Namaskar, Dr. Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, President ICCR, FriendsNew Delhi
It is appropriate that the International Day of Democracy is commemorated with particular enthusiasm in the world’s largest and most energetic democracy. After all, for India, democracy was not just a choice we made in 1947, but a way of life well before that. Few societies can compare with the pluralism that has been our historical characteristic.
Forms of ballots and of representative government have a long tradition in India. Some 2,500 years ago, the Lichchhavi Republics had developed a consultative and democratic process of governance. Similarly, village panchayats with delegates gathering for a type of local grand assembly, was an established custom in the 10th century Chola era. Indeed, variations of community-based exercises of rights and responsibilities and broad participation existed in many regions. They speak of our inherent attributes of transparency, diversity and pluralism.
Contemporary India’s sense of pride in its electoral democracy is visible. We contrast the vigour and credibility of our systems with those who have rejected such exercises as much as those who practise it imperfectly. The consciousness of the power of an individual’s vote even among socially and economically underprivileged voters – or perhaps more so among them – is a statement of how precious and hard-earned this privilege remains. Every five years, a general election in India sets a new record for the world’s largest such festival. In 2019, 912 million people were eligible to vote – more than all other democracies combined. Two of every three voters actually made the effort to go to the polling station, a contrast to indifference in many other societies.
The quality and morality of democracy, however, lies beyond just numbers. It can be found in the transitioning of Indian society to a deeper, more culturally rooted and authentic identity. Our democracy has both driven this process and in turn, been enriched by it. Indeed, a faithful reflection of society in its elected representatives is what gives any democracy real strength. And that is what we see in India today.
Democracy is not just incomplete without delivery; this can even affect its credibility. Whether it in providing access to toilets, electricity and piped water, or in the near universalisation of bank accounts, democratic means are now realizing democratic ends. The equality of the vote must necessarily co-exist with the equity of human dignity. One is pointless without the other. Seen in that framework, India’s ongoing accomplishments are validating its democratic credentials.
A country’s external outlook inevitably goes together with its internal values. It is only to be expected that a nation and a people would be comfortable with others of a similar bent of mind. It also encourages the like-minded to work together on global issues. This also explains the context of India’s quest for a global commons governed by norms and rules, for political and cultural arrangements that accommodate diversity and multi-polarity, and for trade, infrastructure and connectivity projects determined by transparency, sustainability and buy-in of host communities.
As India rises and its capacities and capabilities grow, it will naturally contribute more to the world. A civilizational state re-emerging on the world stage and draws on its heritage will obviously create its own imprint. In a truly democratic world, such an India will be more India rather than more West. Its developmental template and its embracing of wider responsibilities will draw even greater attention to the salience of its model. As a full-blooded member of the Global South, as a system that intersects so much with the West, and as a polity with a flavour that is uniquely its own, India’s trajectory will surely influence the global journey. Remember that as India becomes ever more democratic, democracy will also become ever more Indian, both in its sensibilities and texture. The International Day of Democracy is the ideal occasion to discuss, cherish and celebrate that symbiosis.
I wish you a very productive deliberation. Thank you for your attention
September 15, 2021