Taking the shortcut to change

By shunning power, AAP may have served the cause of political and judicial reforms better

The key issues before any developing country are how to achieve prosperity and provide citizens equality of opportunity. There are cases in which prosperity has been achieved under dictatorial and overtly nationalistic regimes. However, there are far more examples of prosperity being achieved under democratic set-ups.

Prosperity in democracy is dependent upon encouraging "inclusive institutions" and avoiding "extractive institutions". This is the central theme of an interesting analysis by economists Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson in their book, Why Nations Fail. It is now generally accepted that prosperity and equality of opportunity cannot be achieved without strong institutions, rule of law and science and technology. Of all the countries that achieved freedom from colonial powers in the 20th century, India had the most democratic and forward-looking leadership, committed to a secular constitutional democracy and a mixed model of economy which, the leadership -believed, would avoid the excesses of communism and brazen capitalism. Thus, India became a republic based on high idealism. While one can argue today about the effectiveness of independent India's new institutions, it would be puerile to question the spirit of idealism behind their establishment. Unfortunately, this democratic idealism has been under siege from the very beginning as it was pitted against quasi-feudal cultural mores. Since Independence, we can discern an ongoing battle between democratic ideals and a quasi-feudal cultural mindset. Any synthesis from this dialectic has to be in favour of democratic idealism the earlier the better.

Where are we faltering as a country, and where does the Aam Aadmi Party phenomenon fit in? Is the emergence of the AAP a democratic revolution that will bring more probity and prosperity, or is it a phenomenon that will soon wither away? First, the good tidings that the AAP victory has brought. The foremost point is how political parties should collect and spend money on elections. The way our political parties collect money for fighting elections from nameless and faceless sources and break all norms of spending is a diabolical assault on democratic ideals. It is reported that the big parties have crores in contributions from unknown sources. Such contributions lead to political patronage, return of "favours" and crony capitalism. Corruption at the top encourages and, in a sordid way, legitimises rent-seeking by those lower on the ladder.

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