- "Our democracy is under stress," says Stanford Law School Professor Nathaniel Persily
- "We haven't created conditions necessary for successful democracy," - Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan
O.P. Jindal Global University (JGU) in association with Stanford University, USA hosted 'Law of Democracy - India Field Study', a joint exercise offering an exciting exploration of the legal, political and social constructions of the Indian and American democracies from 26th of March - April 1, 2017. The programme was conducted under the auspices of the Centre for Post Graduate Legal Studies at the Jindal Global Law School.
The wide canvas of democratic elections, means that it embraces normative enquiries into meanings and modes of representation as well as policy debates over campaign finance, corruption and criminalization of politics. Given that democratic politics is not autonomous of law, this joint programme on election law and practice intends to gather insight into an interdisciplinary and comparative conversation about the mechanics of world's two largest democracies - India and the United States.
In order to understand and fathom the many intricacies in context of the Indian democratic system, the students from Stanford Law School visited various institutions like the Election Commission, Supreme Court of India, Delhi High Court and Delhi High Court Mediation and Conciliation Centre, Ministry of Law and Justice and Law Commission of India, Parliament, Rashtrapati Bhavan and attended intense interactive sessions with judges, officials and government functionaries.
As a part of the programme, Professor Benjamin L. Ginsberg, Stanford Lecturer, Partner, Jones Day Law Firm at Indian Law Institute delivered a distinguished Public Lecture on 'The Trump Administration to Date and What to Expect in the Future'. He said, "Trump considers social media as an enemy, a rival in the United States. We have seen a change in the way political agenda gets set every day. Of course, if you live by the tweet you can get burnt by the tweet."
"People in the United States and around the world have two very different views of Donald Trump. From the Trump administration side, they believe that they are historic and are really fighting to put in place the much needed changes, they believe they are off to the best start in the history of any presidency. In case you do not like Donald Trump, you are likely to see the distractions, immigration bans, the fights that he has picked with US senators and retailers," he further added.
Professor (Dr.) C Raj Kumar, Founding Vice-Chancellor, JGU, in his opening address at a conference on 'The Laws and Lives of Democracies', a part of the joint exercise, held at JGU on Day 4 observed that the programme in its entirety is crucial in helping develop an understanding of the functioning of the world's largest democracy.
Prof. Raj Kumar defining the India experience to the Stanford Law students remarked, "India is one of those countries where after you visit, you are never the same again. It is one of those countries where contradictions, contrasts and complexities are a part of the Indian experience. This conference will give a sense of some challenges and issues we face as a democracy and what we as a democracy are planning to address."
Describing the conference as opportune and relevant, Professor Nathaniel Persily, James B, McClatchy Professor of Law, Stanford Law School remarked, "Our democracy is under stress. The issues that we talk about here in terms of the voting rights, representations, the campaigns finance, corruption, access are ones that are continuously being debated in the United States."
Elaborating on the experiences gathered from various field visits, Prof. Persily said, "We have already learnt an enormous amount from our meetings with various Supreme Court justices and visiting other institutions here in India. We know we have a lot to learn and in some ways you learn even more about your own country when you have something to compare it to."
Expounding the theme of the seminar, Prof. Dabiru Sridhar Patnaik, Director, Centre for Post Graduate Legal Studies said, "The seminar is part of the joint programme on Law of Democracy - India: Field Study that covers all the three pillars of Indian Democracy to understand the process of law making, law implementation and interpretation in India and the varied legal and policy challenges that Indian Democracy faces. So the seminar is an idea to invite multidisciplinary and comparative perspectives on laws and lives of democracies in India and USA to develop awareness, knowledge and critical thinking on the issues and challenges in India and US on matters of elections, representation and accountability."
Delivering the keynote address on 'Dreaming Democratic Decentralization: On What it Takes to Represent Cities and Villages', Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan, Founder, Loksatta Party and General Secretary of Foundation of Democratic Reforms praised the Indian democratic structure for sustaining itself over the years despite being a nation vast in its diversity. "The fact that there has been peaceful transfer of power in the country, perhaps the only country in the post Second World War era to have built a successful federalism structure, and its actually getting better, the fact that the world's most complex multi-lingual nation could somehow handle the issue of language harmoniously, all these are wonderful tributes to democracy."
However, he disparaged the asymmetry of institutional power which has been a deterrent in establishing a successful democracy in the country, "Now there is an increasing dependence on 'super men', the big leaders, the messiahs. In these days of social media there is a desperate hunger for success and leadership and therefore, we want to achieve miracles, quick fixes by dramatic flourishes and few gestures. It may be demonetization here or some other slogan, but it doesn't solve anything. It is the curse of centralization, the moment you centralize in a vast country, like ours, all your hopes on one human being on a national or state level and nobody else matters."
Calling for repairing the fractures in the Indian democratic structure, Dr. Narayan added, "If you take the initial conditions of Indian democracy and impose the universal adult franchise on that without correcting the initial distortions in society which are not hospitable to democracy, it's mathematically inevitable that we land where we are in India today. It's not because India is unfit for democracy, it's not because some other society is more fit. It's because we haven't created conditions necessary for successful democracy."
The joint programme also had an illuminating lecture by Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha. He spoke about the fickle nature of Indian voters and the challenges faced by political parties, "In the US house of representatives, the re-election rate is 92% over the last 30 years, and if you look at India's lower house, the house that I belong to, the re-election rate is 26% over the last 25 years. So the voters are incredibly demanding and they change their minds every 5 years, and it becomes a particular challenge to work for change in the midst of all this at a time when a majority of your voters live of less than $2 a day, while you are trying to bring about far reaching changes in the society."
The five-day joint programme consisted of a diverse range of thinkers and practitioners to reflect on democratic processes, election laws and institutional design and the panellists employed a range of methods - historical, comparative, sociological, political, philosophical, legal and empirical - to explore challenges in the theory and practice of democracy. This programme was part of an evolving research agenda between partner institutions of JGU and is expected to be a melting pot of ideas on democracy and its institutions and likely to determine the course of future discussions and debate on the subject.