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Reflections on the future of Indian democracy posted by Dipesh Chakrabarty It is difficult to be completely impersonal about what happened in Mumbai

last w eek. Some friends lost their near and dear ones to the mindless bullets of murde rous terrorists. An old acquaintance from college escaped with his life from the Taj Hotel, having been deprived of food and drink for all the time the siege wa s on. Watching a Muslim taxi-driver on Indian television describe in heart-rendi ng terms how he lost members of his family at the Chhatrapati Shivaji (Railway) Terminus to assassins, who presumably thought that they were fighting for the ca use of Muslims, was enough to remind anyone that this mayhem was not about relig ious differences or the struggles of the Kashmiri people for a just political fu ture. This was indeed terrorism, an attempt to wield fear as a political weapon by killing innocent and unsuspecting people in large numbers. It was, like all a cts of terror, whether carried out by groups or states, a crime against humanity . To say this is not to deny the many long-term problems that can cause partisan i re in the subcontinent. To be sure, Kashmir is a problem that bears on Hindu-Mus lim tension in the region and urgently needs to be addressed, but this will not happen overnight. True, India needs to work with people and officials in Pakista n who are also against terror, for it is important to foil any attempts to cause friction between India and Pakistan. But much depends on Pakistan being able to mobilize a political will to engage merchants of death such as the Lashkar-e-Ta iba (one does not know of similar groups in India bent on producing destruction and mayhem in the neighboring country). It is also true that the politics of hat red and division promoted by the BJP or Shiv Sena weaken the Indian nation by al ienating minorities. But this again is a long-term problem: so long as there are effective votes in these divisive sentiments, political parties are not going t o abstain from using them. The most recent Mumbai tragedy points to a general way in which some of the nega tive effects of globalization are changing the nature of democracies in the twen tieth century. Given the diverse global tensions in the world terrorism, economicenvironmental crises, and civil wars that dislocate populations democratic states will increasingly tend to develop a strong security aspect in the coming decades . The violence in Mumbai was perceptibly different from the terrorist violence t hat India has seen before. This time the terrorists themselves wanted to create a global event. Their targets included many ordinary Indians, but also the internati onal elite that patronizes the most well-known hotels of Mumbai, itself the most global city in India. Their technology and targets were global witness their use of a Voice over Internet Protocol system to keep in touch with their masters in Pakistan, and their deliberate targeting of a small Jewish community from overse as. Thanks to this orgy of violence, Indian democracy has now, sadly, been usher ed into a major debate of the twenty-first century: should democratic states bec ome security-states as well? Security measures are, of course, no substitute for the political processes needed to heal rifts between countries and communities. But they cannot be ignored either. The terrorists have already threatened to re peat in Delhi what they did in Bombay. How could India ignore questions of secur ity in the lackadaisical way it has so far? This immediately raises two challenges. One is related to questions of democracy in general. The prospect of a security state understandably and rightly concern s rights-activists. Yet it is clear that, given the globalization of all major p roblems of the world, one of the great debates of this century will be about lib erty of individuals versus security of populations. In the developed countries t oday, it is hard to distinguish measures adopted to fend off terrorist attacks f rom the politics of refugees and illegal immigration. Realistically, I cannot see how liberal-democratic nations can now avoid demands about their citizens right t o security, and balance this against other rights. Of course, the balance cannot be decided in any a priori fashion, which is why it always should be open to de

bate with reference to specific contexts. There is, besides, the very important question of ensuring that the pursuit of security does not become a tool for opp ression of and discrimination against minorities or immigrants. But the globaliz ation of this debate is what marks our times. One now expects this debate to gai n further momentum in India. The second challenge, in this context, arises from deep within the history of In dian politics and is peculiar to India to some extent. To have an effective cor don sanitaire against terror would require India to inject a degree of efficienc y, alertness, and performance into an administrative apparatus that simply has n ot delivered on these scores for decades. For many interesting historical reason s (that need not detain us here), government and public institutions in India gr adually ceased to be effective deliverers of goods and services, beginning in th e 1970's. There is much that democracy in India has achieved, including the famo us overturning of the autocratic Emergency Rule that Mrs. Gandhi once imposed an d the sense of participation many low-caste communities have in the country s gove rnmental institutions. But democracy in India has also become predominantly a me ans of electoral empowerment of different groups low-castes, dalits, minorities, o r even majoritarian Hindus who claim to have been weakened by the privileges accorde d to minorities. The growth of this politics of identity has made elections into the mainstay of Indian democracy. It has distanced politics from issues of governance, and has g one hand in hand with a deepening degree of corruption, financial and otherwise, on the part of politicians and officials. A large number of the elected members of parliament have criminal cases pending against them, and media reports sugge st an elephantine, unaccountable, inefficient bureaucracy mired in the self-indu lgent use of resources (corruption and inefficiency often going together). There was, as last week s events made clear, no effective coast guard force on the Indi an seas, in spite of the government having been warned of possible terror attack s on Mumbai from the sea. When the Taj Hotel caught fire, it took the first lot of firefighters three hours to respond. The commando force had to be dispatched from Delhi and it took about nine hours to mobilize them, as they are usually ke pt busy providing security to politicians, many of whom see such security as a mat ter of status and prestige. It also turns out that the majority a very large gra nt recently given to the Bombay police for its modernization was spent on buying luxury cars and other expensive items for the use of senior officers and their ministers! Creating a security system that will effectively protect the populati on from terrorist attacks will not be easy. Corruption follows public money in I ndia, as it does, unfortunately, in many countries, and undermines performance. Additionally, the effective functioning of any institution in India in a non-par tisan manner would require that institution to be insulated from political inter ference. The second condition is not easily met in India. The required reforms t hus call for a certain kind of political will that the political class in India has not quite shown in recent times. Yet India cannot avoid debates over security and other rights any longer. The go vernment has already announced certain measures that will make anti-terror laws more stringent than before. Other reforms will certainly follow on paper, and pe rhaps in action as well. Many members of the Indian educated middle class are cu rrently angry at the inability of their government to protect them. We do not kn ow how effective that anger will be in bringing about change. If the nature of t he political class remains the same, Indians will probably have to get used to l iving with a degree of terror the exact quantum of which is difficult to predict at this stage. My most optimistic scenario is this: that Indians will address b oth the long-term and short-term problems together so that, important as securit y considerations are, this tragedy will initiate not just a rethinking but also a revitalization of democratic institutions in India as they cope with the chall enges of this global century.