Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as the ‘rule of the people, by the people and for the people’. It has been proclaimed as the ideal form of the government because it keeps check on the actions of the executive.
The emergence of democracy can be traced back to many centuries ago, with the securing of certain rights in a document called ‘Magna Carta’ by the people of United Kingdom from their monarchy. The Greek philosophers too have staked their claim on gifting democracy to the people of the world. Indian intellectuals like Dr. Shashi Tharoor have rejected the claim of Western political thinkers regarding the foundation of democracy in West and have submitted the claim that democracy was practiced in Ancient India itself, signaling our strong roots of democracy. But the most plausible argument lies in the fact that there was no such thing as a ‘static system of democracy’. It is a dynamic idea into which various structures and features were added, subtracted and made permanent to form a basic structure of the democracy. This dynamic idea is still growing and will continue to grow forever with thesis and anti-thesis in its way. The struggle for independence and securing of semi-democratic concessions from the British in the form of Charters and Acts are all included in the dynamic addition in the basic structure of democracy.
Did India benefit from being a democratic nation? It surely did and apart from securing various rights from the State, the most important achievement of adopting a democratic system of governance is that it taught our people, the ‘art of questioning’. This art of questioning secured social, political and economic rights for our people. Even this evolution is in progress, people are demanding rights even till now and would continue to demand them with time, with an increase in the aspirations of the people. Democracy is the reason why we talk about ‘inclusion’ and give up the idea of exclusivity, whether it is political or economic (financial inclusion). The multi-way unrestricted communication in a productively dialectical method has resolved multiple issues in the journey and has polished the ethos of democracy itself. The emergence of a secular state is no surprise in a democracy where the aspirations of even the minutest of a community is respected and promoted. This is because of democracy alone, that the poor living in the remotest town of the country raises his own or collective voice and threatens the government if his/her constitutionally sanctioned demands are not met. In a pessimistic assumption of non-acceptance of his demands, he always has the option to consult the judiciary and secure his rights from the State. The universal adult franchise has promulgated not just political equality but social equality too which in turn kick-starts the process of economic equality in the future. The affirmative action to secure a decent standard of living for the subaltern class was possible only in a democracy. Not just for the citizens, but for the governance too, democracy has been an ideal method. It has circumscribed errors due to multiple checks and balances which have further promoted a rational decision making process, although slow, but most probably free from the quakes of unidentified risks. Transparency and accountability has not only benefitted the people but it has also boosted the confidence of the executive. As a small piece of paper is not enough to highlight the possible contributions of democracy to India, therefore it should be left for further debate.
But, Kautilya rejoiced the possibility of vulnerability of a democratic state and proclaimed that the existence of democracy means nobody is fit to rule the State. Recent surveys by various independent organizations have highlighted a particularly disturbing trend among our society. It showcases that the trust of the people in the democratic form of governance has eroded over the past few years and the citizens regard it as an impediment in our path of prosperity. There are several reasons for it, which may be true or partly true. The most important among them is that democracy prohibits the possibility of quick decision making. It could be partly true, but generally a trend has been seen that democratic systems have multiple layers of checks through which the process of quick decision making suffers a setback. It is also observed that in many times, when the quick decision making of the executive was required in India, the bureaucratic hurdles as well as the unnecessary colonial level regulations have impeded the process. It has resulted in the slipping away of opportunities (especially economic) from our hands to our undemocratic neighbors like China. The erosion of trust among the parliamentary form of governance due to undemocratic actions by few elements in the institution, to retard the progress of the country has led many to believe that democracy is not our way forward. The process of election has seen disturbing trends where politically inexperienced but economically motivated electors by the candidates are changing the dynamics of the institution of legislature and ultimately the Government at all levels. Therefore, the thoughts of political thinkers like John Stuart Mills, regarding extension of franchise to capable people alone, are being echoed in the politically active and mature minds of our people. The democratic system of governance has put some unnecessary fetters on our executive too through outdated as well as static laws because of which the executive finds it difficult to cope up with the changing dynamics of the governance. For example, the recent clamp down on some fringe elements among civil society to protect the political and economic security of the country was nullified by the judiciary due to lack of evidence. There has been inefficient law making in the past which needs regular upgradation to cope up with the changing dynamics of the society.
But the biggest failure of democracy is to secure a genuine political participation of its citizens in the functioning of the State. The emergence of a cycle of elite class rule in which the members of the ‘club’ rule the state turn-by-turn and there is a general prohibition of admission of common citizens in it. This elite club has seen the participation of rich, criminals as well as hereditary acceptance of the members. This circulation of elite theory has proved its dominance in Indian politics too where the dynastic rules, criminal as well as rich legislators have tried to circumvent the law according to their own whims and fancies.
Such examples have eroded the trust of the people of India in democracy and its ideals. But the ideals of democracy are not stagnant; rather they evolve with time and resolve such issues with the passage of time. People regard the democracy as the rule of semi-monarchs working under the stage of a democratic drama.
It could be agreed that democracy is not the perfect solution to India’s problems, but what other option do we have which is better than the democracy? We should remember that the right to discuss, demean and question the relevance of our Indian democracy, is given by the democracy itself.