Democracy must deliver
‘Democracy must deliver’, was the challenge given by Prabhat Kumar, Chair of the IC Centre for Governance, in the opening ceremony of the second Dialogue on Democracy at Asia Plateau, the Initiatives of Change centre in Panchgani, India. Kumar, a former Cabinet Secretary of India and former Governor of Jharkhand, referred to the first Dialogue on Democracy in January 2012 which generated a hope that democracy could be widened and deepened. A ‘significant outcome’ of that conference, he said, was the collaboration between the government of South Sudan and IofC International to support the development of democracy and good governance in Africa’s newest country.
Kumar said that democracy was grounded in a faith in the goodness of man. But now that faith was being challenged. Despite the many new democracies that emerged in the 80s and 90s, many people still lack basic freedoms and rights. ‘Democracy has many discontents…. The poor cannot eat democracy.’ He noted that in a recent global survey only one in ten thought that their governments respected the wishes of the people. ‘Democracy does not automatically mean that the welfare of the people is taken care of’, he pointed out, noting that ‘some non-democracies deliver welfare much better than some democracies.
The real test of the institutions of democracy was how well they serve the most vulnerable, said Kumar, and for this reason the fact that on current trends so few countries are on track to deliver the promised outcomes of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 was a sign that those institutions are falling short. ‘People lose trust in democracy when it does not deliver,’ he said, adding that when that happens you get spontaneous uprisings.
‘Full democracy is a created future that requires the collective action of civil society and the different arms of state… Institutions of democracy are essential to a functioning democracy and human development. Democracy is People more than the idea, and it is the institutions that must function to protect their rights and freedoms.’
Professor Rajmohan Gandhi, historian and noted biographer of his grandfather Mahatma Gandhi, noted that while Indian democracy had a long way to go and was, to some extent, feeble, it had nevertheless survived. He invited the audience to ponder the question ‘Why had it survived?’ during the days of the Dialogue, and to take the opportunity to discuss and learn from people from many different countries and backgrounds.
The Dialogue on Democracy runs from 1-5 February with participation from over 100 people from 24 countries.