On Aug. 15, India is to celebrate its Independence Day. It is no coincidence that India was born as an independent nation in 1947 and two years later the Republic of China was relocated to Taiwan in 1949.
Both India and Taiwan have had a checkered history in their trysts with democracy. There were nagging anxieties if democracy would ever survive in a backward, complex and diverse country like India. Taiwan had to contend with martial law until 1987. Democracy has not only survived in India, but has struck deep roots; Taiwan’s transformation from martial rule into a democracy is a miracle and exemplary, notwithstanding the threats and intimidation by communist China.
The democratic credentials of India and Taiwan continue to be anathema to China. The growth and prosperity of India and Taiwan achieved through democratic means are not palatable to the autocratic regime, and Beijing never loses an opportunity to debunk the democratic credentials of India and Taiwan. It is in the larger interest of democracy, and in the interests of India and Taiwan that the two need to collaborate and learn from each other to make democracy robust and bolster people’s faith and trust in the efficacy of democracy. Democracy is just not a form of government, but a way of life and living.
However, democracy is a work in progress and democratic institutions need dynamic responses to the changing needs of the time. Although the political systems in India and Taiwan are different, the two are vibrant democracies. The boisterousness of the political systems of the two countries is a common refrain. The two democracies can learn a lot from each other’s best democratic and parliamentary practices, in spite of their systemic imperfections.
As both are multiparty democracies, Taiwan can learn from India’s experience of dealing with party politics and the grammar of coalition politics, to borrow from British political thinker Harold Laski. As the electoral politics in Taiwan is going to intensify in times to come, bringing more stress on the system, Taiwan needs to beef up its political system to face the challenges.
India’s Anti-defection Law, which regulates shifting party loyalty from one political party to another, is worth a look and could be tweaked to fit the Taiwanese context. The rationale behind India’s Anti-defection Law was to curb political instability, and enable the formation of permutation and commutation of political parties for the formation of governments.
Charges of horse trading had impelled the government to pass the Anti-defection law. Although there are still lacunae in the Anti-defection law — for example, it does not provide a time limit for the presiding officer to make the decision — the law has curbed political instability to a large extent.
Sometimes, legislatures — including the Legislative Yuan — are faced with piquant situations relating to the rights and privileges of members and issues relating to the contempt of the House. As these are political issues, they need to be resolved politically, rather than through rigid interpretation of the constitutional and legal positions. In India, such issues are normally referred to the Committee of Privileges by the Presiding Officers of the respective Houses.
The Committee of Privileges is composed of members of parliament belonging to both the ruling party and the opposition, and the decisions are arrived at by consensus, which defuses delicate situations. This institution and practice can be studied by the officials of the Legislative Yuan.
These are only two illustrations, there are many other parliamentary institutions and practices which Taiwan can examine to tweak them. In a nutshell, India’s experience of managing adversarial competitive electoral politics might be of some benefit to Taiwan.
While there have been a lot of comparative studies on foreign policy and economic issues, very little attention is paid to the political aspects of the relationship between two democratic entities. The lack of a diplomatic relationship between India and Taiwan is a major bottleneck to collaboration between government agencies, but there can always be collaboration joint studies and projects by think tanks and research institutions from both sides.
The Central Library of Taiwan, which is holding an exhibition of photographs on India as seen through Taiwanese eyes, could consider organizing a workshop on democratic practices in India by inviting practicing politicians, legislatures, parliamentary officials, and academics under the aegis of a think tank in Taiwan and its counterpart in India.
Similarly, India could consider offering its flagship Indian Technical and Economic slots to Taiwanese officials by attaching them with government autonomous organizations like the Research and Information Systems for Developing World or the Indian Institute of Public Administration.
It is not that India is a paragon of virtues; there are shortcomings in governance that India can learn from the Taiwanese experience. Good governance is critical for the success of democracy. Accountability and transparencies are two things that are worth emulating from Taiwan.
This writer is awestruck by the civil culture in Taiwan. Democracy is not just periodic elections and peaceful change of governments. It is also about discipline, observance of laws, rules and regulations, and the sensitivity of the civil service and the police, the civility of the general public. The genteel demeanor and helpful attitude of the average Taiwanese are endearing, and adds grace and elegance to their cosmopolitan identity. However, unlike Taiwan, India is a vast and complex country.
Democracy needs to be strengthened to retain people’s faith and confidence in the efficacy of the system. Good governance would lead to productivity and economic growth, and facilitate a better standard of living and quality of life.
Rup Narayan Das is a retired official of the Indian Parliament and a Taiwan Fellow at National Chung Hsing University.
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