I happened to be in Delhi through out the Anna Hazare saga. The usual summer heat was not too bad but what was really heating up the city was the protest against graft and corruption led by this unassuming man - Anna Hazare. Public protest is a part of democracy. It is how eventually a common guy makes himself heard. What bothered me was the manner in which this particular protest was conducted. Although one must appreciate the fact this was a non-violent movement and remained so throughout and everywhere in India.
Bhutan is an emerging democracy. Meaning western-styled democracy is just being introduced in full scale from 2008. And we did that voluntarily with the sole intent that we would be able to benefit from its positive aspects - such as people’s active participation in governance, democratic principles and values. What we hope won’t happen is that someone has to fast to make himself heard. It may be necessary in a country of a billion people. According to a journalist I know, “It is the beauty of the Indian democracy”. May be but I wouldn’t augur that in Bhutan. And in a country where half of the population is related to you and the other half to your wife, it may not be necessary either. Which makes me conclude then that the only other way is through serious debates and consultations.
Public discourses, dialogues and even dissents are essential parts of democracy. They enable people to think more, work harder and distill the ideas better before a final decision is taken, or a good opinion formed. However, the sad reality is that the culture of debate and dissents are almost alien to us. And this is ironic. Because within the walls of our age-old monasteries debates were conducted and in many cases they constituted the final ticket towards graduation from the seats of higher learning. Even among the illiterate world of farmers and rural communities, village meetings are common and decisions are taken as a group after thorough discussions.
It is therefore a paradox as to how within the so-called educated elite there is hardly any good debate or discussion on any issue? Save for the media, there is no public space where one can express views or share ideas. And on the other hand if one does in a public or official setting, people draw simplistic conclusions and make petty minded comments. People simply cannot differentiate between personality and post of a person. Out in the cyberspace, the online discussion forums, fueled by the benefits of anonymity, are dumping grounds for triviality and character assassinations.
People point fingers at the system for not encouraging the culture of debate. And yet even in the pre-2008 era the highest authority initiated, introduced and institutionalized consultations. The National Assembly was both the highest legislative and consultative body. Lower down were the Dzongkhag Yargye Tshogdus and Gewog Yargye Tshogchungs that were initiated by Fourth Druk Gyalpo. In recent times, our monarchs have traveled length and breath of the country to discuss five-year plans and the draft Constitution.
As we nurture our nascent democracy into adulthood it is imperative that the culture of debate and dissents are promoted and well imbedded. We need to sit face-to-face and talk. At all levels, on all issues. We need to listen too and where there is the need to compromise, we should – as long as it is in the broader interest. As much as the size of our country is to our advantage if we want to make that happen, our small nation will not be able to absorb the Anna Hazare styles of protests or UK types of mass riots. The challenge for this generation therefore would be to create a democracy without the imprints, or the needs, of such ugly practices.