March 12, 2021
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Debate the Debates – Edition 10

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Debate the Debates

Edition 10

Good afternoon. Debates on the alleged decline of democracy in India is all the rage these days. While US-based Freedom House downgraded Indian democracy ratings from ‘Free’ to ‘Partly Free‘, Sweden-based V-Dem Institute downgraded Indian regime from ‘Electoral Democracy’ to ‘Electoral Autocracy‘. While some in India swear by these reports, others have raised questions about the veracity of the methodologies used.

Considering the fact that the Indian democracy is a work in progress, is there anything that can be incorporated to further strengthen the democratic aspirations of our country? Well, today’s Debate the Debates brings you two interesting viewpoints on a concept called ‘Epistocracy‘ (a form of government run by those who have knowledge or expertise).

Last year, The Wire published two articles debating whether some aspects of epistocracy can be utilised to improve Indian democracy. The articles were written by Avani Bansal, Supreme Court advocate and President of East Delhi unit’s All India Professionals’ Congress, and Udit Bhatia, Junior Research Fellow of Jesus College and Lecturer in Politics, Lady Margaret Hall at the University of Oxford.

Can Indian Democracy improve by incorporating some aspects of Epistocracy?

“Yes”, argues Avani Bansal:

She writes, “The failure to intertwine the role of those who are specialists or experts in their field, with those whose primary strength is political arithmetic, has led our parliament to become a sordid reminder of Plato’s warning – where our nation’s ship is not led by the experts but just by whoever gets majority votes. No wonder then, that when the ship of our nation faces rough weather, especially during a heightened emergency, all we can do is pray that the people we have elected will ‘know their job’.”

Read her column here.

“No”, counters Udit Bhatia:

He argues, “Epistocracy might appear tempting for its epistemic benefits – its ability to draw on relevant information to deliver better decisions than those that democratic institutions are capable of producing. This view, however, hides the epistemic benefits of democracy while underplaying the costs that epistocracy imposes on political institutions’ capacity to operate in an intelligent fashion. I outline two such costs here: the first concerns the exclusion of disadvantaged groups from decision-making; the second relates to the consequences of their stigmatisation.”

Read his column here.