True democratic freedom is impossible without economic equality


Any functional system requires regular corrections. Otherwise, it accumulates unwanted tendencies. This applies to the larger democracy, which is often praised for holding “free and fair elections”. It is high time that we asked ourselves whether we have imbibed the democratic spirit and whether we exercise it without fear or favor.

Democracy is above all freedom. Rosa Luxemburg said that real freedom is the freedom to disagree. In a functional sense, democracy means discussion, debate and dissent. But in India, these are disappearing quickly. There is a deliberative deficit. Public space is shrinking. There are only a few spaces provided by political parties where discussions are directed and controlled. It’s a “give and take” exercise, leaders give and executives take – but not in the way we know it. Structurally, democracy must mean equality; but equality is only possible in a non-hierarchical situation.

In the case of India, inequality is the very basis of our culture, an unconditional acceptance of a “culture of inequality”. Democracy is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end which must be socially defined and determined. For example, development, in the democratic sense, must be inclusive, equitable and sustainable. People should be the primary agents in formulating, implementing, supervising and evaluating programs and projects. In the interventionist era, man was considered only as the object of development. Development ‘happened’ intransitively: roads were built for them and houses were built for them.

It is undeniable that India has an accommodating democracy. It accommodates socio-economic inequalities, regional and sectoral imbalances, and what not?

Within the framework of the much acclaimed democratic decentralization, what really happened is the devolution of certain functions, responsibilities and resources determined at the central level to lower levels of administration, without changing the structures of power – social, economic, political and religious.

Power, whether national, regional, local, corporate or family, always tends towards centralization. In this sense, power cannot be decentralized. In other words, the centralization of power is not the problem and its decentralization is not the solution. Power itself is the problem, because it is always used by the powerful against the powerless, by the strong against the weak, by the rich against the poor. History testifies that in a society divided into classes, the state, which embodies power, protects the rich and the powerful against or against the poor and the oppressed. Thus, the state is an instrument of oppression. The more unequal a society, the more authoritarian the state. Ideally, in an egalitarian system, state power has no place. Marx had said that in a classless society, the state would wither away. In India, because of the glaring and growing economic inequalities, the state is becoming more and more authoritarian. It is even claimed that India is in the process of becoming a democracy without freedom. The leaders fear freedom. Always and everywhere, rulers are enemies of freedom.

Leaders are an endangered species. We only have leaders. We have effective leaders, effective administrators and an effective police force. Democracy means efficient administration, strengthening and maintaining the status quo, and not changing the system. Stability and continuity are privileged. Challenging inequalities calls for draconian laws, reminding us of the statement made at the Madras High Court by famous lawyer and human rights activist Kannabiran: “Crime is defined by law, but the criminal is determined by law. State. Remember how migrant workers were treated during lockdown last year. Or the 2018 incident in which a starving Adivasi in Attappadi, Kerala was beaten to death for stealing food.

True democracy is economic democracy, as Ambedkar pointed out. A starting point is to ensure economic security for all, not through an income transfer program (universal basic income), but through the granting of universal property rights. The poor should not be treated as welfare thieves, but as consumers, active producers and potential entrepreneurs. This should be ensured by the new economic package put in place by the Modi government.

The MGNREGA allowance should be used not to create salaried jobs but to build the asset base of the poor, develop entrepreneurship (business and social) among them, build idea / idea centers. incubation and helping to undertake production / business units, individually or on a group basis. Let them pursue and explore fortunes on the fringes, such as CK Prahalad’s exhortation to explore “fortune at the bottom of the pyramid”. The founder of the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, Muhammad Yunus, describes the poor as “natural entrepreneurs”. Treat the subclass not only as passive wage earners / recipients of social benefits, but as potential producers. Let us trust them. And build a democracy of “freely associated producers”.

The writer is an economist


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