Family foremost

by | Dec 1, 2019

India is celebrated as a democracy by large numbers of Indians. We are the world’s largest democracy. We place ourselves in the company of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Germany and many other democratic countries. There are problems in Pakistan but there is fully functional democracy in Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. In many ways, our democracy has its own defects, the recent drama in Maharashtra being testimony to this. 

The history of democracy can be viewed in two ways. The Indian view is that the Indian Mahajanapadas were democratically governed by the people. The Western view is that democracy was born in the Greek City States of Athens. However, both in the West and the East, democracy did not flourish as kingdoms and empires prevailed over people. The real birth of democracy in the modern world happened in the United States, in the latter half of 1700s. The Constitution of the United States of America is the world’s first formal blueprint for a modern democracy.

In the words of Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865), “The story of America’s birth should be read of, and recounted, so long as the Bible shall be read. The Founding Fathers’ noble experiment—their ambition to show the world that ordinary people could govern themselves—had succeeded.” Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address immortalized the definition of democracy as “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” which he borrowed from John Wycliffe (1328 –1384), who wrote it in the prologue to his translation of the Bible as the God-inspired way of living together.

Indian democracy passed its acid test in the 1970s. The people of India endured the Emergency and large-scale confinement of political leaders and press censorship and voted out Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s government, when elections were held in 1977. People once again voted out the inefficient and squabbling government of the Janata Party in 1980. The massive mandate for the Congress after Indira Gandhi’s assassination was squandered and the country hit rock bottom before turning itself around in 1991. There has been no going back since then. Democracy is on the roll. But where it is rolling to?

I personally consider leaders as the products of their times. Individuals rise to the demands of their times, deliver and fade away after doing their bit, passing on the baton to the new leaders to solve the new challenges posed by the new times. Ten years is a good time for any leader. It can be stretched to fifteen, but after that, it is all about sticking to the position and solving things rather than inspiring and leading. 

It has happened world over and is now a proven pattern. When a great leader is ruling, another great leader is in the making in the crucible of changing time from a lot of many. And if this is not so, there is a problem. These leaders will rise from the society, from the communities in the society, and the families in the community. Leaders coming from broken families will not be able to hold people together. 

India is a pluralistic society, a very vast nation, and has a wide spectrum of political thoughts. All thoughts – left, center and right are gloriously present. In the history of independent India, we always took a center position – mixed economy – and swung to the left initially to socialism and off late, to the right towards capitalism. The nation today faces some serious questions: what is to be done with the vast public sector industry, which is inefficient, badly managed and a drain on the overall economy rather than being an engine to take it forward? Can the private sector be trusted to safeguard the interests of employees and the people of India, specially the farmers, artisans, shopkeepers, laborers and service providers in the informal sector, and the vendors on the roads?

The rise of the BJP is as phenomenal as the fall of Congress is spectacular. The Left is mostly absent in our legislative bodies but very much alive and active on the ground, and in the minds of the people. The caste-based parties still exist, and family-centric parties have not gone away either. British political scientist and historian Archie Brown (b. 1938) in his book The Myth of the Strong Leader, published in 2014 and revised in 2018 writes, “strong leaders often propagate a myth that obscures their weakness while putatively weak leaders may leverage hidden strength to accomplish great ends.”

It is time that all the political parties of India, which are required for the good of our nation, groom their new leadership. It is a pity that no inner party democracy is functional in most of the political parties of this democratic nation. If this is not changed, those parties will fade away with time. And it is incorrect to find this leadership in universities because they are already conditioned by politics and there is nothing new there. New India needs new leaders coming from its working people, entrepreneurs, strugglers, inclusive in their hearts and tolerant in their minds. 

And finally, the spirit of service is the key. Most of the young leaders are already arrogant, flashy in their styles and aggressive in their tones. Democracy does not like such leaders; it packs them off on the first opportunity, even if they manage to rise and hold on to power. Democracy is a system. It rests on its institutions. The institutions can be both great enablers and constraints for their leaders. A leader can’t cherry pick them in a democracy. Let us not allow our institutions to be compromised. New leaders must learn the art of working with them and not against them. 

It starts with the family. Does the family respect its aging and non-earning elders, give equal rights to the female spouse and the female child, treat the maid with dignity, give the children a balanced childhood, and earn its living without corrupt means? It is stupid to keep flaunting the Vaisudhiava Kutumbakam heritage of Indian civilization and seeing our family system disintegrate, driven by the arrogance of new wealth (or the frustration of its absence) and addictions amongst young people. 

Let us give to the world a robust and exemplary democracy, starting with democratically enabled and flourishing families. Let us lead our lives with purity of the heart and the mind and not follow the herd and advertisements. Failure to do this shall turn us into fodder for the global consumer machine in full run to devour our present and future as well. 


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  1. Very interesting Sri Arun Tiwariji. I kept on wondering the relevance of title till the penultimate paragraph. The turn to the whole story of democracy with below lines resonates very well with me.

    “It starts with the family. Does the family respect its aging and non-earning elders, give equal rights to the female spouse and the female child, treat the maid with dignity, give the children a balanced childhood, and earn its living without corrupt means? It is stupid to keep flaunting the Vaisudhiava Kutumbakam heritage of Indian civilization and seeing our family system disintegrate, driven by the arrogance of new wealth (or the frustration of its absence) and addictions amongst young people.”

    Family is the most impactful and actionable unit for every individual. And without living those values at family level, there is only little we can do to inculcate those in socieity & nation at large.

    Thanks so much again for adding more clarity to our vision with every blog.

  2. Beautifully built up, Sir! Families are the building blocks of a nation, and when they are dysfunctional, it is not just a loss, but also a burden, on society.

    Yet, as you rightly point out, that is exactly how things are going.

    It is indeed a sad situation with distractions, faulty food habits, undisciplined lifestyle, addictions, and so on. Misguided parents and children, thanks to varied, confusing influences.

    How can we bring up the next generations so that they grow up to be world-class citizens?

    Surely the answer lies somewhere in reviving our past – the glorious Indian culture and traditions, which include respect for elderly, the learned and women; concern for the youngsters, servants, animals, insects, sacrifice; community living; seeking the counsel of the elderly, and so on.

    The practice of Indian culture, religion, and also ayurveda and yoga is essential for good grounding and balanced living.

    I feel this is completely possible along side our modern education and without compromising on decent aspects of contemporary living.

    Thank you once again, for making us think on this important issue!

  3. Dear Bhai sahib, Let me first congratulate you for giving this excellent narrative of democracy, its origin, the Indian context and looking forward optimistically in future.
    Your excellent coverage of most relevant and a vast subject, ‘Family foremost’ itself defines the very essence of Indian democracy. In my opinion Indian democracy is at a very early stage and really needs to evolve in years to come or if I may say decades and over a century. We were never a democratic country as India became a nation out of kingdoms, fragmented Zamindaries, Talukedaries, tribes etc. Our family structure, social beliefs and caste structures are evidently visible even today. The family ”Mukhya” traditionally was autocratic head and you are not supposed to raise concerns or opinions. ‘Being obedient’ was the virtue in family organisation. Women always had back stage, it’s going to take time, a generation before some kind of parlance is achieved. On top of it all this our understanding, concern, role, responsibility for community and civic society as a responsible member remain questionable.

    We claim to be the largest democracy in the world and very proudly claim so across the world. Just by changing governments or throwing out some leaders shows the strength of our democracy I do not agree. The basic essence of our democracy Is based on freedom of speech and freedom to protest. If these are salient parameters and yardstick, you can well imagine how competent as a country we are and also how demographically and culturally diverse. The value A fragmented value system is based on economic, social and regional inequalities. Appointment nomination, election of our representatives is based on regional mindset and local culture is fully evident, if you study the landscape of Indian politics. Please also consider that once we elect our representatives to Parliament or assembly on your right of free to vote , once elected these same people till next election take the most undemocratic steps. The manifesto on which they get elected goes to dustbin when they form alliances for their own good. In this democracy you wait for next time. Added to this is issue of our governance @ local, state and central level. The bureaucratic structure and form of governance still largely is based on the functioning of a colonial state, serving the Crown: Most of the Civil Servants hired for serving the people rule them with no accountability to the people.

    You have mentioned about the US democracy, it has taken centuries to mature to this level with complete commitment to the Constitution.The democracy historically was a result of needs of migrants who have similar requirements to survive when they moved to America. They had a common base. I was in US, two years back and my cousin’s son was discussing with his grandfather the Constitution. It is a compulsory subject in school education, more so morning assembly or any school ceremony the students pledge their allegiance to the flag and the Constitution.It becomes a part of their life.Very unlike to Kanhaia’s of Indian democracy with right of freedom to speech, This has matured over the centuries and carries the true meaning of democracy for those people who have benefitted over and over.. It is not only my freedom and rights, but also my responsibility to protect, conserve and follow.

    Regarding change in leadership and efficacy of same, I’m not sure what is going to happen in future.. Impact of globalisation has already started the trend of protectionism and in increase in rightist governments in name of nationalism, world over. If you see the present, countries in South America, Eastern Europe, Hong Kong and parts of Africa, middle east are presently facing the mass movements against governments and the form of governance. In such a situation , I remain little uncertain and un sure of type & style of future leadership.

    Once again my congratulations for taking us through this multidimensional journey of your excellent issue. Regards, Amit

  4. Thank you for this meaningful article.

    We further need to dwell on the value of democracy if political leadership becomes a family Enterprise.

    It seems we live in such a divided society that the cries from one end doesn’t even seem like a whisper at the other end.

    Where do we find nobility in leadership ?

  5. Amazingly written sir. I want to add few points too. Have we realized that initially these leaders were our “jansevak” but suddenly they become our “jan partinidhi”. Democracy is present but frankly in almost all the parties whether Indian national Congress,DMK, Samajwadi party, RJD etc the top most leaders are children of earlier leaders. Frankly how is Mr. Gandhi or Mrs. Priyanka is eligible to become top most leader of India’s oldest party. How they are credible for this. Also regarding coliation government. The government that formed in maharashtra this time every one knows even the party workers that it is not good. But whether the big leaders like Mrs. Gandhi, Mr.Pawar or Thackerys asked or discussed this with their party workers who worked for them days and night for their party. Frankly speaking in today’s scenario decomcracy has become a mockery all thanks to the parties. And urgency is needed to curb this monopoly created by these parties. We have abolished the “Raj pratha” in India but these parties have become the new king and indirectly they are doing all those things they were earlier happening in King based ruling system. Democracy is for the people, of the people and by the people and we must have to eliminate these so called leaders cum king as soon as possible otherwise they will make system much more worse.

  6. Dear Sir, This post is really very thought provoking. I personally feel that incorporating value system in the people can be possible from a good gurukul education system/schools which teaches those value in their curriculum also other than family. Yes family is more important but the values is more.

    I am here in Sydney and observed that there is lack of family system, most of the people here have broken marriage and leaving alone but almost all the citizens are honest and follow the rules strictly for the sake of nation. Which made Sydney the second best place to live on this earth.

    The problem of India is, the education system has been destroyed in a programmed way. Most of them become a work horse by these education system and started working for other countries rather than contributing to our nation.

    We need to really work out on our education system and need to probably go back to gurukul system or the military education system mandatory for all citizens. Regards,

  7. When I was working in the U.S., I could see individuality on display in all walks of life. Your narrative “Individuals rise to the demands of their times, deliver and fade away after doing their bit, passing on the baton to the new leaders to solve the new challenges posed by the new times” is indeed a part of American life. In contrast, individuals are not respected here in India. At every step there are attempts to dominate, manipulate and even exploit. So, Indian democracy is very different that way, at the work place, in public services, there is no respect for individuals generally.

  8. Democracy is hailed as the panacea for poverty, corruption and bad governance thereby ensuring political liberties and free and fair elections. The ups and downs of India’s vibrant democracy you’ve discussed explains the increased political competition, clientelistic politics of vote buying, influence of money and muscle that results ultimately on the crisis of governability.
    Triumph of democracy is the birth of liberal institutions and thoughts and the death of stifling cliques and institutions. Generally speaking, democracy is possible when everyone live under some relative equality of conditions which means equality of conditions is a precondition for democracy. If a nation faces serious concerns and questions on the performance of the public sector industries, it means nothing but the inefficiency of public administration, political interference and defective recruitment. If Private sectors are to be trusted inexplicitly, then it talks not of entrepreneurial acumen but of business tycoons’ proximity to the ruling dispensation.

  9. Sir, Thanks for initiating a thought-provoking and timely conversation. Like the previous “The outward symptom of an inward crisis”, it is again an existential issue. That Indian democracy passed it’s the acid test in the 1970s should not make us complacent. What we do or not do now would define our future.

    We are still a young and tender democracy. Like a full-fledged forest, it would take some 300 years to get internalised. Current centralisation trends inevitably threaten the growth of institutions and devolution of power, an essential feed of the time. Howcome any political party without having democracy within, strengthen it? Open discussion of your well-researched diagnosis should lead us to the solution.

  10. Essence of the democracy lies in this statement “Government is of the people, by the people, for the people” . Democracy is all about the preservation of the rights of the every individual.
    There is no dearth of leaders in the society. But the people at the position should not treat rival as enemy because those are the one who checks every step of the government.

    But my observation in today’s political scenario is completely different. Now a days politics is all about power which has given the emergence of regional power centre. Most of these regional parties are based on certain permutations and combination which is why caste and creed is at the centre of their ideology. Democracy is all about empowering people but this very essence is missing these days.

  11. Sir, I remember you telling in one class, about a book “Lost Rights”. It was about American democracy and go some thing like democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner. Of late, Indian democracy has become exactly this way.

  12. Indeed, the values promoted in good families are consistent with what a good democracy is all about – value and respect of individual rights. I believe a core spiritual foundation is critical to maintaining the strength of family and democracy. India certainly has this. And in the US, the country was founded on judeo-christian principles. The big experiment in the US however has reached a critical stage in my opinion. We are a very polarized nation, the government seems not to work for the people, and families have been deteriorating in core values. Ten years ago, one would not think that socialism would be an openly argued position among presidential candidates as it is now. After socialism is dictatorship. I pray our democratic experiment continues through these challenging times.

  13. Prof Tiwari, This again is a statement of fact, given the setting that you have employed The Indian Democracy, while it is not a benchmark, I would say principles guiding it cut across the human society. Of a truth leaders are born daily of the society they live in, it’s foolish to think once you are in office end of your life should determine your exit, “I personally consider leaders as the products of their times. Individuals rise to the demands of their times, deliver and fade away after doing their bit, passing on the baton to the new leaders to solve the new challenges posed by the new times” The late President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela showed the best way to lead when after five years at the helm, despite his popularity and demand from the great unfinished agenda in South Africa, he allowed for someone else to take over from him, he never once criticised his successor, but spent time reviewing what would have been, owning his mistakes, forging on with life till his demise.
    That a leadership succession plan is an absolute must, this can not be over emphasised, sadly as you correctly pointed out ‘no inner party democracy is functional in most of the political parties” which is true not only in the Great Sub Continent but also in many Countries, Africa to be specific and certain others in Asia. This is one lesson that is easy to learn but forgotten just as fast. No society is stronger than its succession plan of their values passed on as baton from one generation to the other, so is political leadership, its time Political Parties learn to be identified by their ideologies and not their leaders who are futile, today they are here yet tomorrow they are not. Because “Democracy is a system. It rests on its institutions. The institutions can be both great enablers and constraints for their leaders”
    Democracy is greater than any leader in office!

  14. Yet another timely gem of an article. Democracy, in a way is the expression of the nation it exists in. How are democratic values sustained / revered says a lot about the people which it represents.

    At the fundamental level of democracy is the individual. This individual is influenced the most by the kind of thinking he is exposed to in his growing years. If his early years are spent growing in a family with regressive values, chances are the individual also gets closeted within these undermining values as he advances through life. On the other hand, an individual raised in a family with a high sense of moral values and fostered within an inclusively positive environment would definitely have chances for greater success in life.

    And its a domino effect, successful individuals lead to successful families. And successful families in turn influence successful societies. And being successful means where there is growth. Growth not just in financial terms, but more importantly growth in terms of constant improvement.
    This can only occur, where individuals are constantly learning and upgrading for the better. Lifelong learning is a virtue which is advised by all great sages and all the great individuals, who have positively influenced mankind.

    Any society, where individuals are blessed with a virtue of lifelong learning is a flourishing society and history bears testimony to this. All the great civilizations flourished when they were governed by great teachers and great sages, from whom people were continuously learning and growing. Knowledge imparting and knowledge sharing was encouraged. There’s a saying: “To teach is to understand. To learn is wisdom. To learn together is understanding wisdom”.

    It is the lack of this wisdom that has reduced democracy to its current degenerated state. What is needed today is a democracy based on Wisdom.

  15. The very essence of the democratic system is finely presented but are there enough takers for it? Let us hope so and be positive about the outcome.

  16. Deep thoughts! Democracy is an instrument for governance to make a society healthy welfare state giving good governance to majority of people without consideration of caste creed faith or ideology. The very fact that the Government by the people of the people For the people caters to the basic needs of its population i.e., Food, Shelter, Health, Education and Employment. To achieve hundred percent targets is impossible but democracy works on majority; so here also majority of people should be having these basic needs fulfilled. Communism tries and talks of a achieving it. Capitalism believes in control by efficient money backed Corporate Czars (Big Corporate houses which control the Nations wealth and phenomenal increase in their growth year after year the percentage of deprived BPL population is increasing ie Gap between Haves and Have nots is widening Which is not a Good Sign. Now the Question is why it’s happening? Logic is simple! Elections have become very expensive. Huge amount of money is spent by candidates mostly it is Black controversial through a tool like Electoral Bonds. When this happens Govt of the day is obliged to cater to the needs of loyal donors who liberally funded party to come in power. So this is Sham Democracy certainly not by the people for the people. Now Question of Family FIRST is very pertinent. After independence priority was given to politicians from on Feudal class Rajas and Maharajas who commanded a control on their territorial population. Slowly religious heads were given priority to influence Votes by Imams Priests, Dera heads, and now corporates who own media houses influence publicity are taken as tools to influence voters. All this is controlled by handful of people who wants to retain power in so called Largest Democracy. Now last comment on Judiciary, another pillar of Democracy an article I remember which cited that only 400 families control the Judiciary in the country and each political party has its own set of favourites lawyers judges and benches to get favourable pronouncements. In reality democracy is a sham. Only Rich, Powerful, and Influential Families Make the Laws which suits their interests. In U.S. also the situation is just the same but they are free from control of power after two terms of Presidentship and also a provision of Impeachment is also a ploy to cut short the Presidential term. Back home we don’t have even a Lokpal and RTI is also diluted. Shri Arun Tiwari ji, Your blog is thought provoking and raises issues which are worth consideration for efficient democracy.

  17. Sir, Very precisely pointed out: Democracy starts with the family. Issue of neglect and disrespect of aged and non-earning elders is a serious issue. Most of the affluent people do not treat the servants with dignity. And children are hooked to the mobile phones. No surprise that our democracy is showing up all these defects. Life style of leaders is a serious issue.

  18. Democracy demands decency and discipline in public life. And decency and discipline are taught in families. A democratically elected government should work for all citizens and not only for those who voted for them. Similarly, right actions of the government must be appreciated and supported by everyone across party lines. The country is facing a serious financial problem. Let all parties come together and give solutions, not just criticizing the ruling party. And the rulers also should sit with the opposition and find solutions not thinking that they know everything. India has been a great family, must always remain a good family.

  19. My pick of your beautifully written blog is – “Let us give to the world a robust and exemplary democracy, starting with democratically enabled and flourishing families.” The financial situation of the country is reflecting the situation in every home. Life styles of the young are leading to distress and neglect of elders like our cities have eaten away the prosperity of our villages. When I learn about malpractices in five-star hospitals, it looks to me as the karmic effect of not even dispensaries existing in our villages. Thank you for showing the mirror.

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