By Vivek Pattanayak, April 4, 2023: During the Tudor period in the British history Thomas Moore wrote Utopia to describe an imaginary ideal country with freedom, equality and fellow-feeling among the people promoting a harmonious society. This could be like Plato’s ideal state or Aristotle’s polity.

Although he held a high position in King Henry VIII’s inner circle of most trusted advisors, being frustrated by absolutism and tyranny of the monarch he chose to write about future ideal island country. Since then, utopia meant not real but imaginary. Incidentally, Thomas Moore was executed even imagining a utopia.

During the time of early Greek thinkers like Plato and Aristotle ideas like monocracy, aristocracy, democracy began to spring up and yielding place to degraded forms like tyranny, oligarchy, and ochlocracy. As the time elapsed the concepts of theocracy, plutocracy, kakistocracy gained currency. The word kakistocracy had almost gone into disuse until Donald Trump became the President.

When one refers to democracy one would split the word into two, ‘demos’ and ‘kratos’ to elucidate that it is the power of people. Demos means people and kratos, power. We often quote Abraham Lincoln’s famous statement, government of the people, by the people and for the people. Students of history will go to the Magna Cara, the famous charter which absolutist King of England agreed to accept conceding power of taxation and legislation to the Parliament giving burial to the opprobrious system of court of star chamber, and giving place to the liberal judicial architecture which revived the Roman concept of habeas corpus.

As power of the Parliament increased reducing the monarch to a constitutional figure head, the bicameral parliamentary system of government with Prime Minister responsible to the elected lower house became the new feature of governance. Montesquieu’s doctrine of separation of power, evolution of politically neutral professional civil service after the debacle in the Crimean war in 19th century, founded on merit based competitive examination conducted by an independent Public Service Commission and growth of institution of the Comptroller and Auditor General to make government’s financial conduct transparent to the legislature and then to the public and increasing presence of media called the fourth estate by Edmund Burke in the parliament and its ability to make government accountable through fearless writings gave a robust manifestation of modern democracy.

The world of thinkers articulated since medieval times on liberalism (John Stuart Mill, Jeremy Bentham), Fabian socialism (Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb), democratic socialism (Karl Kautsky), even revolutionary communism (Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky and Mao) and not to forget advocacy of anarchism, evolutionary(Kropotkin) or revolutionary (Bakunin). A period also saw emergence of the pernicious Fascism and Nazism, the chief proponents being Mussolini and Hitler.

In the late twentieth and more so in in the current century the word dystopia has gained currency.

What the word really means? Going by the Greek root, State of utopia is good although imaginary and may be unreal, while place of dystopia would mean is a place where nothing is perfect. Contrast to utopia dystopia represents a society of great suffering or injustice almost comparable to the state of nature described by Hobbes in his magnum opus Leviathan where life would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Even categorization of dystopian state has been attempted, one known for bureaucratic control, a government of unyielding regulations, one of corporate control where companies control people through media, also referred to as plutocracy when it extends to control of bureaucracy and political leadership. Another category is ideology or religion based control of government and through it preponderance of influence over the society.

Events of history have shown that march towards utopia have not been complete with any form of governance whether monarchic, aristocratic, socialistic, fascist, communist, liberal, or democratic forms of structure although promise of utopia has been made by those who seek political control.

What are true democracies opinions are divided. While the Western states consider their societies are truly democratic, there is a contrarian view elsewhere in the globe. The communist countries also claimed that they were highly democratic. Even highly totalitarian and despotic countries justify their system on the ground of ultimate welfare of people.

Some claim their country as most democratic calling them as the oldest constitutional democracy or birth place of democracy or even the mother of democracy.

India’s democracy founded on a written constitution propelled by the Utopian thoughts of founding fathers with a preamble quoting the words of the French revolution liberty, equality, and fraternity with opening words of “we the people” impressed Ernest Barker so much that his classic book “The Social and Political Theory” quoted the Preamble of the Constitution of India in the cover page of his book. Ivor Jennings criticized the constitution as lawyers’ paradise and Alan Gledhill expressed great apprehension about the enormous power the President, representing the Executive, enjoyed. He gave the example of Weimar constitution and how it was wrecked by Hitler.

When emergency was declared in 1975 suspending fundamental rights including access to the courts most significantly to the apex court for their enforcement, although it was done under the constitutional provisions, it was widely frowned upon in India and abroad as highly undemocratic. There was no criticism when emergency provisions were invoked on the wake of the Sino-Indian war, Indo-Pak war in 1965 and the Bangladesh war of 1971.

Can the democracy be wrecked without invocation of emergency? This takes us to the question of principle of check and balance. Separation of power based on classical theory of Montesquieu recognized three institutions of authority, executive, legislature, and judiciary each having its own role in the State. It was in USA which incorporated this idea into the constitution where until the famous judgment of Justice Marshall in the case of Madbury vs Madison declaring a law as unconstitutional making it invalid had not demonstrated how the doctrine of check and balance could have effect.

The Constitution of India which came almost two centuries of Montesquieu’s proposition and hundred fifty years after Madbury vs Madison case envisaged many other constitutional bodies like the Election Commission, CAG, Public Service Commission and ST, SC, OBC Commissions and many statutory bodies like the Human Rights Commission, Information Commission etc. diffusing authority of the State and each having been given defined role.

In addition constitutional sequestering of power between the Union and the State, and further creating self-governing constitutional bodies at the district, intermediate and grassroots level have fortified the concept that power cannot and should not be concentrated echoing what Harold Laski called “authority is federal”.

In India landmark judgments like Golaknath case, Kesavananda Bharati case and Minerva Mills case led ultimately to the concept of basic structure taking away unbridled power of the Parliament and a group of states in unison to amend the constitution under Article 368.This is comparable to the historic Madbury and Madison case. The collegium system of appointment of judges to the high court and apex court is another epoch-making expansion of judge made law.

Even gradually executive power of appointments to CVC and CBI have been diluted so has been the case of appointment to Information Commission where the leader of opposition is being kept in loop. Now the voice is being raised regarding appointment to the Election Commission, possibly voice will be raised about appointment of CAG and members of the Public Service Commission and in future to other statutory bodies.

Hypothetically, if the executive would have full and unquestioned authority to appoint judges, positions in constitutional and statutory bodies, executive can pack the entire governing structure with political loyalists known as “committed judges, civil servants” and other statutory functionaries making the system of separation of power and check and balance a nullity. This will be the first step towards dystopic society negating the founding objective of reaching utopic state.

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