“It is only through the Empowerment that grassroots democracy will secure their Entitlement to grassroots development and together lead to Enrichment of all”, said the former Diplomat turned Politician, Mani Shankar Aiyar, who addressed on Friday Forum Lecture yesterday at the bravura hall of Royal Institute for Governance and Strategic Studies (RIGSS) in Phuentsholing.
Envisioned by His Majesty the King, who is also the Patron of this autonomous body, RIGSS is a premier institute for the promotion of excellence in governance, leadership and strategic studies. As a leading leadership establishment, it offers an avenue to coach and educate both incumbent and potential future leaders of Bhutan on governance, leadership and policies that can comfortably move Bhutan into the 21st century and beyond. So far, it has trained a huge number of legislators, executives and bureaucrats that forms the top helms of the varied organizations and has a decision making influence.
Besides, various enriching activities for the participants, the final day of the training program is graced by the keynote delivery of eminent personalities from both home and abroad.
As such, I was fortunate to have a privilege in attending the 12th Friday Forum Lecture by His Excellency Mani Shankar (although I was not a participant who had an official passport of eligibility). The grandiose hall was pregnant with the presence of some Cabinet Ministers, Members of Parliament, bureaucrats and largely by the civil servants from different sectors. And more blessedly, the grandeur of that magnificent and enchanting talk was further venerated by the Royal glamour due to the presence of His Majesty the King. So, basically that evening, my heart sang a song of double happiness: seeing His Majesty the King and listening to a prolific public orator.
His Excellency Mani Shankar, who has served from the time of Rajiv Gandhi, the 6th Indian Prime Minister, narrated a talk titled, “Democracy – From Parliament to the Grassroots” largely based on his experiences of a being a politician from the world’s largest democracy.
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Rajiv Gandhi used to say, Mr Shankar told the floor that, “India is the world’s largest democracy but it is also the world’s least representative democracy”. The crowd roared into an insoluble laughter. He referred this statement based on the current Indian population which is at staggering 1.2 billion being represented by just only 5000 elected people’s representatives.
In the course of narrating the birth of Indian democracy, the former Union Minister of Panchayati Raj boasted that, “Indian democracy is unique in a sense that the country adopted democracy as soon as it’s independence from the British colonization in 1947 and democracy is still surviving”. So, he shared the floor about the secrets of Rajiv Gandhi’s bold initiatives (despite many failures and condemnation) to sustain democracy in grassroots development through grassroots democracy by introducing Panchayati Raj. Because of this unique local government proposal, His Excellency, shared this success story of stabilizing democracy in the large India by having established close to 2.5 lakh elected institutions of local government with 30 lakh representatives of which impressive 10 lakh are women.
“This exercise of gender empowerment which in scale is without precedent in history or parallel in the world” he said. And more interestingly, the Panchayati Raj groups are largely composed of deprived sections of Indian society, particularly the scheduled castes and the scheduled tribes.
“But unfortunately, this silent revolution in empowerment is being virtually blacked out in the media”.
He stated that for economic progress to translate into equitable progress, democracy was to be taken to the grassroots level by giving local community the Empowerment. When they are empowered, they can voice for their right to Entitlement for the basic infrastructures like health, education, water and sanitation. Consequently, when all the sections of the society have secured entitlements, this is where the road to Enrichment begins.
“Now, the Panchayat Raj has a constitutional sanction that makes it irreversible, irremovable and ineluctable because it gives the local community to determine the fate of its local destiny while at the same time remaining part of the larger destiny of the State”.
While as much as I was engaged in his capturing talk pondering about the evolutionary stages of democracy in India and its struggles and survival despite being populous, I couldn’t fathom how insightful and farsighted our Kings were, particularly the fourth Druk Gyalpo, who ushered in the democracy as the Royal gift to the people of Bhutan with all these settings in place inside a unique development model, the Gross National Happiness.
I humbly acknowledge Mr. Shankar for the lecture which not only Encapsulated with wisdom and political acumen, but also Engaged, Excited, Energized and Educated me beyond compare.
Thank you Mr. Chewang Rinzin, the RIGSS coordinator and the current Member Secretary, for floating an invitation to all the non-participants of the RIGSS program.
“The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not” – Thomas Jefferson