By Vivek Pattanayak in Bhubaneswar, September 18, 2021: On September 15, the world commemorated the International Day of Democracy in the midst of massive worldwide challenges for democracies. Signifcantly, the United States’ costly withdrawal from Afghanistan has cast doubt on the West’s role in advancing liberal democracy around the world.

The Universal Declaration on Democracy, which was issued on September 15, 1997 by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), an international organisation of national parliaments, gave birth to the International Day of Democracy. The General Assembly of the United Nations in 2007 declared September 15 as International Day of Democracy.

The word democracy originates from the Greek word “demos” meaning people and “kratos” meaning power.

In city-States of Greece, the word people meant only citizens and certainly it did not include slaves.Power meant political power. Peoples’ power is related to affairs of the State. Since the days of ancient Greece, the concept of democracy has evolved with events and passage of time.

In Europe and more particularly in the Western hemisphere, in the second millennium, Magna Carta, Civil War in Britain, Bill of Rights, Glorious Revolution, the American War of Independence, and the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon expanded the concept of democracy. This included representative form of democracy known as indirect democracy as against the idea of direct democracy of the times Greek city-state.

The parliament, a representative body, became a legislative organ of the State having power of making laws taking away the absolute power of the king,monarch, or the ruler. Legislature called parliament in Britain became bicameral, upper house representing nobility and landed aristocracy, and lower house representing people, members being elected by certain qualified voters. Property gave right of franchise. Women did not enjoy that right. It is to the credit of Napoleon that nobility lost its untrammelled privileged status in the most of Europe except Britain.

The court of law called judiciary emerged eclipsing the judicial authority of the monarch exercised through court of star of chamber. Power of king was circumscribed with evolution of Cabinet form of government accountable to the Parliament. The majority in the lower house was crucial for the Prime Minister to head the council of ministers. Robert Walpole then Prime Minister set the precedent in the early 18th century when he resigned from the post as he could not muster majority in the House of Commons.

Institution of the bureaucracy developed when governance became complex with increase of legislations as the government activities expanded. Recruitment to civil service was no longer left in the hand of the executive but it was assigned to an independent statutory body in Britain to encourage merit-based entry and prevent entry of privileged people from the society to government positions after sad experience in the Crimean war.

The Comptroller General and Auditor General, body outside the executive government came into existence making accounting and finances transparent to the Parliament who voted annual budget.
In early 19th century inspired by Montesquieu concept of separation of power was enshrined in the American constitution. John Locke’s philosophy of limited government had its imprint in the liberal American Constitution. Judicial authority expanded in USA even to strike down lawspassed by Congress, the legislature, in the famous Madison vs Madbury case.

Edmund Burke by referring to the Press as the fourth estate gave a status to the media. The idea of free journalism was mooted.

In the Swiss confederation constitution envisaged plebiscite, referendum, andpopular initiative. Some Cantons have direct democracy called Landsgeminde. France also made referendum from time to time. Even Britain decided its membership in the European Union through referendum. Its exit known as Brexit was also through referendum.

In the early 20th century after the First World War the creation of League of Nations heralded arrival of first political international organization. It was accompanied by dismemberment of the Ottoman empire, the Austro-Hungarian empire, the German Kaiser Hohenzollern empire, and creation of mandates for the freed nationalities out of erstwhile empire. First in eastern Europe and then in the Middle East and north Africa nationalism grew with rise of peoples’ consciousness which later became right of self-determination.

In the 19th century philosophy of Karl Marx had profound effect in Europe encouraging workers to assert their rights as reflected through the events leading to the Paris communes. Towards the close of the First World War in Russia the revolution of Social Revolutionaries (Narodnik) led by Prince Lvov and Alexander Kerensky dethroning Czar Nicholas II, and subsequent Bolshevik October Revolution led by Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin gave new dimension to rights of industrial workers and peasants, the tillers of soil. The Constitution of Soviet Union recognized autonomous regions and nationalities within Republics which also included right to cessation. If the French Revolution gave rights to bourgeois and, the Russian revolutions gave awakening to proletariat.

International Labour Organization came along with the League of Nations around the same time giving participation of workers’ representatives and trade unions.

It is no coincidence that after the First World War Britain allowed representative form of government in India, then a part of its empire, through dyarchy and then subsequently by giving provincial autonomy. After Second World War the mighty Britain disappeared from India which had cataclysmic effect on imperialism in other parts of Asia, Africa and in the Caribbean islands with the French, the Dutch and finally the Portuguese exiting from their colonies leaving to the local people their destiny of self-governance.

The Charter of United Nations which was created after the Second World War eloquently expressed in its Preamble “we the peoples of the United Nations” which reverberated in the Preamble of the Indian Constitution with words “we the people of India”. Significantly the League of Nations in its Covenant used the expression High Contracting Parties epitomizing sovereignty of States. This change of expression symbolized the power is with people, “demos kratos”.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, followed by international covenants on human rights, rights of women, minorities, and persons with disability has created a new ambience of democracy. Growth of international law, globalization through communication network after advent of internet and electronic media and now social media also created an atmosphere of transparency and technology related mechanism of check and balance on authority of sovereign states.

To sum up in last two thousand five hundred years the concept of democracy has widened to embrace representative form of government through election process with rights of franchise to all adults including women, judicially enforceable fundamental rights, separation of power as reflected in the US constitution and also the Indian Constitution with autonomy to constitutional and statutory bodies, judicial independence, free media, professional and neutral civil service more significantly idea of vibrant civil society.

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