Tuesday, May 11, 2010

here and there

In India After Gandhi, Ram Guha notes that India is Europe's past, but it is also Europe's future. He's talking about nation-building, or at least the construction of larger conglomerate identities out of a multitude of more local ones. Watching British MPs scurry around to form a government, the sentiment seems more appropriate than ever. Westminster utterly lacks the vocabulary, let alone the stomach, to deal with hung parliaments: common minimum programmes, anti-defection laws, cooperating at the centre even as you fight in the regions (witness Douglas Alexander's squeamishness about working with the SNP). I had a similar thought when everyone was up in arms at Rowan William's suggestion a few years ago that one might have to consider the introduction of shariah law in some areas  of social life - a controversial suggestion no doubt, but the outcry that greeted it seemed blissfully oblivious of the fact that British imperial policy in many parts of the world was precisely to permit religious law to remain in force in many places, leaving a legacy of pluralistic 'personal law' systems in many former colonies. When the British chatterati does look more widely at modes of governance elsewhere, the frame of reference is still European. There is a virtually total historical and geographical amnesia in the public discourse about the sorts of institutional innovation that has taken place elsewhere (read: outside the white world) - innovation that is relevant because it has often taken place within institutions that attempted to closely replicate Westminster, but quickly had to adapt to govern the very different societies for which they were intended. Of course Indian parliamentary democracy leaves much to be desired, but LOOK at it - even if to criticise the way it works. Put it in your goddam comparative politics textbooks because it might just save you the trouble of reinventing the wheel. 

Here's something else that irritates me. When viewers were treated to the spectre of people waiting to vote in queues snaking around polling booths and reports of voters being turned away because of time deadlines and insufficient ballot paper came flooding in, David Dimbleby shook his head in disgust and said 'this is Third World politics'. Dude, we have electronic voting machines. 600 million+ voters and we have a pretty good idea of what's going on the next morning. The hassled UK election commission official who confessed, perhaps in an unguarded moment, to a 'Victorian' electoral system was on to something. Sometimes it doesn't pay to be first mover.

You're on my Facebook.
And now on mine.
all of ours, in fact. may I suggest, in all seriousness, that you revise and submit this to the Guardian's Comment is Free or something like it?
I agree with Elizabeth.
thanks y'all. probably too late and under-researched for Cif, so i shall have to rely on your facebook promotion!
Not too late surely! Not if you make it a reflection on the whole election campaign... (Open Democracy, if not CiF)
I agree apart from the centre/periphery thing. Labour is willing to collaborate with nationalists locally, but not centrally. This is presumably because empowering the SNP nationally would hasten Scottish independence, robbing Labour of many Scottish seats and permanently enthroning the Tories in the rump UK.
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