need to communicate is fundamental to human nature. One only
has to look at the explosive growth of cellphones to see the
tangible manifestation of this.
In a democratic society where freedom of speech is an inalienable
right, social discourse is the very vehicle for the airing,
discussing and resolving the issues of development and growth.
Indeed, the absence of it results in the very opposite.
Thus it is absolutely critical that not only members of Parliament
but also all social institutions and individuals be actively
involved in discussions pertaining to the well-being of the
nation. It is the essence of democracy. It cannot and should
not be a once-every-five-year-event. Democracy is a way of
life, an every-day practice.
Hindu culture engrains an ethos of democracy in that it does
not lay down inflexible dogmas and edicts. It encourages questioning
and dialogue, for only through dialogue can informed decision-making
be implemented. It is an ancient and time-honoured tradition.
At the village level, the panchayat system of collective discussion
among the elders was the mechanism for resolving disputes
and dealing with new challenges.
In the Ramayan, Lord Ram, king of the prosperous and powerful
kingdom of Ayodhya, told his subjects that they were free
to disagree with him but he would appreciate it if the reasons
for so doing were indicated to him.
Dialogue with leaders and citizens constitute the very essence
of the highest democratic ideals.
Indeed, the pursuance of this principle was the rationale
for Hindu kings of yore disguising themselves and mixing freely
with the population so as to obtain a firsthand view, as opposed
to a filtered one presented by advisers, of the state of affairs
of the nation.
This is something modern leaders, worldwide, should emulate.
In developing societies, I think it should be recommended
practice for at least one day of the year. It would help to
improve the governance process.
It bespeaks well of our society that more and more NGOs and
citizens are engaging themselves in the social discourse.
This must be encouraged and fostered. The ultimate goal of
development is the empowerment of every citizen to air his
views and to include them in the decision-making process.
In fact, it is the implementation of this very idea by Japanese
manufacturers which allowed them to manufacture world class
products post World War II. They democratised the decision-making
process to include the factory floor, the so-called quality
circle concept. Simply put, they moved away from the
practice that the workers who actually made the products had
nothing to contribute to final quality of the product.
Quality is enhanced if every worker (designer, engineer, production
supervisor, floor hand etc) contributed to the quality of
the product and therefore the input of everyone was important.
This practice is taken even further now by manufacturers who
include customers in their design loop for new products. So
now even hard-nosed manufacturers have come to recognise the
value of the average man, and rightly so, for it is to him
(and yes her also) the product is targeted.
Development is thus enhanced when the collective wisdom and
views of all strata of society are considered. In small societies
this is even more critical in that the resource pool tends
to be limited and therefore to ignore or sideline opposing
views, on considerations other than intrinsic merit, puts
in jeopardy the whole process of sustained development.
One may postulate that people may be arguing for the sole
purpose of opposing or that people are unable to visualise
the particular scenario being proposed.
In the case of the former, by clearly stating the case most
people would dismiss the opposing views if they are spurious.
In the case of the latter, the value of the particular vision
must be clearly articulated to convince the sceptics.
If the majority cannot be convinced then their views must
be respected. It is the underpinning of free societies.
This leads to the very difficult and tricky question as to
who constitutes the majority in the case of divided opinion.
One can always get a sense as to what the majority of citizens
feel and act accordingly. Clearly, for really contentious
issues a formal process is to be preferred.
This brings us to the use of referendums. Whilst acknowledging
that we cannot have a referendum for everything, most would
agree that there should be the mechanism for invoking one.
The trigger for this can either be through defined parliamentary
processes or through the use of a minimum number of signatures
from the public. Whichever mechanism is to be implemented,
we need to urgently adopt one.
In most elections here, at least one-third of the population
generally does not vote. It would be interesting to see if
this one-third might be more motivated to act on specific
issues, as would be the case of a referendum. In any event,
the way forward requires greater participation of every citizen
at both the local and national levels.
If, as we say, our greatest resource is our human resource,
then is it not paradoxical that the entirety of that resource
is not mobilised in the processes that have the most significant
impact of the future of the country?
Talk is the mechanism for expressing thought. Dialogue is
the best mechanism for determining what all sides think. The
way forward does not necessarily require unanimity but it
certainly does require consensus.
* Prof Prakash Persad is chairman of Swaha Inc