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April 4, 2018

A tale of two ‘democracies’


April 4, 2018

We have justifiably taken pride in our march towards building representative institutions; developing systems that are a product of complex human experiences; and organising societies marked by moral, political and economic imperatives.

The evolution of human thought has served as a building block for these endeavours that seek to put the welfare of people before all vested interests. The journey towards forming collective institutions that are capable of assimilating the aspirations of the people has not been without its pitfalls and challenges.

Those with the distinct intellectual capacities have played their part in nudging this process. They have awakened a desire for a transformation triggered by a growing restlessness with the status quo and instilled a passion to pursue larger goals that are essentially pegged to the morality of human existence. As a result, it has taken people a combination of various factors, historical experience with different models of governance and, above all, the need for overall public welfare to lead the quest for a democratic model.

Though it is universally acknowledged as the best available system, democracy has many detractors who do not always believe it as an instrument that seeks the greater good of the majority. Their precise contention is that, given the complexity of modern-day nation-states, democracy may appear to be republican in nature. However, it is a handmaiden of powerful interest groups that use it to extract maximum advantages for the small power cliques.

The West, which has been a fervent proponent of democracy and a free world assisted by the domination of capitalism, has presented democracy as a system that is superior to any other arrangement and capable of steering the world out of its socioeconomic and moral dilemmas. This explains why spreading democracy to the unenlightened and ignorant parts of the world has been a white man’s burden in the post-World War II global order and through the entire period of the cold war.

While Francis Fukuyama may have interpreted the collapse of communism as the “end of history” and the beginning of a new era of human progress informed by the dominance of the free market economy, liberal democracy and rule of law, the fact remains that once it was left unchecked with virtually no counter-narrative, the Western model of liberal democracy emerged as another way of perpetuating socioeconomic divides. It also gave the political elite a fig leaf through which it can hide human exploitation, suffering and grave human rights violations.

The rise of popular nationalism across Europe and North America can only be explained in terms of the crisis of liberal democracy as a universal idea of human good. This nationalism – far-right, aggressive and divisive in its tone and tenor – has undermined the deeply cherished values of tolerance, pluralism and empathy for humanity. These values have served as the bedrock of the Western way of life for a long time. Therefore, it wouldn’t be wrong to argue that liberal democracy is confronted with the largest crisis of morality in the present times.

This historical perspective of democratic growth is essential to understand the recent events – barbaric, inhuman and utterly disgusting – that occurred in Palestine and Indian Occupied Kashmir whereby dozens of people who were peacefully protesting for their fundamental rights were killed in cold blood.

This tale of so-called democracies, wherein India prides itself on being the largest democracy in the world and Israel is dubbed as the only democracy in the Middle East, is sordid and deeply agonising. A true democracy is all about protecting fundamental rights – with the right to life being the foremost – and accommodating diverse viewpoints through the arrangement of consensus-building.

The Israeli action against a group of peaceful Palestinian protesters, who took to the streets of Gaza to demand their right to return to their land on Land Day, left close to two dozen people dead and over 1,400 others injured. Live bullets were fired by Israeli snipers along the Palestine-Israel border.

The search for a two-state solution, which was proposed by the Oslo Accords, lost its direction and momentum a long time ago. However, a semblance of this was destroyed when US President Donald Trump announced his decision to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The announcement drew widespread international condemnation and gnawed at America’s role as an honest peace broker.

Not to be left behind, India – a country that considers itself to be a strategic ally of Israel and whose prime minister had employed the art of charm offensives to perfection during his last trip to Tel Aviv – took a leaf from the Israeli book when it mowed down 20 Kashmiris in what could be described as a fresh surge of violence in the occupied valley.

A few similarities cannot be overlooked in understanding the recent events in Palestine and Indian Occupied Kashmir. First, what cements the bilateral relationship between New Delhi and Tel Aviv is the patronage provided by Washington, which acts as a patron-in-chief and is the largest supporter and promoter of the interests of both countries. Israel is the largest recipient of civil and military aid from America. The avowed commitment to the security and stability of Israel is a common refrain in the speeches of presidential candidates who try to outdo each other in promising all-out support to Tel Aviv once they make it to the White House. The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) provides an institutional mechanism of the ever-widening scope of deep engagement between Washington and Tel Aviv at the strategic level.

Second, the India-US romance has its roots in the Vision 2000 document that was signed by both countries during former president Bill Clinton’s nine-day tour of New Delhi. The document laid the foundation of extensive cooperation in political, military and civil nuclear fields. The geo-strategic and economic threats posed by the peaceful rise of China as the second-largest global economy and paramount military power have further brought Washington and New Delhi together. India continues to be a principal actor for wider American interests in Afghanistan and South Asia as a whole.

The gross human rights violations in both Palestine and Kashmir can be attributed to the America’s unwavering backing of its partners. The template in the unilateral global order is that when the US is not moved by human sufferings, the world looks the other way.

It is here that the liberal democracy championed by the US and its Western allies has shown itself to be inadequate and unresponsive in dealing with human tragedies which have happened elsewhere. The silence that the world community has maintained in the case of Indian Occupied Kashmir and Palestine is criminal to say the least. It reflects double standards and the selective use of the ‘morality’ argument.

A system that is not connected with morality is poised for decline. It is only a question of time when the process of disintegration starts. As a result, a moral purpose is the be all and end all of all human existence. It explains why Palestinians and Kashmiris, despite being on the receiving end of the mightiest military powers, continue to remain ascendant and resilient. They have moral purpose and a deep sense of conviction on their side. Can Israel and India go against the lesson of history?

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