12.31.2009 0

Indias Uneducated Villagers and the American Congress

  • On: 01/11/2010 10:16:40
  • In: Health Care
  • By Dinesh Shah

    As I look at US Congress voting on the Healthcare bill without reading what’s in it, I can’t help thinking of India’s uneducated villagers voting in India’s elections.

    Earlier this year, the House of Representatives voted on this bill. Most members voted without having first read it. Now the US Senate, too, has approved the bill without knowing what’s in it.

    In India where I grew up, the Constitutional democracy was established in 1950. During the first couple of decades the Congress party (then officially known as the Indian National Congress), won the majority and hence the privilege to elect the PM.

    Most notable leaders of the Independence movement belonged to the party. So, riding the wave of post-independence patriotic passions, it would have been natural for the Congress party to win, as these leaders were well liked and looked up to.

    But although they were well liked and respected, it was not enough to ensure victory at the ballot box. The majority of the population lived in rural areas, uneducated and unable to read even the candidates’ names on the ballot. So, there had to be a fail-proof way to translate the party’s popularity into votes, to ensure that villagers voted for the right candidate and right party.

    The Congress Party’s symbol “Two Bullocks with Yoke” helped overcome that hurdle. To rural villagers, “Two Bullocks with Yoke” symbolized plowing/farming, and hence prosperity. Two-Bullocks occupied the top-rung position in voters’ minds in the days well before the positioning concept was popularized by Al Ries and Jack Trout.

    Voters were constantly hammered with a message to just put their voting stamp on the “Two Bullocks” symbol. It didn’t matter who the candidates were. This made it convenient for politicians to campaign and easier for uneducated voters to remember what to do. A voting stamp? Yes, it meant not having hanging chad problems even in those early primitive days.

    Today, the words “Health care” in the bill’ title is the American equivalent of the Two Bullocks symbol. Congress, not unlike India’s uneducated villagers, is hammered by the President, House and Senate leaders to just vote “Yes” – to put their stamp of approval on the bill – without having ever read it.

    Indian villagers were uneducated and couldn’t read the ballot even if they wanted to. America’s Congress is mostly made up of highly educated lawyers. So, what is their excuse? In reality, how are these supposed erudite solons any different from those uneducated Indian villagers?

    These representatives are expected not only to read the documents, but to thoroughly understand all the pros and cons before casting their vote. They are predominantly lawyers who would fight in courts on behalf of their clients to nullify any contracts being signed before being fully read or understood. Yet, they blithely shirk such a basic responsibility.

    In the private sector, executives and professionals are disciplined for misconduct, often by their respective professional organizations and sometimes by law. Shouldn’t members of Congress be subject to similar discipline? Has the American Bar Association stated its position on such misconduct by its members?

    Organizations that don’t take corrective actions end up destroying themselves, ruining lives and destroying investments. Think of Enron, Madoff, housing and the sub-prime lending industry, just to name a few. Can the American Congress and hence America survive?

    What is the people’s recourse? The only solution bandied about so far is to wait until the next election cycle. Live with it until the next November and take chances with the unpredictable memory and mood of the fickle population?

    Perhaps it’s time to revisit the Constitution for a little timely updating. Maybe it’s time for a “Read to Lead Amendment. In short, those who won’t read can’t lead. I jest, of course. But, the truth is: since Congress sets its own rules of conduct, it should surely establish such baseline standards – even if it takes an occasional pop quiz to enforce them. Oh, how low the Republic has sunk!

    Dinesh Shah, a management consultant for Fortune 1000 companies, is a guest Liberty Features Syndicated writer for Americans for Limited Government.

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