Can Indian Democracy Serve Its People?

With the clear mandate for his Congress Party in recently concluded general elections, Indian Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh has won the right and responsibility to deal with huge challenges in front of him. In addition to the well-known social problems of hunger, poverty, lack of sanitation and poor infrastructure, Mr. Singh has to contend with the effects of the oppressive and ingrained caste system and religious intolerance as well as the growing nexus between crime and politics in Indian democracy. The new parliament has elected 153 tainted members, some of whom have been convicted or accused of serious crimes, including murder and rape.

Nexus of Crime and Politics:

About 153 members of the new Indian parliament have either been convicted and appealed or currently accused of various crimes. A major problem is that individuals charged with even the most serious crimes are allowed to stand if they have been convicted but their cases are under appeal, according to Times Online. “The speed of the Indian judicial system means it can take 30 years to complete a case – easily long enough to live out a full political career,” Mr Himanshu Jha, of the National Social Watch Coalition, said to the Times Online recently.

This nexus of crime and politics in India developed in two stages - in the first stage, Indian politicians used criminal elements and gangsters to control polling stations and intimidate their rivals; this gave legitimacy to these people and they decided to contest elections for themselves rather than merely act as mussel men (baahubali) for other politicians. There are many examples of this pattern, such as Munna Shukla and Shahabudin in Bihar, Raju Bhaiyya in U.P and Arun Gawli of Mumbai.

Most Indian politicians have used their election wins to significantly enrich themselves, according to their own pre-election declarations of assets. For example, the comparison of assets of candidates who won in 2004 and sought re-elections in 2009 shows that the wealth of UP politicians has grown by 559%, over five times, in five years, second only to their Karnataka counterparts who registered a growth of 693% in the same period, according to

The Caste System:

The entire culture and governance of India is heavily influenced by the caste system that legitimizes abuse and exploitation of one group of people by another. It plays a significant role in voting patterns as well. Indians usually vote their caste rather than cast their votes. There is a counter argument to this concept of oppression: What about the lower caste politicians who also have risen to authority? The response is: Can they be different from the social milieu they belong to? Other issues include the lack of democratic structures inside India’s political parties and a culture of corruption fostered by a stifling level of bureaucracy.

Social Deprivation:

India, often described as peaceful, stable and prosperous in the Western media, remains home to the largest number of poor and hungry people in the world.
The UN Millennium Develop Goals listed below remain distant for the Indian people:

1 Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2 Achieve universal primary education
3 Promote gender equality and empower women
4 Reduce child mortality
5 Improve maternal health
6 Combat HIV/Aids, malaria, and other diseases
7 Ensure environmental sustainability
8 Develop a global partnership for development

About one-third of the world's extremely poor people live in India. More than 450 million Indians exist on less than $1.25 a day, according to the World Bank. It also has a higher proportion of its population living on less than $2 per day than even sub-Saharan Africa. India has about 42% of the population living below the new international poverty line of $1.25 per day. The number of Indian poor also constitute 33% of the global poor, which is pegged at 1.4 billion people, according to a Times of India news report. More than 6 million of those desperately poor Indians live in Mumbai alone, representing about half the residents of the nation's financial capital. They live in super-sized slums and improvised housing juxtaposed with the shining new skyscrapers that symbolize India's resurgence. According to the World Bank and the UN Development Program (UNDP), 22% of Pakistan's population is classified as poor.

There is widespread hunger and malnutrition in all parts of India. India ranks 66th on the 2008 Global Hunger Index of 88 countries while Pakistan is slightly better at 61 and Bangladesh slightly worse at 70. The first India State Hunger Index (Ishi) report in 2008 found that Madhya Pradesh had the most severe level of hunger in India, comparable to Chad and Ethiopia. Four states — Punjab, Kerala, Haryana and Assam — fell in the 'serious' category. "Affluent" Gujarat, 13th on the Indian list is below Haiti, ranked 69. The authors said India's poor performance was primarily due to its relatively high levels of child malnutrition and under-nourishment resulting from calorie deficient diets.

India might be an emerging economic power, but it is way behind Pakistan, Bangladesh and even Afghanistan in providing basic sanitation facilities, a key reason behind the death of 2.1 million children under five in the country.

Lizette Burgers, chief of water and environment sanitation of the Unicef, recently said India is making progress in providing sanitation but it lags behind most of the other countries in South Asia. A former Indian minister Mr Raghuvansh Prasad Singh told the BBC that more than 65% of India's rural population defecated in the open, along roadsides, railway tracks and fields, generating huge amounts of excrement every day.

Comparison with Pakistan:

Unlike Indian democracy where middle class has a bigger role, Pakistani democracy remains largely dominated by the feudal class. Pakistani parliament is dominated by big landowners who have a sense of entitlement to rule, even though they pay no taxes on their farm income. They routinely escape prosecution for the crimes they commit against their own people. When they do get caught and charged with serious crimes, they use political influence and their deal-making power to beat the rap. Musharraf's US-sponsored amnesty (dubbed NRO) for late Benazir Bhutto, her widower Asif Zardari and other political leaders now in power offers a prime example of how the politicians are not held to account for serious crimes of corruption and murder. Some of the Taliban in Swat used the widespread grievances of the tenant farmers against their landlords as justification for Shariah-based Nizam-e-Adl to provide speedy justice.

Future of Indian Democracy:

Majority of the poor and rural Indians are sustaining democracy at a great cost to themselves in terms of the grinding poverty that defines their meager existence. Contrasting Indian democracy with Chinese one-party rule, a British minister recently said that the number of poor people had dropped in the one-party communist state by 70% since 1990 but had risen in the world's biggest democracy by 5%. No one knows how long will the average Indian have to wait before the fruits of democracy to reach him or her. In the meanwhile, Maoists (and other revolutionaries) are gaining momentum and threatening a revolution to bring about a visible improvement in the lives of the poor.

At a minimum, Indian government should make the necessary investments to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals. As the UNICEF said last year, unless India achieves major improvements in health, nutrition, water and sanitation, education, gender equality and child protection, the global efforts to reach the MDGs will fail.

Related Links:

Is Indian Democracy Overrated?

Mumbai's Slumdog Millionaire

Can India Do a Lebanon in Pakistan?

Poor Sanitation in India

UN MDGs in Pakistan

Stable, Peaceful, Prosperous India

No Toilet, No Seat in India

Poverty Tours in India, Brazil and South Africa

South Asia's War on Hunger Takes Back Seat

Grinding Poverty in Resurgent India

Pakistani Children's Plight

Poverty in Pakistan


Anonymous said…
the same day the results were announced about Indian election(as a breaking news in BBC), next breaking news was a suicide bomber detonating in a Pakistani city. India has atleast some hope, whereas Pakistan - only envy towards its neighbour and resulting frustration that the supposed Islamic paradise is a failing state. Even if Indians pay a hefty premium for democracy in terms of growth, it is worth paying - ask any Ahmmadi Muslim living in India and he would swear by that. Maybe also it may not be good idea for a chauvinistic society such as Pakistani soceity to criticize other countries about religious intolerance. After the number of Kafirs had come down remarkably, now Muslims are killing each other there..
Riaz Haq said…

Are you paying the price for India's failed democracy? I don't think you. You are probably a beneficiary of Indian system as it is.

But there are more than 6000 children a day dying of hunger who are paying the price with their lives for India's failure, so you can boast about the largest democracy.
Anonymous said…
Riaz, it is Indians collectively who have to pay the premium in terms of lower economic growth(provided if she were an autocracy, she would have become as succesful autocracy like China). In fact no country, whatever system it follows is perfect. But democracies by virtue of its lack of oppressive instincts are inherently more vulnerable to criticism, mostly by elements within. The accusations you have made against India are equally applicable to Pakistan, probably to a much higher extent. By whatever name you call, aren't Pashtuns, Punjabis, Sindhis and Mohajirs different castes(I have a Pakistani colleague who proudly said when i was first introduced to him "My Madhab is Sunni, caste Pathan" (I live in Germany)).

To count the number of hungry children, you first need to remain peaceful. So long as Pakistan remains a violent society, statistics of hungry children in Pakistan is a less interesting statistics.

While living in the comfirt of democratic societites, one can always say, how uncool democracy itself is - in India, we have abundant of them(mostly Muslims), not realising that in any of the OIC countries, they may not have gotten the same ideological freedoms to propogate their own version of Islam like they do in India.

My point - rather less growth than an oppressive regime like China or Saudi Arabia, where the basic ideas of plurality, religious tolerance or gender equality exist.
Anonymous said…
"My point - rather less growth than an oppressive regime like China or Saudi Arabia, where the basic ideas of plurality, religious tolerance or gender equality exist."

Correction to last comment: please read "does not exist".
Riaz Haq said…
Though Pakistan's record is not stellar, it has fared much better than India in terms of dealing with hunger and poverty.

The fact is that there is widespread hunger and malnutrition in all parts of India. India ranks 66th on the 2008 Global Hunger Index of 88 countries while Pakistan is slightly better at 61 and Bangladesh slightly worse at 70.

Even Shining Kerala, which has fairly good HDI indicators by South Asian standards, is plagued by hunger and malnourishment, just as the rest of India. The first India State Hunger Index (Ishi) this year found that Madhya Pradesh had the most severe level of hunger in India, comparable to Chad and Ethiopia. Four states — Punjab, Kerala, Haryana and Assam — fell in the 'serious' category. "Affluent" Gujarat, 13th on the Indian list is below Haiti, ranked 69. The authors said India's poor performance was primarily due to its relatively high levels of child malnutrition and under-nourishment resulting from calorie deficient diets.
Anonymous said…
So I am confused - what is your point, if you have any? We have poor people, alright. Even more than you have(though you seem keen to conveniently ignore that India has much higher population and much broader ethnic, religious and linguistic mix). So the interesting question would be an autocracy solve all this problem?

So even after having less than one third of Indian population, one predominant religion, seemingly(according to you) no caste disparity, one language, you are only 5 points higher than India! Do you still feel better? I guess no. India despite having to support one sixth of humanity, 3 mostly incompatible religion, plethora of castes, 16 official languages scored 66 and you with a much homogeneous society scored a not so far 61! And you had to beg money from IMF and terror-blackmail the world for aid..Now the only hope may be a global Ziono-Hindu conspiracy theory which surprisingly retarded the potential of Pakistani people.

I'm quite glad that you brought up Kerala as I hail from that state. It is one state which had won accolades for its HDI standards. This was possible because of high level of democratic awareness which made it possible to demolish the feudal system that existed before independence.(Diametrically opposite is Bihar where HD standards are abysmal). It would be interesting where you saw these reports.

My Pakistani colleague was proud to notice that Bollywood movies are predominantly Urdu. I told him - it is because most Indians don't care whether it is Urdu or Hindi. If I were in your country, I would have been forced to speak Urdu, and if I were in China, Mandarin Chinese. I as a South Indian was able to retain my mother tongue only because I come from a country where such tolerance and diversity is respected. And in the heart of Calicut city(where I come from) which is a Sunni Muslim stronghold, there is a Shia Mosque and Khadiyani Mosque, which smoothly coexist with temples and Sunni Mosuqes. While you can find solace in these hunger reports in India, for Indians these reasons are good enough to cherish and even occasionally brag the democracy and pluralism of India.

PS: Kerala's 25% Muslim population sent 2 Muslim league MPs to the Parliamant and one of them bacame a Minister. In the Kafir dominated Parliament, he took oath in the name of Allah in Malayalam. Global conspiracy/propaganda by West and India?
Anonymous said…
Riaz, despite the polemics and rebuttals, I do think that your post has interesting perspectives which are important(and relevant). But let me also tell you that these are barely secrets and they do get published also in Western media(see Financial times article titled "Indian democracy has a darker side", dated almost 2 weeks ago). But then again, no democracy is perfect and they don't pretend to be one(which is a huge advantage which dogmatic autocracies like China or Saudi can only look at with envy). While these deficiencies are clear, the advantages far outweigh. But weight, these deficiencies would have been there anyway, with or without democracy. This applies to USA also where one can easily come up with statistics from Black ghettos, despite having Obama as head. I find people of Kerala quite happy, whatever their religion or caste is. This is because they have some freedom of expression and freedom of religion and they know that their basic dignity is not violated.
Riaz Haq said…
I don't think you fully appreciate the extent of hunger and poverty in India. According to Shirin Shirin, the situation in India is far worse than the Human Development Index suggests. According to economist Amartya Sen, who won the Nobel Prize for his work on hunger, India has fared worse than any other country in the world at preventing recurring hunger. While India hasn't been prone to the seasonal famines that plague many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, chronic hunger is rampant in India and just as deadly.

Building on Sen's work, Utsa Patnaik claims that caloric intake - a good way to measure hunger - has actually gone down in many states that are investing in high-tech industry. In other words, as call centers and software subsidiaries have proliferated in the cities, rural hunger has been on the rise. While Patnaik's work focuses on Madhya Pradesh, a large state in central India, the pattern holds for other Indian states as well. As governments prioritize the development of an urban economy based on the services industry, they transfer government funds to improving urban infrastructure. Village infrastructure and social services merit considerably lower priority, and chronic hunger is one manifestation of that neglect.

Chronic hunger and hunger-related deaths aren't the only serious development failures in India. Rural electrification more or less stalled for the last decade, while primary education never really provided a decent standard of education for the masses, despite government investment. According to UNICEF, health indicators such as life expectancy and infant and maternal mortality rates show only marginal improvements over the last 10 years. The rate of HIV infection also increased. Despite some improvements, for example in the mortality rate for children under the age of five, the overall situation seems poor, given India's GDP growth rate of over 8% for the last four years and a cumulative growth rate of over 4% since 1990.

While Indian economy has experienced strong growth during this decade, the majority of its people have not been touched by it. Recently, British Minister Alexander contrasted the rapid growth in China with India's economic success - highlighting government figures that showed the number of poor people had dropped in the one-party communist state by 70% since 1990 but had risen in the world's biggest democracy by 5%.

India might be an emerging economic power, but it is way behind Pakistan, Bangladesh and even Afghanistan in providing basic sanitation facilities, a key reason behind the death of 2.1 million children under five in the country.

Lizette Burgers, chief of water and environment sanitation of the Unicef, recently said India is making progress in providing sanitation but it lags behind most of the other countries in South Asia. A former Indian minister Mr Raghuvansh Prasad Singh told the BBC that more than 65% of India's rural population defecated in the open, along roadsides, railway tracks and fields, generating huge amounts of excrement every day.

India needs a decisive and powerful executive to fix the growing problems it faces. An ASEAN model of governance wouldn't be bad for both India and Pakistan.
Anonymous said…
Riaz, what is missing in your argument is that an objective link between democracy and hunger. Also, if you have the courage, you could try to explain my question in my last comment - ie, despite having less than one third of Indian population, one predominant religion, seemingly(according to you) no caste disparity, one language, you are only 5 ranks higher than India. India despite having to support one sixth of humanity, 3 mostly incompatible religion, plethora of castes, 16 official languages scored 66 and you with a much homogeneous society scored a not so far 61!

Also in a country like Pakistan where there is no basic guarantee of life and propoerty, what reliability these numbers have?
Riaz Haq said…
Anon: You talk about no basic guarantee of life and propoerty?

IN India where 2 million children die of hunger each year and another 2.1 million from poor sanitation, it seems ridiculous to even think about any guarantees.

I think you are making excuses for a failed system whose only value is PR value. But people can't live on PR.

India suffers from a legislature filled with criminals and thugs and a geriatric, indecisive leadership.

Pakistan also suffers from corrupt politicians dominating a feudal democracy.

As I have said before, both India and Pakistan need to get a powerful, decisive executive like they had in Indonesia or Malaysia to get ahead of the curve. The alternative is continued suffering and very low rankings on almost all indicators of social and human development that exist in South Asia..among the poorest, least educated parts of the world.
Anonymous said…
Riaz, 2 million children may have died in India. But a similar number of children may have died in Pakistan also, proportional to your population. So what is the point of writing about this as if the defining feature of India is this 2 million children(not the democracy where 417 million people voted without any remarkable violence - something Pakistanis can only dream of) and as if Pakistan is a Germany or Switzerland in the heart of Asia? In India, atleast these poor people don't end up as raw material for suicide bomber factories. Pakistan is probably even poorer. Even after having a homogeneous society built on religious and ethnic chauvinism, you could rank only a paltry 61! And the chaotic India scored 66! If you have a more recent report, India may be even ahead, given the refugee situation in Pakistan. India, as it has internal peace(not anywhere nearly as violent as Pakistan), has a chance of cutting down on poverty in the future. And Pakistan?
Riaz Haq said…

While my point is that BOTH India and Pakistan have serious problems of poverty and much better governance is needed, it seems that you continue to insist that India is better than Pakistan. Well, let me then argue that India is NOT doing better than Pakistan in terms of extreme hunger and abject poverty. In fact the reverse is true. Pakistan is better governed than India.

This is based on all the available data I have shared with you already that you have ignored. Now, let me tell you how the foreign visitors compare the two nations:

"On the ground, of course, the reality is different and first-time visitors to Pakistan are almost always surprised by the country's visible prosperity. There is far less poverty on show in Pakistan than in India, fewer beggars, and much less desperation. In many ways the infrastructure of Pakistan is much more advanced: there are better roads and airports, and more reliable electricity. Middle-class Pakistani houses are often bigger and better appointed than their equivalents in India.
Moreover, the Pakistani economy is undergoing a construction and consumer boom similar to India's, with growth rates of 7%, and what is currently the fastest-rising stock market in Asia. You can see the effects everywhere: in new shopping centers and restaurant complexes, in the hoardings for the latest laptops and iPods, in the cranes and building sites, in the endless stores selling mobile phones: in 2003 the country had fewer than three million cellphone users; today there are almost 50 million."
William Dalrymple
14 August, 2007
The Guardian

"Islamabad is surely the most well-organized,picturesque and endearing city in all of South Asia. Few Indians would, however, know this, or, if they did, would admit it. After all, the Indian media never highlights anything positive about Pakistan, because for it only 'bad' news about the country appears to be considered 'newsworthy'. That realization hit me as a rude shock the moment I stepped out of the plane and entered Islamabad's plush International Airport, easily far more efficient, modern and better maintained than any of its counterparts in India. And right through my week-long stay in the city, I could not help comparing Islamabad favorably with every other South Asian city that I have visited. That week in Islamabad consisted essentially of a long string of pleasant surprises, for I had expected Islamabad to be everything that the Indian media so uncharitably and erroneously depicts Pakistan as. The immigration counter was staffed by a smart young woman, whose endearing cheerfulness was a refreshing contrast to the grave, somber and unwelcoming looks that one is generally met with at immigration counters across the world that make visitors to a new country feel instantly unwelcome."Yoginder Sikand
10 June, 2008

"A little more than six years ago, immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. cities, few sane investment advisers would have recommended Pakistani stocks.
They should have. Their clients could have made a fortune.
Since 2001, the nuclear-armed South Asian country, blamed for spawning generations of Islamic militants and threatening global security, has been making millionaires like newly minted coins.
As Western governments have fretted about Pakistan's nuclear weapons falling into the hands of militants, the Karachi Stock Exchange's main share index has risen more than 10-fold."
Mark Bendeich
Jan 10, 2008

Having traveled to both nations, I personally concur with Dalarymple and Sikand.
Riaz Haq said…
Here's more from today's Financial Times:


India has failed to use a period of high economic growth to lift tens of millions of people out of poverty, falling far short of China’s record in protecting its population from the ravages of chronic hunger, United Nations officials said on Tuesday.

Unicef, the UN’s child development agency, said India, Asia’s third largest economy, had not followed the example of other regional economies such as China, South Korea and Singapore in investing in its people during an economic boom. It said this failure spelled trouble as the global economy deteriorated, while volatile fuel and food prices had already deepened deprivation over the past two years.

The stinging criticism of India’s performance comes only two weeks after the Congress party-led alliance was overwhelmingly voted back into office. Its leaders had campaigned strongly on their achievement of raising India’s economic growth to 9 per cent and boosting rural welfare.

An unfavourable comparison with Beijing’s development record will rile New Delhi. Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister, has argued that the country’s economic development is more durable than that of China because it is forged in a democracy rather than by a one-party state.

In a report on the impact of the global financial crisis on women and children in south Asia, Unicef said that food and fuel price shocks had increased the number of people suffering chronic hunger by 100m to more than 400m people. Of these, 230m are in India, where 76 per cent of the country’s 1.2bn people live on less than $2 a day. Among many households, as much as 80 per cent of income is spent on food, making them highly sensitive to rice and wheat price fluctuations.

Aniruddha Bonnerjee, an economic and social policy consultant for Unicef, said there had been “stagnation” in the fight against malnutrition and that stubbornly high food prices posed a growing threat to poor families. He warned that with India’s growth rates now almost half what they were two years ago, New Delhi would find it more difficult to boost spending on health, education and food to nurture its human capital.

“If there was no progress against malnutrition and hunger when growth was higher, how are you going to do it now?” he asked.

Mr Bonnerjee said some Asian countries had managed to halve poverty over five years during times of high economic growth; India was falling far short of that achievement. Mr Singh’s championing of “inclusive growth” was electioneering and had left large swathes of the population untouched, he said.

Unicef was also critical of high military budgets in the region at the cost of social protection. India is modernising its armed forces and projecting its power more widely than in the past.

“A number of countries in south Asia decide to invest in the military and not to increase investment in their people.” said Daniel Toole, Unicef’s regional director “Budgetary allocations can be more than 10 per cent in the military, while education is only 2 per cent.”
Anonymous said…
"While my point is that BOTH India and Pakistan have serious problems of poverty and much better governance is needed, it seems that you continue to insist that India is better than Pakistan. "

Not completely correct. I only wrote that even if Pakistan has fared slightly better in the arcane report you(and other Pakistanis) seem keen to quote, the difference is only marginal. In terms of abstract numbers, India will have more as it is more than 4 times populous.

"In fact the reverse is true. Pakistan is better governed than India."

You must be seriously kidding or your idea of governance is rather unique than others. Suicide bombings every day, ethnic bigotry in every strife, lack of a nationwide modern school system and political parties completely under the control of either feudal warlods or religious fundamentalists and thugs - if these are the criteria, Pakistan will be number 1 in the world.

What seems to be lost is my question, which you seem not too keen to answer - whether Indian democracy is worth sustainable? For this, the best will be to compare it with its neighbour which took birth on the same year. Let me compare a set of indicators that govern quality of life.

1. Poverty
2. Shelter(incl. sanitation etc.)
3. Education and Jobs
4. Political stability and security
5. Religious freedom
6. Ethnic Tolerance(both in theory and practice)
7. Press freedom

You have been focusing only on 1 and 2 in your comments, as if 3 to 7 does not matter at all. Fine, but even in 1 and 2, even if your report is uptodate and reliable(which I doubt - come on, when Taliban is just miles away from your beautiful Geneva-like Islamabad, who is going to count the number of children who go to bed hungry?), your score of 61 is not far away from India's 66. If you had a score of 40s, I would have seriously considered what could have been the reason. Now, discount the fact that India is a much more complex society, 4 times more populous, have to support conflicting religious and linguistic groups within the frame of a civil society, I am beginning to think that India's 66 is far more respectable!

As for 3, I have no reliable indicator to compare the job situation. But as both countries have huge unorganized sector, it is difficult. But when it comes to education, I can definitely say that India has been better. Here again, you can come with latest Economist cover story which says that only 60% of Indians go to some school, but I would say, it is better than Pakistan where even male literacy is less than 50%, and female literacy even lower.

POints 4 to 7 - I don't want to comment as it is pretty much for everyone to see what works and what doesn't. India and Pak. have always been different in 4 to 7, but only in recent years, the difference is becoming more obvious to Pakistanis and to the rest of the world. The desire to live in Pakistan would be minimal even if you are a male, Pathan, Sunni Muslim, feudal landlord.


A complex analysis of Indian politics and issues(its not just about dying children ;-) even when looked from "affluent" and "well governed" Pakistan)

Tom Friedman on why democracy matters

Complexity of Indian election and a realistic assessment of Indias problems
Riaz Haq said…
Anon: It is often said, "Judge a Society by How It Treats Its Most Vulnerable Members".

By this measure, India has clearly performed worse than almost any other country of the world.

There is nothing more basic than food for the poor and hungry children. According to economist Amartya Sen, who won the Nobel Prize for his work on hunger, India has fared worse than any other country in the world at preventing recurring hunger.

In the context of unprecedented economic growth (9-10 percent annually) and national food security, over 60 percent of Indian children are wasted, stunted, underweight or a combination of the above. As a result, India ranks number 62 along with Bangladesh at 67 in the PHI (Poverty Hunger Index)ranking out of a total of 81 countries. Both nations are included among the low performing countries in progress towards MDG1 (Millennium Development Goals) with countries such as Nepal (number 58), Ethiopia (number 60), or Zimbabwe (number 74).

Pakistan ranks well ahead of India at 45 and it is included in the medium performing countries. PHI is a new composite indicator – the Poverty and Hunger Index (PHI) – developed to measure countries’ performance towards achieving MDG1 on halving poverty and hunger by 2015. The PHI combines all five official MDG1 indicators, including a) the proportion of population living on less than US$ 1/day, b) poverty gap ratio, c) share of the poorest quintile in national income or consumption, d) prevalence of underweight in children under five years of age, and d) the proportion of population undernourished.
Anonymous said…
"Anon: It is often said, "Judge a Society by How It Treats Its Most Vulnerable Members".

By this measure, India has clearly performed worse than almost any other country of the world."

Alright, I know that Pakistan has a reputation of handling the weaker sections of the society with particular respect and equality. OK, For sarcasm challenged, the most vulnerable in any society are ethnic and religious minorities and women. Pakistan can't even pretend that it has treated these 2 categories with any fairness, let alone equal rights. Ask any Sikh, Hindu or Ahmadi Muslim or any other disadvantaged ethnic minority in Pakistan or any of the women's families who have been honour killed. Not only that they have been ill treated to the point of extinction, this ill treatment is institutionalized both by the constitution and also the tribal mindset of the people which according to you are well governed.

As for poverty statistics, probably here we have a country richer than India - but if you open TV, all you see is people fighting in refugee camp for one loaf of bread and prime minister of that country making veiled threat that unless the world bails out his "well governed" nation, he will unleash terrorists. This country is remarkably well nourished, but to sustain this nourishment, we need regular foreign aid obtained by using terrorism as a bargain. Maybe in 10 years, we would be reading another report saying how Pakistani model of hunger reduction can be followed by other nations in Asia..
Er.Batish said…
Dear Riaz,

It was very nice to read your ideas regarding INDIAN Democracy as i'm also having
same interests and running a blog "DeReformer - Democracy needs to be Reformed". Purpose of Blog DeReformer is as an imitative for the dreamland India to get back its that glory, it had some times before, the Gauri and Gaznavi’s loot of my country, when our artesian is treated the best even amongst the developed nations, which is perhaps possible if we all are united and committed to do everything for the betterment of our country with enthusiasm and dedication, if we have respect, love and care for our nation. It is possible only when we keep our eye and ears open for every omission and commission on the part of our co-citizens, bad elements amongst our society and make them realize and apologies to our nation for their acts.Folks can subscribe to my blog by Email as well right from here. I'll appreciate if you would visit me and leave your valueable comments.
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Riaz Haq said…
Here's a BBC report on homeless deaths from cold in India:

Scores die in India every year, being ill-equipped to deal with extreme cold.

Estimates of the number of dead vary from 25 to 100 but these figures cannot be confirmed at present.

Fog in central Punjab region in neighbouring Pakistan has also shut down highways and affected railway and flight schedules.

A number of people have been injured in some minor accidents due to fog on Monday morning, the BBC's M Ilyas Khan says.

Intense cold

Heavy fog and a cold wave have disrupted life across northern India with temperatures dropping to zero degree Celsius in several places, including the city of Amritsar in Punjab.

Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh are among the northern states which have been hit by intensely cold weather.

In Uttar Pradesh, scores of homeless people have died after being exposed to the intense cold.

The victims were mostly poor people who were sleeping on the streets or out in the open.

There are few homeless shelters in Indian cities and towns and although the authorities have distributed blankets and firewood, their efforts have been inadequate in the face of the extreme cold, says the BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi.

Poor visibility because of dense fog has also affected rail and air traffic in the region with several flights and trains cancelled, leaving tens of thousands of passengers stranded.

On Saturday, the fog caused two separate train accidents in Uttar Pradesh leaving 10 people dead and nearly 50 injured.
Riaz Haq said…
Here's David Brooks' New York Times' column on inadequacy of democracy in solving problems:

The people who pioneered democracy in Europe and the United States had a low but pretty accurate view of human nature. They knew that if we get the chance, most of us will try to get something for nothing. They knew that people generally prize short-term goodies over long-term prosperity. So, in centuries past, the democratic pioneers built a series of checks to make sure their nations wouldn’t be ruined by their own frailties.

The American founders did this by decentralizing power. They built checks and balances to frustrate and detain the popular will. They also dispersed power to encourage active citizenship, hoping that as people became more involved in local government, they would develop a sense of restraint and responsibility.

In Europe, by contrast, authority was centralized. Power was held by small coteries of administrators and statesmen, many of whom had attended the same elite academies where they were supposed to learn the art and responsibilities of stewardship. Under the parliamentary system, voters didn’t even get to elect their leaders directly. They voted for parties, and party elders selected the ones who would actually form the government, often through secret means.

Though the forms were different, the democracies in Europe and the United States were based on a similar carefully balanced view of human nature: People are naturally selfish and need watching. But democratic self-government is possible because we’re smart enough to design structures to police that selfishness.

James Madison put it well: “As there is a degree of depravity in mankind, which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust: So there are other qualities in human nature, which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence.”

But, over the years, this balanced wisdom was lost. Leaders today do not believe their job is to restrain popular will. Their job is to flatter and satisfy it. A gigantic polling apparatus has developed to help leaders anticipate and respond to popular whims. Democratic politicians adopt the mind-set of marketing executives. Give the customer what he wants. The customer is always right.--------
Western democratic systems were based on a balance between self-doubt and self-confidence. They worked because there were structures that protected the voters from themselves and the rulers from themselves. Once people lost a sense of their own weakness, the self-doubt went away and the chastening structures were overwhelmed. It became madness to restrain your own desires because surely your rivals over yonder would not be restraining theirs.

This is one of the reasons why Europe and the United States are facing debt crises and political dysfunction at the same time. People used to believe that human depravity was self-evident and democratic self-government was fragile. Now they think depravity is nonexistent and they take self-government for granted.

Neither the United States nor the European model will work again until we rediscover and acknowledge our own natural weaknesses and learn to police rather than lionize our impulses.
Riaz Haq said…
A billion people were lifted from abject poverty between 1980 and 2010. China accounts for nearly three quarters of these, or 680 million people brought out of misery, by reducing its extreme-poverty rate from 84% in 1980 to 10% now, according to a report in The Economist. The report adds that with "poorer governance in India and Africa, the next two targets, means that China’s experience is unlikely to be swiftly replicated there".

As China's share of the world's extreme poor (living below $1.25 per day per person level) has dramatically declined, India's share has significantly increased. India now contributes 33% (up from 22 % in 1981). While the extreme poor in Sub-Saharan Africa represented only 11 percent of the world’s total in 1981, they now account for 34% of the world’s extreme poor, and China comes next contributing 13 percent (down from 43 percent in 1981), according to the World Bank report titled State of the Poor.

The share of poverty in South Asia region excluding India has slightly increased from 7% in 1981 to 9% now, according to the report.
Riaz Haq said…
A 2010 UMich study found that misinformed people exposed to corrected facts rarely changed their minds:

It’s one of the great assumptions underlying modern democracy that an informed citizenry is preferable to an uninformed one. “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1789. This notion, carried down through the years, underlies everything from humble political pamphlets to presidential debates to the very notion of a free press. Mankind may be crooked timber, as Kant put it, uniquely susceptible to ignorance and misinformation, but it’s an article of faith that knowledge is the best remedy. If people are furnished with the facts, they will be clearer thinkers and better citizens. If they are ignorant, facts will enlighten them. If they are mistaken, facts will set them straight.

In the end, truth will out. Won’t it?

Maybe not. Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

This bodes ill for a democracy, because most voters — the people making decisions about how the country runs — aren’t blank slates. They already have beliefs, and a set of facts lodged in their minds. The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. And in the presence of the correct information, such people react very, very differently than the merely uninformed. Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper.

“The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong,” says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon — known as “backfire” — is “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”

These findings open a long-running argument about the political ignorance of American citizens to broader questions about the interplay between the nature of human intelligence and our democratic ideals. Most of us like to believe that our opinions have been formed over time by careful, rational consideration of facts and ideas, and that the decisions based on those opinions, therefore, have the ring of soundness and intelligence. In reality, we often base our opinions on our beliefs, which can have an uneasy relationship with facts. And rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions. Worst of all, they can lead us to uncritically accept bad information just because it reinforces our beliefs. This reinforcement makes us more confident we’re right, and even less likely to listen to any new information. And then we vote.
Riaz Haq said…
Commentary on India's regional and identity politics:

Unlike the United States, where state electorates divide themselves relatively neatly into Reds and Blues, Indian states have their own idiosyncratic grouping of both national and regional political parties. The Indian Congress Party and the BJP, the two principal national parties, exert influence nationwide, but their power has waned in recent decades in favor of regional parties. These parties generally represent certain caste, linguistic, ethnic or class groups, groups which themselves are often uniquely in a particular state.

Indeed, India has rarely demonstrated a pan-Indian, national voting pattern, except when a single emotive issue develops momentum, such as in the sympathy vote following the 1984 assassination of Indira Gandhi. In general, past elections have tended to turn on local issues and identity politics. While a few national issues such as inflation, anti-incumbency and national security are consistently of concern for many Indian voters nationwide, they have tended to play a secondary role in determining how citizens actually vote. Local politics are still the name of the game in India; and, unfortunately for the pollsters, Indian local politics are extremely hard to predict.

This predominance of local politics, local issues and local parties, has given each of the 543 Indian parliamentary constituencies its own distinctive political color. Since national polling is most accurate when a survey sample can serve as a statistically meaningful representation of the national whole, and because India’s constituencies are so diverse and cast their votes for such different reasons, it makes a proper sample incredibly difficult to construct.

To account for the diversity in the electorate, polls must be taken in most – if not all – of the 543 constituencies. This is extremely expensive and generally unworkable. Constituencies in India are also numerically huge (most have more than a million people) and often physically challenging for poll-takers to access. But technology is not a panacea for the pollsters: despite India’s rapidly growing telecommunications and Internet industries, the vast majority of Indians still live without phone or Internet access.

This lack of communications infrastructure has made face-to-face, door-to-door surveying the preferred method of polling. Agencies send data collectors personally to survey village and city halls, bazaars and town courtyards, schools and universities. Unsurprisingly, this method is not the most efficient or cost-effective way to do polling.

To get a meaningful number of interviews, in a majority of constituencies, a polling agency would need to employ a virtual army of pollsters. But because no single polling agency in India has the manpower or the funds to do meaningful door-to-door polling in a majority of constituencies, polling agencies must extrapolate data from one constituency to another; or, in some cases, to extrapolate data from a few constituencies to forecast an entire state. Agencies examine the socioeconomic composition of a constituency, look at the castes and religious communities represented, and use the data from that area to calculate and predict the results for another location with similar demographics. But since each area has its own distinctive set of issues and parties, extrapolation of data based exclusively on caste or socio-economic considerations is bound to be flawed on a larger scale.
Riaz Haq said…
From NY Times on the role of money in Indian elections:

This is the new world of Indian elections, where costs have soared in recent years; overall spending this cycle is expected to reach $5 billion, second only to the amount spent on the 2012 presidential election in the United States. This increase has a number of causes, and far-reaching consequences.

First, as India’s population has grown, so too has the size of its political constituencies. The average parliamentary constituency in 1951-52, when India held its first post-independence election, had roughly 350,000 voters; today that figure stands at 1.5 million. More voters mean more money spent on outreach and handouts.

Second, elections have become more competitive. In 2009, when India last held national elections, the average margin of victory in a parliamentary contest was 9.7 percent, the thinnest since independence. Candidates in close races have become locked in an arms race of campaign spending.

Third, the scope of elections has broadened. Thanks to constitutional amendments in the early 1990s that established new tiers of village and town governments, India went from having some 4,000 elected positions to nearly three million virtually overnight. Funds must be raised for every rung on the political ladder.

Fourth, since 1971, when Indira Gandhi called an early national election, state and national election cycles have been uncoupled. As a consequence, parties and politicians must collect money more frequently while contributors can no longer get away with a one-shot gift for all elections.

Finally, Indian voters expect more handouts as parties compete to outdo one another with costly pre-election “gifts.” This practice is, of course, explicitly forbidden yet routinely pursued. Gifts range from the obvious (cash and liquor) to the surreal (opium paste or bricks for home construction).
One evening in Andhra Pradesh, I asked a candidate from the Y.S.R. Congress Party whether the huge expenses he was incurring would be worth it. He paused, and then said that he did not know: “If I am lucky enough to win, next time, I’ll need even more money. How does one remain honest and succeed in politics in this country?”
Riaz Haq said…
How to Get Away With Murder in Small-Town #India? #bribe #vote #caste #politics #democracy #justice #misogyny

PEEPLI KHERA, India — On my last week in India, I went to say goodbye to Jahiruddin Mewati, the chief of a small village where I had made a dozen or so reporting trips.

Jahiruddin and I were not precisely friends, but we had spent many hours talking over the years, mostly about local politics. I found him entirely without scruples but candid. He suspected my motives but found me entertaining, in the way that a talking dog might be entertaining, without regard for the particulars of what I said.

Jahiruddin, though uneducated, was an adept politician, fresh from winning a hard-fought local election. During our conversations, he would often break into rousing, patriotic speeches about truth and justice, thumping the plastic table in emphasis and making it jump. The effect was somewhat tarnished by his Tourette’s syndrome, which caused him to interject the word “penis” at regular intervals.

He was frank about the dirty aspects of his job. He occupied a post reserved for women from lower castes, but no one pretended this was any more than a sham; his wife’s name appeared on the ballot, but the face on the poster was his.

Nearly everything he did in local government was transactional, driven by the desire to secure the votes of minuscule family and caste groups. The funny thing was, it seemed to be working pretty well.


Geeta’s husband — a slight man named Mukesh — stood above Geeta, who was slumped on the side of a rope cot, and brought the stick down on her head several more times. She died on the spot.

What bothered Anjum, she said, was that the police had been contacted about the killing but almost immediately closed their investigation, releasing Mukesh after a few hours.


This was not because he (Jaheeruddin Mewati) believed that Geeta deserved to die or that her husband deserved to escape punishment. It was something more practical. Mukesh’s extended family controlled 150 votes; Jahiruddin had won his last election by 91. A murder case would have been a blot on their caste, and by brokering the cover-up, he had performed a particularly valuable service to a key vote bank. It might help him win re-election someday.

“In India, there is no vote in the name of development,” he said. “In India, there is no vote in the name of doing something good. The vote is in the name of caste, family, community. And then 10 percent of people will say, ‘He did something good for me.’”

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