I rushed off my delayed train to priorsfield with a little panic of missing the beginning of “In Search of Gandhi” However, my little legs got me to the class right on time and I was sat ready to learn about today’s influence of Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings. What a great man he was, yes he was a member of the elite, but would anyone have listened to an “untouchable” with the same views? I think not. Discussions of Gandhi’s background was mentioned in class, I feel that a member of the elite speaking up for the poor has a greater impact than the poor speak for the poor, because as I have learnt, unfortunately the poor have a very quiet voice.

My personal feelings towards India and Indian politics are somewhat difficult to explain. I was born and raised in England, however Punjabi is my first language and both my parents were born in Punjab, India. From personal identity, I am yet to place myself between my Indian heritage and my British identity. To complicate matters even further I am a Sikh, not baptised, but very knowledgeable about my religion and about our history, so when I hear that India is the “Biggest democracy” I can’t help but disagree. How can a government, who organised Operation Blue Star, an attack on Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple), killing over 500 people and 1,000s more after, be considered democratic? These are the actions of an authoritarian government, with Indira Gandhi as the dictator. Indira’s government is long over, but can the Congress Party be entitled to a democratic status when more than half the population live below the poverty line and other living a life of luxury and an ever enhancing space program? Amartya Sen compared the rich and poor, buy stating “Is that half of India is going to end up looking and living like California, the other half like sub-Saharan Africa”.

A colleague of mine mentioned the tensions between Sikhs and Hindus in India after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, which was used as an effective comparison of the tensions between Muslims and Hindus. However, religious conflict in India is a massive topic, one I do not wish to discuss here. My point is, politically I have personal connections with the Indian government and culturally too. I guess my appearance presents me as Indian but my personality has been shaped by Britain, I am lucky to have the best of both worlds, so maybe it doesn’t matter where I belong in terms of category or definition?

The film “In Search of Gandhi” provided a clear understanding of the teaching of Gandhi and his journey, along with an understanding of what Indians think of him today. The film outlined the political and economic issues facing the affluent and poor people of Gujarat. A scene that struck me the most was of an elderly man reduced to tears during a conversation about a super mall being built where his slum was located. A rough translation from memory was “all I require is two meals a day for my children”, two meals a day isn’t even basic living and that is all he requires. Social uprising is a great idea, but political empowerment is not what this man needs, he needs sustainable shelter and basic food security. It is the voice if the elite – both the policy maters and the voters that need to speak up and consider the poor. However, the economic growth theory suggests that the poor will be lifted out of poverty, let’s hope this happens before half the population has to survive on less than $2 a day…oh wait!

The final part of this blog will refer to the paper by Larry Diamond “Can the World Become Democratic? Democracy, Development and International Polices” (2003). Diamond began by providing an account of countries with Democratic and Authoritarian government, based on reports dated between 1974, 1990-2002. The paper takes a significant turn once these countries have been categorised in clear tables, to a stand point that highlights the issues/ problems for the potential for democracies to exist in countries with absolute poverty, illiteracy and a life expectancy is 44 years old. Yet again this is an issue of definition. Yes by definition most developing countries are democratic but how many countries account for human rights? Diamond refers to the Freedom House reports, which rate countries on their human rights and civil liberties, however many may not even be considered democracies and if they are may have authoritarian rule, such as his suggests of Venezuela. Diamond makes the statement that ‘democracy’ is a universal phenomenon and through its fad maybe only temporary or superficial. This brings about the question of the sustainability of democracy, which I would argue is a sustainable political structure, as we have seen in the west then in the east and now being represented in the Middle East and North Africa. However the definition is too broad, a multiparty voting system cannot be the only aspect of democratic principle that counts, surely?

The civil up rise in Egypt has become about, in my opinion, through the increase in social media avenues. Finally the Egyptian, Tunisians, Libyans and so on have realised their potential and the potential of their country, no longer will the young, strong and educated people be suppressed by an authoritarian regime, “they (the authoritarians) must know that the party is over”. This links to Diamonds comment that North Koreans are physically and intellectually isolated from the world today, so do not have a clue as to how the rest of the world lives. Once they find out, he believes the regime will crumble or else change rapidly. In 2003 Diamond reported that in the Middle East the only representation of a democracy was Lebanon, which is one out of sixteen, maybe he will report an increase of democratic states in 2013? Here’s to hope.

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