Democracy: A Voyage

Anadi Naik

Both South Africa and India share a lot of things in common. It was in South Africa where Gandhiji began his experiment with truth. It was there where the need for India’s freedom was seeded in the mind of the future Mahatma. The Government of India, after freedom, was always opposed to apartheid and at the UN it repeatedly denounced the system. The leading political entity of South Africa, the African National Congress was modeled after India’s own leading political Party the Indian National Congress. Therefore, South African activists against apartheid got a lot of support from their Indian brethren.

Jayaprakash Narayan often used to say that it was India’s misfortune to have lost Gandhiji soon after its independence. Leaders like Lenin or Mao Zedong were there to guide their people after bringing in their new systems. In that sense South Africa was lucky. In India’s case Gandhiji was taken away too soon. In spite of all its failures and shortcomings democracy in India today is alive and well. In the case of South Africa Nelson Mandela was its popularly elected post-apartheid President. He tried to guide his country in a direction that he saw necessary. However, he could not solve all the problems. Issues like high unemployment, economic disparity and race relations are complicated ones and they need to be tackled skillfully.

The progress of a movement does not run in a straight line. Looking at India one could say that. Gandhiji’s ideal of communal unity could not save the people of India from suffering communal frenzies from time to time. He had advised as his last Will and Testament for the Congress Party to dismantle itself. He had wanted the Party workers to become servants of the people and continue working for the betterment of Indian villages. That did not happen. The Congress party became India’s ruling Party and its members became a kind of ruling class. Eventually, most of them became enmeshed in corruption. In the life of a ruling Party such a thing happens all the time. When the Congress Party gained power in India, the culture of corruption became prevalent everywhere in the country. So, protests against it became common place. Over the years different groups and individuals tried to dislodge the Congress party from power. They succeeded briefly. The newcomers behaved like their predecessors and were discarded by voters. In recent weeks, it seems that the pendulum is swinging away from the Congress party. Ordinary folks are looking for an alternative. The Aam Aadmi’s Party has done a tremendous job in bringing down the Congress party in New Delhi. But is it enough to change the country?

In a similar vein when Nelson Mandela became the president of South Africa he raised a lot of hope. A tide of rising expectation in the hearts and minds of millions of oppressed South Africans came crashing during his rule. For them the charisma of Nelson Mandela was not enough. His administration suffered from the same deficiency that many others did. Building a nation and ruling a country are two different things. In this case Mandela was no exception. The Party he built and the men who struggled along with him did not necessarily follow his ideals nor necessarily share his anguish. There existed the gulf between the visionary and those for whom he envisioned. It is said that democracy is not a port but a voyage. It has plenty of room for improvement. Through rolling and pitching it chugs ahead in an uncharted ocean. What we see in South Africa or India today – a culture of corruption, high unemployment, and discord among various groups – is the symbol of demi se of the old order without a replacement. Yet, it is freedom that rings.

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