By Vivek Pattanayak in Bhubaneswar, September 20, 2021 Democracies stay alive when a community organizes its self-governance with the full participation, on an equal basis, of all the members of the community. Universal suffrage is clearly a step toward at least formal democracy because voters elect leaders.

How real this formal democracy is depends on the inclusivity of the population voting, the concrete reality of voters’ equal influence on the election’s outcome and most significantly how vigilant and englightened the citizens are.

Unlike democracy, in Authoritarian, Totalitarian, Dictatorial, Monarchy, Oligarchy, Technocracy, and Theocracy forms of government, an individual, or a section of community or a single-party concentrates all power.

Right to Information made the democratic government accountable to ordinary citizens. It included all parts of government. Before this right was vested, a citizen could obtain information only through legislative procedures during question-answer session. These could be obtained through MLA, MLC, or MP. During the JP movement in the seventies right to recall representative was strongly advocated to make the representatives of people accountable between the elections.

In India, federal structure known as Union of States with three lists identified as Union List, State List and Concurrent List adumbrating the functions of federal authority and its units called Center and States, and special provisions outlined in erstwhile Article 370, existing Articles 371 A, B, C, D, E etc. reflecting asymmetric federalism indicate how the concept of democracyhas developed over the years. With 74th amendment there is decentralization of power giving authority to Zilla Parishads, Panchayat Samitis and Gram Panchayats having provisions for direct democracy through Palli Sabha and Gram Sabha.

Meaning of democracy is no longer confined to political power. It includes economic and social power. The Preamble of the Indian constitution refers to justice social, economic, and political, liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship, equality of status and opportunity, fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual.

In these words of preamble read with Directive Principles and Fundamental Rights the ideas of individualism, socialism and secularism are covered. In other words, democracy is not confined to only political authority but also covers social and economic power. Ideas of corporate democracy with shifting of power to share-holders and concept of corporate social responsibility placing obligation on corporates to respect all stakeholders illustrate how the economic democracy is progressing.

Notwithstanding these developments in many countries around the world elected governments have been toppled by coup d’état by military. There has been backlash to these aberrations. In Latin America dictatorships were quite common. In Costa Rica the people having been sick of unabashed trampling of democracy abolished institution of military by making provisions in the Constitution of 1948.

Coincidentally, this small beautiful environmentally friendly neutral country with highest happiness index in the whole of Latin America celebrates its two hundred years of independence from the Spanish imperialism on the same day as the International Day of Democracy.The Organization of American States (OAS) does not give recognition to a regime which ousts a legal regime by force.

Military taking over power from the democratically elected governments have become quite common in Africa and in Myanmar, Pakistan, and Thailand. In some African countries like Somalia declared as a failed State, Libya where after fall of Gadhafi with multiple power centres, Yemen with deadly internecine wars the question of restoration oforderly society seems like a mirage. Democracy is a far cry in wilderness. Afghanistan under Taliban hope of democracy is remote.

Most of the Arab states in the Gulf will not come under the definition of democracy even as understood by the ancient Greek standard. Jordan a monarchy is attempting to go towards democracy. Lebanon caught up in sectarian conflict for more than five decades had inkling of hope with Hariri. After his assassination, with Nasrullah being a State within State, and nuclear type mysterious massive explosion at Beirut the hopes of the stability of Stateare thin.

Syria in civil war with murky records of governance is not counted as a candidate for democracy. Iraq after Saddam is a chaotic society which spawned the barbaric form of terrorism with ISIS. What form of democracy will evolve in such a situation one can easily fathom? Iran, although it conducts periodic election, will be far from being close to democracy as was described in the earlier paragraphs.

Turkey, once considered as a respectable secular democracy in past, now under Erdogan will fall below standards of democracy laid down in the earlier narration. China and North Korea have no claims for the status of democracy. Russia, although it conducts election is in shadowy zone.

In Europe, Canada, Australia, NZ, Japan, and USA functioning of democracy is robust although what happened on 6 January 2021 in Capitol Hill reflects poorly on this constitutional democracy. Treatment of blacks by the white policemen has demonstrated the weak foundation of democratic culture.

Having given a global picture, one should come to India to make introspection. If we go by reckoning of international observers we cannot come anywhere near Japan, Europe, Canada, US, Australia, and NZ. In last seventy-five years of existence, we have maintained democratic institutions. Although emergency is considered as dark period it was for a short period and democracy rebounded soon thereafter.

It will be pertinent to mention that emergency came within constitutional exercise of power. That is the precise reason why Alan Gledhill had cautioned democracy can be wrecked within the framework of the constitution. He had given the example of the Weimar constitution which was simply superseded by Hitler by using constitutional provisions. The same thing could also happen in India.

In India emergency was declared in 1962 after the Chinese aggression, it was there in 1965 when Pakistan attacked and again in 1971 it was declared during Bangladesh War. No criticism was levelled about wrecking of democracy then but in 1975 when it was declared it was considered as misuse of power because of circumstances under which it was declared, and secondly exercise of power like detention without trial and censorship of media etc. appeared draconian.

Flagrant misuses of power to supersede the State governments have shown abject failing in our democratic system more particularly when governments are changed in the States by unabashed floor crossing. Lack of transparency in political funding is another glaring weakness.

Although there is no declaration of emergency now, yet there is criticism of sapping of democratic freedom. There is a feeling that public opinion is being managed through loyal media and criticism is visited by misuse of power of various law enforcing agencies. Protest is suppressed through colourable exercise of power. Allegations are there that key posts are filled by persons who have loyalty to the existing political dispensation.

Important thing to recognize is that form is not same as spirit. A country may have democratic system yet malevolence, arrogance, and prejudice, more particularly intolerance among the people in power can dwarf the structure.

Leave a Reply

Be the First to Comment!

Notify of