This article provides a detailed explanation on how today’s democracy is more holistic and meaningful. Abstract The oppressiveness of authoritarian regimes is not hidden from the world and the fragrance of democracy could not be locked in a bottle. It’s an amalgamation of dialogue, discussion, and debate given by democracy which has ensured the survival of the world… Read More »

This article provides a detailed explanation on how today’s democracy is more holistic and meaningful.

Abstract

The oppressiveness of authoritarian regimes is not hidden from the world and the fragrance of democracy could not be locked in a bottle. It’s an amalgamation of dialogue, discussion, and debate given by democracy which has ensured the survival of the world amidst the rule by non-state actors, extremist elements, and oppressive governments.

India gifted the virtue of democracy which it earned by efforts of emancipation from racism, alienation, despotism, and slavery to its citizens with a hope that they will nurture and sustain it by their sweat of understanding and responsibility. A healthy democracy is characterized by a decent society whereby individuals are honourable, generous, tolerant, and respectful.

‘The power to question is the basis of all human progress’ remarked Indira Gandhi and this is the only democratic government that gives the opportunity to dissent, protest, and question the government’s actions. It is the only form of governance where the rights of one are not at the cost of others.

The lack of political stability and democracy negatively affects the freedom and security of citizens, implies the lack of social institutions, limited access to health care, education and intellectual development of citizens, causes corruption and in extreme cases violence and crime, which can lead to conflicts and thus hamper development. To counteract the current challenges and create the conditions for a more sustainable, inclusive, and accountable recovery, democracies must reassert their strengths and show the world how and why democratic governance is the best option.

However, this democracy cannot be forced upon. It has to come from within. So as Nelson Mandela remarked ‘An educated, enlightened and informed population is one of the surest ways of promoting the health of democracy.’

4 D’s For A Better World- Democracy, Dialogue, Discussion, And Debate

Knock knock democracy at your service!!! Ma’am/ Sir, will you prefer agency, development, liberty, and breath of freedom?

Grab it before authoritarian regimes take over…..turning the land into a piece harboring not citizens but slaves…protecting not freedom but political agendas…supporting not fresh air of equality but the filth of discrimination……only arrogance, ignorance and selfishness to be seen around………so beware of monster eroding democracy!!!

Gone are the days when the definition of democracy restricted itself to rule of the people, by the people, and for the people. The five core attributes of democracy- Representative Government, Fundamental Rights, Checks on Government, Impartial Administration, and Participatory Engagement- are still vital but not the only parameters to define a meaningful democracy.

With the advent of modernization and inculcation of scientific temper, the meaning of democracy has also turned over a new leaf. It is now characterized by equality that is substantive and not just formal, fraternity, dignity, inclusiveness, co-existence, accountability, stronger and effective institutions, and security in all forms whether food, water, health, environment, or defense. It is about freedom- social, economic, political, and environmental. Today’s democracy is more holistic and meaningful.

East or West Democracy is the Best

Democracy has strengthened itself by confronting corruption, discrimination, arbitrariness in decisions of government. It ensures legitimacy, transparency, and accountability. The uniqueness and beauty of democracy is reflected by the following-

  • Promotes economic development: Development refers to enhancing human freedoms and improving the quality of life. It is democracy that grants its citizens the privilege to exercise fundamental rights which are indispensable to live a meaningful life. Thus, democracy and development are complementary wheels to drive human life which was further reinforced by the establishment of INTERNATIONAL PANEL ON DEMOCRACY AND DEVELOPMENT by UNESCO in 1998.
  • Ensures dignity and freedom of citizens: Democracy is the basis for civil liberties and freedom and these cannot nurture with seeds of arbitrariness or absence of rule of law. It embodies principles of freedom, justice, human rights, and the free participation of citizens. These work only if people are tolerant, respect differences, discuss them, and are willing to share power. Democracy is the tool to ensure the dignity and freedom of citizens. As remarked by Kimdae Jung ‘Democracy is the absolute value that makes for human dignity as well as the only road to sustained economic development and social justice.’
  • Improves quality of decision-making: Democracy is based on consultations, debates, and discussions. This improves the quality of decision-making, thus, preventing arbitrary action against the supportive and protective policies for people. However in an authoritarian system whereby decisions are taken by top political leaders with no emphasis on popular will such fragilities are inescapable.
  • Ensures participatory governance: Democracy gives people the room to be heard, to exercise their agency, to put public pressure, and to express dissent against indiscriminate and arbitrary decisions. During the Chinese famines of 1959-62 which killed 30 million people, the Chinese authoritarian regime took no action due to lack of any public pressure. Further during the economic reforms of 1979 in China improved agriculture and industry efficiency on one side and involved a huge retreat from universal health coverage affecting the rural cooperative medical system on the other side leading to declining of rural population covered by free or heavily subsidized healthcare to just 10%. A functioning democracy could never have accepted a situation like the economic reforms of 1979 in China. During the beginning of the COVID crisis mass killing of COVID patients in North Korea is another example that would have never been sustained in a democracy.
  • Leads to reduction of inequality and poverty: Its only democratic politics that offer opportunities for the most deprived Indians ‘to reflect on their own strength’ and to demand remedy for the inequalities that ruin the lives of many. Thus, democracy is a mechanism to reduce inequalities and poverty. As democracy grants, socio-economic rights along with political rights so helps to reduce disparities and minimize inequalities- both social and political.
  • Accommodates social diversity: Democracy is about co-existence and harmony among different groups. It gives voice to views of minorities and allows for equality of all irrespective of caste, religion, gender, etc.
  • Provides accountable, transparent responsive, and legitimate government: The periodic elections in a democracy keep leaders under check and responsive to the needs of people.

Though democracy has certain limitations like-

  • Instability, as leaders keep changing in a democracy.
  • Lack of morality as democracy is all about political competition and power play
  • Delays as so many people have to be consulted in a democracy
  • Bad decisions as elected leaders do not know the best interest of the people and ordinary people don’t know what is good for them.

But yet democracy is the best form of governance as it gives an individual the liberty to question the authority and their rash decisions. It is not only a harbinger of legitimacy, accountability, transparency but of agency, capability, and opportunities for the full development of potentialities. It transforms people from the status of the subject into that of a citizen.

Nation and Nationalism: Democracy in India

No one ever wondered that the sunrise of the 21st century will end the darkness of many authoritarian and hybrid regimes, such as Armenia, the Gambia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Tunisia, which became democracies. But soon the military coup and capture by non-state actors caught the headlines and the world began to witness the sliding back of many countries down the democratic scale. India too has not remained behind. With ups and downs taking initiatives and making reforms, some of which could strengthen democracy and some of which could hamper, India has been downgraded from ‘free’ to ‘ Partly Free’ in Freedom in the World 2021, Freedom House’s annual study of political rights and civil liberties worldwide.

Further, India is ranked 46 on the global index EIU’s 2021 Democracy Index with an overall score of 6.91. According to The V-Dem Institute, an independent research institute based at the University of Gothenburg, India is no longer an ‘electoral democracy’, and has classified the country as an ‘electoral autocracy.’

These rankings are a consequence of events going on in India which have either strengthened or weakened democracy.

Strengthening Bedrock of Democracy

India is making continuous efforts to strengthen its institutions of democracy-

  • Strengthening of the electoral process: Election Commission of India, the hero behind the free and fair elections in India is continuously making efforts to make the electoral process efficient, effective, and transparent via EVMs, VVPAT, SVEEP, cVIGIL, and numerous other apps and programs.
  • Inclusiveness: Democracy is about the rule of the majority with the protection of the minority. This has been proven with landmark events-
    • NALSA judgment in which Supreme Court declared transgender people the ‘third gender’, affirmed that the fundamental rights granted under the Constitution of India will be equally applicable to them
    • Supreme Court had upheld the right of serving Short Service Commission (SSC) women officers of the Navy to be granted permanent commission (PC) on a par with their male counterparts.
    • Trifood project was launched with the objective to enhance the income of tribals through better utilization of and value addition to the MFPs collected by the tribal forest gatherers.
    • SC decision on coparcenary rights of women which is in line with the aim of ending discrimination. Hindu woman’s right to be a joint heir to the ancestral property is by birth and does not depend on whether her father was alive or not when the law was enacted in 2005.
  • Responsive institutions: Efficient and responsive institutions are the hallmark of democracy. The Supreme Court seeking accountability from the Union government over its handling of the second wave of the novel coronavirus disease asked in a notice about its status and strategy on the supply of oxygen and essential drugs, manner of vaccination, and power to declare lockdown. Then Supreme Court directed reinstatement of a former female judicial officer – who resigned in 2014 following an inquiry into her allegations of sexual harassment against a HC judge. Also, Supreme Court ordered IIT Bombay to allot the seat to a Dalit boy, who could not pay the fee due to a banking error, in 48 hours. Further National Investigation Agency arrested an IPS officer for leaking NIA documents to a LeT worker.
  • Cultural harmony: Unity in diversity is what makes a democracy strong. Considering this, the Indian government has started Ek Bharat Shresth Bharat to celebrate the idea of India as a nation wherein different cultural units across varied geographies coalesce and interact with each other and enable people to imbibe the innate chord of binding and brotherhood. This chain of the fraternity will help to take democracy to new shores.
  • Wings to Freedom: Democracy is known for civil liberties. India has repeatedly testified this which is evident in-
    • A nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India held unanimously that the right to privacy was a constitutionally protected right in India, as well as being incidental to other freedoms guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.
    • Triple Talaq judgment in which the centuries-old practice of instant triple talaq among the Muslim community was declared unconstitutional.
    • Sabrimala judgment in which Supreme Court had struck down a law barring entry of women in the age group of 10-50 years into the hill shrine in Kerala.
    • Increasing the minimum age of marriage of women gives them autonomy and agency.
  • Reducing disparities: Democracy is known for reducing inequalities at a greater scale in comparison to the authoritarian regime. This is evident in India’s efforts by launching of
    • Start-Up Village Entrepreneurship Programme (SVEP) by Ministry of Rural Development to support the rural poor come out of poverty, supporting them set up enterprises and provide support till the enterprises stabilize;
    • PM Street Vendor’s Atma Nirbhar Nidhi (SVANidhi) Scheme by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) to empower street vendors to recover losses incurred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic;
    • Rashtriya Aajeevika Mission for organizing the rural poor women into Self Help Groups (SHGs), and continuously nurturing and supporting them to take economic activities so that they come out of abject poverty.
    • Supreme Court’s refusal to ban begging at public places amid pandemic as no one would like to beg if not for poverty
  • Environment protection: The legitimacy of democratic government is determined by its initiative for addressing climate change. It is difficult to value democracy if it cannot put in place measures to protect humankind and ensure the sustainability of the planet. The impacts of climate change on food security, migration, water scarcity, and the financial consequences of extreme weather events have direct effects on democratic governance. Realizing this Indian government is actively working on environmental sustainability visible in the establishment of the International Solar Alliance, Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, the launch of the National Action Plan on Climate Change, Biofuel policy, GOBAR-DHAN Scheme, etc.

Cracks in Indian Democracy

India in recent times is witnessing democratic erosion and democratic backsliding on a small scale. This is a result of the following incidences in our country-

  • Weakening Rule of law: Rule of law means laws apply to everybody including the authorities and they limit the arbitrary decisions of rulers. Greater is the arbitrariness, lower is the democracy. In India there has been the frequent rise of arbitrary decisions evident in judgment ‘skin to skin’ contact necessary for considering it a case of sexual assault, dismissal of a complaint made by a woman against former CJI, seizing of carts of 25 street vendors by Gujarat Municipal Corporation as part of a campaign against the sale of non-vegetarian food in the city, etc. Increasing incidences of corruption, scams, and misgovernance have exposed the myth of rule of law, the most recent being a series of governance lapses at the National Stock Exchange, India’s largest stock exchange. Transparency International ranked India at 85 among 180 countries in its Corruption Perception Index 2021 which indicates undermining of the ability of Indian governments to guarantee the human rights of its citizens. Corruption undermines trust in democracy as a form of government, fuels civic discontent, and affects the delivery of public services, the dispensation of justice, and the provision of safety for all.
  • Declining of the essence of democracy: Democracy is known for discussions and debates. However, the role of Parliament is declining whereby the majority of decisions are being taken bypassing Rajya Sabha, without referring to any committee, and the number of sittings is also declining. In winter session 2021, Lok Sabha worked for 77% of its scheduled time, while Rajya Sabha worked for 43%. During this session, Ten Bills were passed, of which six had been introduced in this session and only 13% of the Bills have been referred to Committees which is much lower than the last three Lok Sabhas. Further, the abuse of the ordinance route witnessed in ordinances extending CBI and Enforcement Directorate chiefs’ tenure undermined the democratic process. Democracy is known for tolerance but India has witnessed the rise of outrages against commercial advertisement promoting cross-cultural links like those of FabIndia and Tanishq; killings over interfaith relationships, mob lynching, etc. All of this has led to the erosion of democracy. Protecting the minority is the hallmark of democracy, however, it has failed in India. This is evident in the removal by NCERT of teacher training manual inclusive of transgender instead of having an open discussion and defending its manual on complaints made by NCPCR. The victory of justice is a symbol of democracy but in India, about 75% of the prison population is of undertrials, so the way to justice is miles away.
  • Security and safety under threat: Democracy is known for the right to life and liberty. In societies with low levels of personal safety and physical security from harm, it is difficult to exercise other freedoms, or even to survive. However, in India, there have been several incidences where the citizens are under threat from government institutions as numerous custodial deaths like of Tamil Nadu father-son duo and high civilian casualties in regions under AFSPA have been reported. Further India is crippled by the criminalization of politics which has weakened the roots of democracy.
  • Diversity being used for divisiveness: The politics of identity- based on caste, religion, language, and regions- has been an unfortunate reality in Indian electioneering which weakens democracy. The differences in people are being exploited for political gains. Polarization nurtured by social media, fake news, and disinformation have added fuel to fire weakening democracy.
  • Increasing intrusion of state: In recent years India has witnessed several instances of state intrusion having an adverse effect on rights enjoyed by citizens. There has been arbitrary use of sedition law to curb dissent & counter-terrorism laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, internet shut down, a crackdown on the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), censorship of media, and violence towards journalists; repression of civil society organizations by FCRA amendments. Democracy is known for tolerance and co-existence but in India, there has been increasing state interference in the personal lives of citizens through laws regulating inter-faith marriages. India was ranked 119th out of 165 countries in the Cato Institute’s Human Freedom Index 2021 and 142nd on 2021 World Press Freedom Index of Reporters without Borders. This intrusion has extended to the economic front as well as highlighted by the report titled ‘ Jailed for Doing Business’ which documents a total of 1536 laws and 69233 compliance applicable for Indian business.
  • Widened inequalities: According to the World Inequality Report 2022, India stands out as a “poor and very unequal country, with an affluent elite”, where the top 10% holds 57% of the total national income, including 22% held by the top 1%, while the bottom 50% holds just 13% in 2021. This is because of the lack of availability of timely institutional credit to those in need to augment their incomes. On one side there have been cases like Vijay Malya and Nirav Modi who have crores of loans but are not questioned. On the other, there are small farmers who are bothered even for a loan of a meager amount. This has affected the distribution of income. The country fell 26 places to rank 105th among 162 countries and territories on a global economic freedom index released by the Fraser Institute in Canada in September 2020.

Bouncing Back of Democracy

A country faces certain challenges with respect to democracy-

  • Foundational challenge: The first important step towards democracy is making the transition to democracy and then instituting democratic government by bringing down the existing non-democratic regime, keeping the military away from controlling government, and establishing a sovereign and functional state.
  • Challenge of expansion: The country which institutes democratic government faces the challenge of expansion which involves applying the basic principle of democratic government across all the regions, different social groups, and various institutions and keeping less decisions outside the arena of democratic control.
  • Deepening of democracy: This involves strengthening the institutions and practices of democracy which requires an attempt to bring down the control and influence of the rich and powerful people in making a governmental decision.

India, our motherland has overcome the foundational challenge with the efforts of freedom struggle and has expanded democracy to the grassroots level but is yet to deepen democracy. However, this cannot be achieved at once and requires constant efforts not just of rulers but of citizens as well. People are complaining is itself a testimony to the success of democracy as it shows that people have developed awareness and the ability to expect and to look critically at power holders and the high and the mighty.

Government institutions, along with civil society and the media, must prevent rising authoritarianism and democratic backsliding and should build democratic capacity by

  • Protecting electoral integrity, fundamental freedoms, and rights
  • Ensuring the functioning of checks and balances essential to thriving and resilient democratic systems
  • Investing in democratic education at all levels of schooling
  • Strengthening the pillars of democracy that ensure accountability
  • Including broad participation and access to information
  • Actively learning from other countries’ experiences in fighting disinformation, building democratic cultures, and strengthening democratic guardrails.
  • Prioritizing rebuilding of mutual trust between citizens and their representatives that characterizes the strongest democracies

References

  • The Global State of Democracy 2021 report
  • Corruption Perception Index
  • Class 10th Political Science NCERT- Democratic Politics
  • Newspapers- Indian Express, The Hindu, Times of India

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Updated On 2022-03-21T06:02:08+05:30
Deepika Singla

Deepika Singla

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