(T)He(y) just really wanted to win! Blog post # 8, 03/20/17

One thing we have learnt from our last week’s reading: “The Dictator’s Handbook” that be it autocratic and democratic leaders, the political leaders want to remain on the power, no matter what. This power is a necessary instrument for them to gain more and this has nothing to do with mouthful phrases like “greater-good-of-the-humanity!” In continuation of that process, this week we have seen, what are the “irregular” ways of staying on power for democratic leaders. Rigging election, with innumerable ways showed by Campbell, Gist and Shapiro, have always played an important role in the USA politics (hard to believe as a non-USA citizen, really hard!). With the examples from mid-to-late 19th century Louisville, Kentucky and Adams County, Ohio it is clear that buying votes in exchange of money or liquor, manipulating voter lists and information, manipulating ballot box, using police force, creating deliberate confusion among voters, using moving railways (I did not clearly understand though how that worked actually), and very recent examples of using voter information from with the advancement of technology for own benefit – everything can contribute to one important thing: election rigging.

All of those strategies can largely be categorized in two areas – fraud that adds to a candidate’s vote total, and fraud that suppresses an opponent’s vote total.  Both of them, at least to some extent, have equally devastating impact on democracy. But I think, from the readings and the experience of my mother land – Bangladesh, the later one is slightly ahead in the game of destroying democracy. I am not sure if this is exactly applicable to the USA’s system as it has a very different one from my country. But in my country, applying the second one can dominate the representation of the opposition in the national parliament very profoundly. If any political party is willing to and somehow finds out a way of suppressing opponent’s total vote count, this can lead to form an absolute majority for the winning party. In political conditions like Bangladesh or India, it has been very uncommon to get an absolute majority in the (national/regional) elections, hence, forming coalition mostly becomes necessary for forming the government. Coalition among parties, from the perspective of South Asia and Bangladesh, is a way on maintaining checks-and-balance for decision making and implementation of those decisions. This can sometimes (only a few times to be more specific) be proven helpful for the mass people as well. Now, going back to election rigging, thus, suppressing opponent’s total vote count can have more harmful effect on democracy than that of increasing one’s total vote count. Well, this can be explained in mathematical equation as well.

However, which country/region/political party will start following what it is not decided over night. But, the socio-political history of the specific place, as Campbell argued in his conclusion, decides and determines what “irregularities” (if any) would be followed for grabbing the power. Hence, I think, the negative effects of election rigging in any ways on democracy can be lessened if previous events are analyzed well and measures taken appropriately.

And just a last one question, does anything like the examples or any modern versions of these take place in present day USA elections? Curious mind wants to know!

“Rules to rule by”_Blog Post # 7, 03/13/17

In the “cynical portrayal of politics” (words from horse’s mouth indeed), Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith in their book “The Dictator’s Handbook” have identified three fundamental rules of politics: 1) No one does politics for benefits of others rather for one’s own interest, 2) There are certain rules to rule by, follow them otherwise you will be nowhere, and 3) You have to have group of people as your supporters. The third rule which they have named as “Selectorate” theory is the one of the most important determining factor for politics as it can make the government a democracy or an authoritarian regime. When the first and the third one intertwined to each other, they give the basic rule for any of the governmental form which is “hold onto power, no matter what.” Basic difference between the democracy and the authoritarian government is that, for remaining on power the later one mostly depends on a close distribution of resources whilst the first one systematically distribute more resources to the larger population.

 

The selectorate theory, in their writing, Masquita and Smith have talked about three group: 1) Nominal selectorate, 2) Real selectorate and 3) the Winning Coalition. Though sometimes the terms were used a bit interchangeably (and a little bit of confusing perhaps only to me), the real selectorate and the winning coalition are the major role player for the government’s power. In autocracies, the rulers are prone to keep a small winning coalition. For them a big winning coalition can create a problematic situation where this demands diffusion of resources among more numbers. Interestingly, having a very small winning coalition can also pose threat to the autocratic leader, hence the autocratic government would like to have a winning coalition of “just-the-right-amount!” On the contrary,systematically democracy are supposed to have larger winning coalition which is for the democracies is a part of the real selectorates. In a democracy, a larger winning coalition can act as an instrument of check-and-balance for the government. Furthermore, distribution of resources to a larger group guarantee (less) corruption which the autocracy cannot afford to have. Thus, it is often very much visible in the democracies, in comparison to the autocracies, that they have better governance and better public services like education, public infrastructures and health care systems. Otherwise, the mass will revolt and can make the government to step down. Just in this way, the autocracies do not have great educational systems, as more educated persons mean larger threat to their power.

 

The interesting learning I got from the interesting write up (though with repetitive examples), whatever strategies the government are choosing are necessarily associated to their needs of remaining on power, not for the “great good of humanity.” Even so, democracy can definitely provide better services for the public in comparison to the authoritarian regimes.

“Mahershalah Ali became the First Muslim African-American Oscar winner in Best Supporting Actor.” Why does that matter? (Blog post # 6_02.27.17)

“Afrcian-American” “Muslim” “Women” – seemingly they are only identities, but they take the spotlights when these identities are intertwined with a profound identity of a nation, the identity of democracy. Being a leading democracy, the U.S.A. has relentlessly been trying to establish democracy all over the world. But when it comes to the present condition of the U.S.A., becoming the first Muslim African American Oscar winner in Best Supporting Actor category in 2017 or not becoming the first female President in 2016 turns out to be very important questions to be asked. Why? Not because it is somewhat related to the history making “first time,” rather related to the real picture of century long oppression-suppression-and-repression of race-class-gender and it’s relation to the democracy.

Historically, the U.S.A. has managed to exploit anyone who does not fall under the category of “white.” Interestingly, this whiteness was not naturally perceived rather socially constructed. It was necessary for the white settlers to subjugate the “other” class who was essentially non-white (mostly black and very rarely brown) for establishing power over them. Establishing power was necessary as this was the only suitable and cost-effective way to make a positive upward trending in the economic production. The other class, Black and Indians, entered into the power negotiation from a disadvantageous position and thus became the subject of direct exploitation. Not only race in terms of Blacks and Indians were subject to exploitation, as Olsen showed, but also women (as in both black and white) experienced the same fate. However, having the white skin or being in the white category created a less problematic situation for white women who gained the status of “dependent citizenships” in contrast to the “no-citizenship” at all for Blacks.

This concept of citizenship was actually the main result of the race and power struggle through out the antebellum period, Civil War period and the following time periods. Citizenship was earned and for that the racial identity (class and gender as well) played a vital role. Only by dint of the power of citizenship, the whites were able to maintain to be on the top of the hierarchy of power ladder and to keep the “other” on the below steps. Going back to the previous point, this was done for economic reason obviously, but also to maintain a political-social structure. This political-social structure ensured as less as power the “other” race can possess. Whenever it was necessary, this powerful political-social structure also initiated riots against the “other” race to make them even more vulnerable.

Now, question is who has influenced the democratization in the U.S.A.? Answer to it is has laid the foundation of power struggle among different groups where one group was systematically excluded from the platform of negotiation. This uneven platform later created other institutions where again those institutions gave leverage to the white race. Remaining in this position was very important for them for the sake of present and the future, which is why we see the write up of Behrens and et el explaining how racial state has influenced law of felony disenfranchisement even in the 21st century.

Behrens and et el argued that there is an obvious relationship between the presence of white supremacy in the political structure of the state and the law of felony disenfranchisement. However, that should not be seen only in terms of the present rather from a historical perspective. Thus, as I have mentioned already, the race and the racial state has always been very important for the white for both present and the future.

And this is why, when we see becoming a first Muslim African-American Oscar winner in the supporting actor category makes a headline, we need to go back to the past to understand the present of exploitative realities of race, class, gender and religion. Because, perhaps, this is the platform of American Democracy related to these identities.

Research Journal # 5 (02.24.17)

India, known as to be the populous democracy, often is attributed with a very rigid characteristics of non-secular country. With existence of several of religions in India, this rigid characteristic of non-secularity often kicks-off other religion than Hinduism from the spotlight of policy making. Literatures are showing that this has been a case during both the pre-and-post liberation. Presence of large majority Hindu fundamentalists (I am actually not sure about what is the implication of the “Hindu fundamentalist” as the attributes are variable in different places. Simply this means the conservative Hindus not posing a welcoming attitude to other religions, particularly Islam.) makes is difficult for other religious groups in general, pro-secular political parties in particular to negotiate in almost every stage of policy formulation. This in on one hand. On the other hand, the mass population across India does not possess a very welcoming sentiment towards the other religious group. Segregation among religious groups is very acute. Thus, the institutions of India necessary to facilitate democracy are largely influenced by non-secular mind set from both bottom-up and top-to-bottom approach. Hence, this understanding raises the next obvious question what is the role of this mind set to create/influence the political infrastructure of India? Did this Hinduism create any systematic barrier against other religious groups, particularly Muslim groups?

 

Roy, Jayanta, and Arpita Roy. 2008. Political Roles of Religious Communities in India. Papers Collection, Institute for Security and Development Policy, Kolkata: Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies.

Early Republic: How was that? (Blog Post # 5_02.20.17)

Interestingly, writings by Holton and Bouton this week gave me an aspiration that may be one day my country will have a long-lasting sustainable democracy what we see in the U.S.A. today. Both of the writers presented a neat picture that (in)direct confrontation regarding wealth among different groups lead to finding a middle ground for all. Even if the outcome is not equal for everybody, this can eventually bring a structure for the advancement of the country, and I think that was the biggest achievement of the early economy in the pre-republic.

Independence War of America led America to achieve not only independence, but also a great devastating economy which nobody had foreseen. Lack of hard cash – gold and silver – dragged the economy where the newly formed government of Philadelphia had to establish new rules for earning money. Since the entire nation was having a heavy burden of debt, tax seemed to be only plausible way of earning money for the government. Interestingly, though the tax system was supposed to be an equal burden for everybody to bear, eventually, the rural class farmers were being affected like no one. When they were struggling to survive on a day-to-day basis, the elite class were more concerned about keeping the grab on their lands intact. Holton here showed that, in this situation, farmers were adopting ways of dissent to improve the situation for them. Along with that, entering into the discussion with a comparative disadvantageous position than that of the elites and creditors did not help the farmers at all. Hence, the economy was no where close to be an economy of equality in the early-republic. By maintaining the almost same line of argument, Bouton showed governments’ policy of systematic exploitation forced farmer class to go against the wave and to get involved into direct confrontation by means of road blockades, violent community protests, breaking the government laws etc. against government, elites.

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Research Journal # 4 (02.17.17)

 

This week readings for Challenges of Democratization created some questions in my mind regarding the paper I am working for this course. My topic is to understand the role of religion in the democratization process of India. The Period I am taking in is the post-independence period: 1947-2017.

Going back to the discussion of this week’s reading, we have learned that violence has a relationship with democracy, as Moore wanted to establish this idea. Though, I am not convinced with the idea of Moore, I want to use the argument of Moore to describe the pre-independent situation of India under British Raj. As it is, it is difficult to understand the present context of India without a reference from the 200 years when it was under the ruling of British East India Company first, followed by British Empire. In the decades of 1930s and 1940s, communal riots spread across India which was predominantly among Muslims and Hindus. This communal riot even continued to go on after the independence till the decade of 1060s. Year 1992, India experienced a devastating communal riots between Hindus and Muslims in Mumbai (Bombe) killing thousands of Muslims. In the year of 2001, Gujrat province of India experienced another deadly communal riots between Hindu and Muslims again. This gave me one question I would like to answer for my research paper. The question is, if we consider that violence will be present in the process of democratization, why these two violence could not (or could) create an immediate substantial change in the (local or national) governing body of India? Hence, did this (religious) violence had any impact on the governing decision or policy formulations for ensuring democracy in India? I think the Gujrat case would be more recent to discuss about.

Do We Go Hand In Hand? (Blog Post # 4_02.13.17)

As I identify myself a believer in Islam and as also I am a student of Social Sciences, I have always found myself in a difficult position to answer such question. My opinion is kind of divided in this regard. One one hand, as we have seen in Amir Taheri’s writing, Islam does maintain a hierarchy among religions where only Islam, Christianity and Judaism are regarded as religion putting Islam in the top position. This implies that Islam is such a practice not promoting equality among different religion. I will slightly differ to this idea and propose that Islam promotes conditional equality. If Islam maintains a conditional equality then it is difficult to bring the main essence of establishing democracy within the boundary of Islam. In democracy, everybody is needed to be treated “equally” and that equality needs to ensured via a transition of appropriate amount of dissent, whenever that is necessary. Islam and democracy, in this way are essentially goes in different directions. They seem to be incompatible to each other.

On the other hand, as we have seen in the writing of Dr. Kendhammer, Islam is a culmination of policies based of moral and ethical values. It has been designed in such a way where it will promote only those moralities and values which will keep/maintain the necessary order in the society in order to create a platform for prosperity for everybody. For instance, it forces the wealthy persons in the society to (re)distribute their wealth among the underprivileged groups/individuals of the society. This is known as one of the five fundamental pillars of Islam. In this regard, Islam is crating a nothing but creating a situation where the social order will be ensured; where the justice will be ensured; where the (re)distribution of wealth is ensured. In this way, I do not feel that Islam is very much different from the other main religions in the world, i.e. Christianity and Judaism. Having said that,  if (Catholic) Christianity can promote democracy, then why not Islam?

Furthermore, currently number of western academicians are claiming it is necessary to separate religion from state (i.e. Church and Govt. needs to get a divorce), whereas, different scholars who are trying to show that Islam has compatibility with democracy are showing what are the innumerable compatibilities between democracy and Islamic Sharia. What I understand this debate is never going to end since it is being addresses from an angel which is focusing only on the people who are on the higher level of the hierarchy. If the general people were brought into the debate, as Dr. Kendhammer did, it might have been easier to see what Islam is actually implementing in the field level rather maintaining the debate on what Islam could or could not do in reality? To sum up, I believe, it is not a debate of if Islam is in/compatible with democracy or not, rather the debate is actually how Islam has been portrayed in the popular culture of Media and West? If Islam is a practice of only the elite group or mass people has a stake in it? That should solve that if Islam can exercise democratic practices or not?

Word count: 532

Research Journal # 3 (02.10.17)

It is really interesting to understand how the relationship between democracy and religion has been perceived. One of the greatest debate around this is religion a hindrance or facilitator of democracy? In my last week’s research journal I showed that in the famous writing of Religion, Democracy and Twin Toleration, Stepan showed that different religions posses different degrees of factors which can be beneficial for democracy. However, Islam, the second largest religion in the world, does lack some fundamental characteristics in it for favoring democracy. Thus it is actually difficult for different countries with Islam to have ‘functioning democracy.” Having Islam as the state religion/fundamental religion, democratization is also difficult. By the end of the article I got a sense that may be secularism is actually the best way to exercise democracy in a country. This week, while going through the book named “Religion and Democratization: Framing Religious and Political Identities in Muslim and Catholic Societies” by Michael D. Driessen, I got a different perspective.

Driessen has showed that it is not mandatory to have secularism in a country for consolidating democracy, neither as a normative prescription nor a historical process. Rather it is possible to have a coexistence of  functioning democracy and religious-state arrangement. But, interestingly this idea cannot be empirically proved. In “successful” democratic countries like the USA or France, religion has been separated from the public spaces and rather confined (I am not sure if the is the appropriate word) in a private realm.

Now, if we look into the example of India, known as the most populous democracy in the world, it is important to understand that religion cannot be seen as only a private aspect of India’s life, society and culture. So, why India could succeed (or fail) to incorporate religion into the main realm of politics which is not seen in other countries? This remains a central question to be answered. More interestingly, as per the structure of Hinduism which is the main religion of India, there is no single traditions of Hindu religion. Rather, Hinduism is needed to be understood as a culmination of different traditions, practices, and ideologies under an umbrella term – “Hinduism.” Thus, the next question is why the contemporary political practice of India picked whatever way (i.e. popularism, traditionalism, reformist, or anything else) they are following right now? Along with that, what is the platform of negotiation between Hindu politics and Islamic politics?

What I have understood to date, finding out answers to these questions will necessarily be inclined with institutions like the election, election manifesto, participation of the mass population, constitution and law. It will be really interesting to see if the religious practices are shaping institutions in India or the other way around?

Word count: 455

Is wealth a prerequisite for democracy? (Blog post # 3_02.06.17)

I have a mixed opinion regarding the idea that wealthier countries are more likely to have stable democracy. While thinking about the question, I remembered reading Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs which is sometimes known also as need pyramid. At the lowest level in the pyramid there is physiological needs meaning food, water, shelter etc. After fulfilling these needs one person will reach to the second level of the pyramid which the safety needs, followed by the third level of love/belonging needs, then comes the esteem needs including self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of others, respect by others etc. Finally, after fulfilling all of these levels, there comes the final fifth level of self-actualization in which one individual will deal with morality, creativity, problem solving etc. If we apply this need hierarchy to a nation, to me it seems that, it is obvious that you need to fulfill the basic needs first, other wise a hungry nation will never care about a free and fair election or proper participation. In that sense, wealth is necessary so that the basic needs, safety needs are fulfilled and then a country can move forward in achievement of other necessities. In this regards, I do believe that there is a direct relationship between wealth and democracy. But, if we are talking about stable democracy, then a further debate can be done on this issue.

What is applicable to any single individual cannot necessarily be applicable to a nation as nations are way more complex entities. Lipset tried to find out factors of democracy and he identified total four categories: industrialization, urbanization, wealth, and education. While going through all of these factors, every society will have different experiences and consequently, each society will end up formulating different sets of institutions, values, ideas, norms etc. Both Lipset and Huntington have placed importance on institutions in a society. But, for Huntington, these institutions can simultaneously become potential source of conflicts in a society. And we know that conflicts foster democracy in a country. Therefore, these institutions can raise such a point in a country where a country can move to any direction, either it can be furthered developed to stable democracy by dint of proper channels of negotiations or it can fall under more complex situation of internal conflict in absence of proper steps. Thus, from my opinion, wealth is important for having democracy, but it is not the only necessary condition. Rather how the institutions in a country are handling the relationship between wealth and everything else can ensure if you are going for a stable democracy or a fragile one.

Word count: 433

Research Journal # 2_02.03.17

For continuing the works on the research paper, this week I read the paper of Alfred Stepan on “Religion, Democracy and Twin Tolerance.” This article has clearly articulated that how different religious thoughts have created different obstacles or supports for the process of democratization in a country. The most interesting part I found in the article is the part dealing with Islamic thoughts. According to the article, Islamic thoughts actually lacks many of the democratic traditions, particularly it failed to separate between state and religion. In Islam, principal policies of state are essentially based on the philosophy of Islam. This in interesting to absorb and relate to the experience of India, particularly when it was gaining independence from the British Raj. This article raised a question in me regarding the process of negotiation of independence in India. In the 1930s and 1940s, the idea of creating two different nations on religion grew popular in India, one was Pakistan based on Islam and the other one is India which was essentially based on Hinduism. Interestingly, Pakistan- being one of the unique experiences of nation creation – was situated in two opposite parts of India, and India was kind of surrounded by the so-called enemy state ‘Pakistan.’ Even though the partition took place based on religious differences, India has almost 14% of Muslims making it the second largest religious community in India. Now, the question is, if Islam does not talk or promote aspects of democracy, then how it is going on as a strong component in the Indian politics which is the most populous democracy in the world? What is actually then the negotiation process of Muslim religious community with the central government, if any?

Reference:

Stepan, Alfred. 2000. “Religion, Democracy, and the Twin Tolerations.” Journal of Democracy. 11 (4): 37-57.

Word count: 294