South Asia and the Fourth Wave of Democracy

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The Fourth Wave

The fourth wave in essence implies that the democratic practices in the South Asian countries might be flawed according the western norms and also open to attack as ‘undemocratic’, but rather than tailoring the democratic practices to the western theories, the South Asian countries are doing well in tailoring them in accordance to national demands and sensitivities. For a realist it is obvious to realise that all is not well with the current trend of the fourth wave in South Asia. South Asia in no way seems to be emerging as an inspiring model of democratic governance for the other developing regions. Issues of minority rights, personalisation of politics, and existence of minimal democracy are some of the flaws discussed above. But the contribution of South Asia lies in asserting that the fourth wave will be dominated by the indigenisation of democracy and emergence of new standards to measure democratic success.

Given the overlapping of the processes of state-building, nation-building, economic modernisation and democratisation the South Asian states are evolving a self-suited democratic design, which is still in the experimental stages. There are cross-currents within the fourth wave as well. Bhutan’s policy of culturally guided democracy stands in opposition to Sri Lanka’s political system dictated by ethnic majorities; induction of the Maoists in the political mainstream of Nepal raises questions about the future of the LTTE in Sri Lanka; primacy of the Islamic religion in guiding national lives could differently impact the polity and society in Afghanistan and Pakistan; the military is differently influencing the political process in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Maldives; the operations of democracy in India and Nepal have made the people of Bhutan apprehensive of embracing the new system. The fact that democratic developments in one regional state is neither inspiring nor concurrent to the democratic process in other raises the obvious question: how can South Asia collectively qualify as contributing to the initiation of the fourth wave of democracy? South Asia’s very contribution to the fourth wave is the assertion of the possibilities of distinctiveness and innovativeness in democracy. Unlike the definite prescriptions of a successful democratic model, fourth wave emphasises on country-specific models of democracy. Rather than providing a model for replication, the fourth wave demonstrates the worth of developing national models of democracy through the example of South Asia.

The examples of Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, and Nepal have demonstrated the degree of democratic innovations in the region, while Pakistan, Maldives, and Sri Lanka confirm to the continuing search for innovation. The fourth wave holds that democracy is a political system inspired by the milieu serving the national specifics while acknowledging the broadly defined parameters of democratic practice. The fourth wave is in no way a defence of the autocratic regimes erected in the name of democracy.ix It is rather an attempt to counter the excessive standardisation of democracy, which quells the attempts at constructing nationally suited variants of the democratic system. According to the South Asia inspired fourth wave, democracy is more about practice and less about prescription; it is more about aspiration and less about benchmarks; it is more about achieving tangible results and less about confirming to normative principles.

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