracy.
Therefore, simple commutation logic would mean, Plutocracy is directly proportional to ploutos (wealth in Greek) created from real estate. Hence, if we wish to dismantle plutocracy, we need to make it very painful for wealth to be created from real estate, else the wealthiest will become MPs, MLAs, Corporators in no time.
That could give us more Democrats instead of Plutocrats. Wishful thinking? Ha Ha!
In fact, it is not funny at all. Most Indians will say that it is high time and ripe for democracy to finally become a reality in India. But a country or a society that does not have widespread potential for wealth creation through knowledge, has always seen its natural resources being commandeered through muscle (Kabja), power, status or inheritance. Steel magnates, oil tycoons, timber merchants, mining barons and the sand mafia are all examples of Pluto’s blessed that rule the land and its people whether you have a good Constitution or not. That is what a feudal society initially produces, owners of huge parcels of natural resources wrested through undemocratic means or feudal powers. World over, every nation saw these resourceful (no pun intended) satraps including the slave drivers in the west, lording over their empires of natural resources until they had to compete against each other due to limited resources and markets. This was followed by the ascendancy of capital, corporate ownership of land and machinery, exploitation of workers, trade unionism and finally a sizeable middle class (workers & consumers) without whom, the capitalist would be a yacht out of water. We came to know this as the Industrial Society, the surrogate mother of all versions of democracy with laws and implementation of laws gradually evolving through activism of an aware middle class who formed the backbone of the industrial society. The WWII sent the industrialised nations into a reboot that opened up markets across sovereign frontiers. Scarce capital but wide-open markets led to the stock market boom while the US with its cohorts and the former USSR went into a Cold War. This resulted in massive defence spends leading to the invention of computers and the internet and a knowledge society by default in the west.
Back home, while large swathes of 21st century India remains royally feudal due to the governance we have had till date, the IT industry transplanted patches of a knowledge society in a few cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Pune, etc. thanks to the utter ignorance of the plutocrats and their inability to meddle with it. Wide eyed, they could simply lease or sell their ploutos (land) to the knowledge czars.
But India hardly trudged the grimy miles towards an industrial society like other late starters in industrialisation, namely South Korea or the Asian tiger economies. As a result, we never got a booming middle class that could sound the death knell for plutocrats and usher in democracy and better governance. No wonder, the plutocrat MPs or MLAs and the landed wish to keep the vast majority who depend upon a feudal agricultural society, locked in their rural seclusion by throwing some loan waivers or handouts, come election time.
It is industrialisation through good Governance that could give us Democracy, not the Constitution that the plutocrats love to wear on their sleeves!
So, how do we have good or better governance?
We will not get it in a few years. Any country you visit that appears to have good or better governance got it as an evolutionary process over a few decades, if not more.
Can we do better than waiting for few more decades?
Are there some fundamental shifts underway in our socio-economic-political space that may change how plutocracy worked so far – the process and basis to make those monumental fortunes in real estate?
Demonetisation, linking of Adhaar with PAN Cards, RERA surely have devastated the real estate industry. Property prices and rentals have been under a wet blanket for almost five years. While the first-time home buyers are the only ones left smiling at stable prices and lower interest rates, the Steel, Cement and associated industries are sitting with unutilised capacities, inventories and receivables. Both promoters as well as retail shareholders have been sitting with grim faces due to dwindling ROIs. Banks/NBFCs that had merrily disbursed loans to Real Estate companies – both plutocratic frankensteins – have been censored by the RBI to stop evergreening such loans and recognise NPAs in full. The nation-wide GST and Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code are in, but results are yet to be squeezed out. Is that enough to dismantle plutocracy? Surely not, the plutocrats may have been numbed for a while. They have ruled for a very very long time and are sure that no political alternative can survive against their interests for long. They are on a vacation, sunbathing in some tax haven or nibbling at gourmet cuisine at leisure, raring to swoop in as soon as the tides turn.
The jury (the people) is apparently yet to conclude – barring the sponsored media – if that could be termed as better governance. But governance is not merely about legislation or policy. In the corporate world, legislations and policy making can be likened to strategy presentations. Unless executed by the bureaucracy (organisation), the planned results remain in power points. Peter Drucker had said, “Culture eats Strategy for breakfast”. The Indian bureaucracy or the Executive in our plutocracy – another legacy of the past – can surely boast of a culture that can eat any strategy like cookies with their first cup of tea at their rickety desks.
Our Constitution does grant all citizens the rights equally, but it is the Government – the Political & the Administrative Authorities – that has the responsibility to deliver them. The Political Authority – elected for 5 years – makes policy and gets legislation through, while the Administrative Authority – hitched for a lifetime – are supposed to get the same executed. Drawing another analogy from the corporate world, a strategy gets executed when the culture of the organisation is in line with the Management’s vision. The political leadership does speak about nation building and a vision for India but is the administrative apparatus with its termite infested processes and habits of working enamoured by the same vision? If not, the political leadership would only be known for phony rhetoric.
How easy is it to sell your vision to the bureaucracy? You would know if you tried your hand even in a small corporate entity!
The Leadership Question – rational or philosophical?
Motivation, both positive and negative does work with normal employees to yield temporary efforts. But with the bureaucracy serving life terms with guaranteed fixed incomes, those who have tried would rather go for moving the Taj Mahal to Jaipur. Changing the culture of an organisation cannot be achieved through motivational engagements, it needs volitional engagement. And that happens, when the future vision of India as a nation is what the bureaucracy is passionate about. But passion comes from tacit understandings not explicit knowledge. It is therefore a philosophical challenge to change the culture of an organisation, unlike an easy task like improving efficiencies with tried and tested (cause & effect) actions with skilled resources.
As an Indian citizen, you have the choice to be a pessimist and pooh-pooh away all as rhetoric. You cannot to be blamed. After all, that is what we have seen as reality for decades. However, change is not for the mild mannered or those with a faint heart. Change is what we need, not only in our bureaucracy, but in the way we as Indians think about our Identity as an individual and our future as a nation. Change is not possible without being a visionary and that too a visionary who has crossed the rubicon in his mind like Julius Caesar or like Arjuna, who could only see the eye of the fish and nothing else.
Leadership in much simpler contexts is fraught with the risk of narcissism. When we debate the leadership required for a vast and diverse country like India with its convoluted history, surely a change agent cannot be like your middle-aged neighbour, a straightforward decent gentleman. It will be a narcissist as it always has been. Even the corporate world with hardly the complexity that nation building requires, has rarely seen change being envisioned and executed by likeable gentlemen. Throw in the added task of managing political alignment with 30 plus State/ UT Assemblies and its representatives in the Rajya Sabha to get policies executed across the nation, you will see not only Mr. Rajan but even Mr. Welch scooting off to offer lectures over the internet.
Political leadership without a philosophical anchor cannot dismantle Plutocracy and deliver Democracy!
But who assesses if the philosophy is right for India’s future?
Well, the People of India do get that chance once in 5 years, thanks to our Constitution that promises Democracy but would always need a Government to deliver!