News / Asia

    Q&A with Simon Denyer: India’s Massive, Complex Democracy

    FILE - Indian election officials seal an electronic voting machine after the closing of a polling center in Kunwarpur village, Uttar Pradesh state, India.
    FILE - Indian election officials seal an electronic voting machine after the closing of a polling center in Kunwarpur village, Uttar Pradesh state, India.

    India touts itself as the world’s largest democracy, and has the second largest national population in the world. India’s democracy is intricate and varies in how well it functions across geographic areas, within different parties and in parliament.

    Simon Denyer is currently the China bureau chief for the Washington Post. He previously held that position in India for the past decade. Denyer has followed Indian politics through elections and governance and has chronicled the details and changes in its democracy in a new book, Rogue Elephant. He told VOA’s Jim Stevenson how India’s democracy has much hope in the hands of its people.

    Q&A with Simon Denyer: India’s Massive, Complex Democracy
    Q&A with Simon Denyer: India’s Massive, Complex Democracyi
    || 0:00:00
    ...    
     
    X

    DENYER:  You look at democracy from the top and you see corrupt politicians who don’t do their jobs very well, but if you look at democracy from the bottom up, what you see is a lot of heroic people struggling to make it better, to make it function better using the legal system to combat child trafficking, using the weapon of a hunger strike to try and force change, going and devoting their lives in villages promoting the Right to Information Act. These people, who really are affecting change from the bottom up, do create the huge pressure for Indian democracy to function better.

    STEVENSON:  Ten years ago when you arrived in India, the mood of the country was very upbeat and there was a lot of promise for the future. Things changed though during the tenure of Manmohan Singh – what do you think happened?

    DENYER:  I think that the euphoria, if you like, that happened in 2004 when I arrived was very overdone. India felt it had arrived on the world stage. It was a superpower in the making. As journalists, we weren’t really encouraged to report about poverty; we were encouraged to report about shopping malls, and gleaming new India, and IT centers, and call centers and so on and so forth.

    What happened really was that India sat in its laurels, the government of Manmohan Singh didn’t introduce economic reforms, didn’t do the sort of things it needed to do to unleash the energy of the private sector. And more particularly, it fell into very corrupt ways, and we saw the mood really punctured by two things, one was a huge corruption scandal centered around the allocation of telecoms, mobile phone licenses, and the second was the Commonwealth Games. It was actually a bit of a national embarrassment for India. People were coming up to me and were really pessimistic about the future of India. I felt then, that that pessimism had been overdone as the optimism had been in 2004, because there was a lot of positive force for change that was bubbling up during that ten years.

    STEVENSON: It led to a natural backlash in the most recent elections and Narendra Modi coming into power, plus the combination of the fact that social media played a huge role in this election whereas when you first covered the elections in 2004, we really didn’t have as vibrant a social media in India as we do now.

    DENYER: Yeah, in fact the media rather than the social media have really played key roles from 2004 to 2014. The growth of 24-hour media, in many, many different languages and all the languages of India, really putting politicians right there in people’s living rooms and in people’s villages. The middle class really realized that they needed politicians to govern, they needed politicians to ensure law and order, they needed politicians to deliver infrastructure so that they could do business. Twitter and Facebook and 24-hour media really brought that home, and really got the middle class engaged once more in the political process.

    STEVENSON:  As much as you write about the big picture in democracy in India, you also touch on individuals in your book. And certainly Indians, along with the technology, were empowered with the Right to Information Act.

    DENYER: Absolutely, it’s the most used Right to Information Act anywhere in the world - something like 7 million requests filed every year and growing year by year. That has given the poor a much greater voice, because in the past, the bureaucrats who ran things didn’t have to answer to the people, they just answered to their bosses, and the right to information act gave ordinary people the ability to question decisions and brought a level of transparency and accountability into the bureaucracy. The bureaucrats had to answer to people, and that’s a massive change. Because, in fact, bureaucrats felt that they were the lords of the village or the town or the district, and they didn’t have to take into account what people really wanted, they could make arbitrary decisions, and those decisions would stand. The right to information really gave the poor in India a voice. I think that, in any democracy, that’s a good thing.


    Jim Stevenson

    For over 35 years, Jim Stevenson has been sharing stories with the world on the radio and internet. From both the field and the studio, Jim enjoys telling about specific events and uncovering the interesting periphery every story possesses. His broadcast career has been balanced between music, news, and sports, always blending the serious with the lighter side.

    You May Like

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.