DEMOCRACY AS AN IDEOLOGY AND FORM OF GOVERNMENT – CASE STUDY

democracy

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THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN BY AYUSHI PRIYADARSHINI A STUDENT OF SYMBIOSIS LAW SCHOOL, PUNE

INTRODUCTION

I understand democracy as something that gives the weak the same chance as the strong” – Mahatma Gandhi.

The term ‘democracy’ has its etymological roots in the two Greek terms, ‘demos’ meaning people and ‘kratia’ meaning power or rule. Thus in its simplest sense, democracy is a rule wherein the power lies in the hands of the people. It is the centerpiece of how a nation is – it is when people have the right to keep a check on their government, it is the instrument ensuring the governance one deserves. The definition of Democracy as a form of government involves policy and law determined by the actual, real majority of the people governed (or their representatives). India is a Constitutional Republic governed by democratically elected representatives of the citizens. Democracy as ideology represents the notion that the people, in their majority, will decide all group issues of action by voting. As a form of government, Democracy describes the process of election or referendum by which law and policy is passed, which is open to and representative of the entire populace.

According to the conventional historical sources, democracy has its origins in the city-states of Greece 2500 years ago. However, this form of institutions existed in India in the Vedic period, as mentioned in Arthashastra, with the example of panchayats existing as the nuclear of local governance; accountability, transparency, morality and wisdom being the criteria for being a member of the same; with the existence of women enfranchise and right of candidature.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, few states in the world could be called democratic. Yet much personal and local freedom existed under the reign of law. Near the close of the twentieth century, nearly every political regime throughout the world ‘professes’ to be democratic. Yet in many lands like China or DPRK, personal and local freedom has been extirpated. On the face of things, it appears that the triumph of democracy, far from preserving or enlarging freedom, has brought to power a host of squalid oligarchs. How is it that we find ourselves in this bent world of Anno Domini all the evangels of progress having been refuted by circumstance? The Second World War can be described as an ideological war between democratism and the amalgamation of fascism, socialism and autocracy, with the victory of the former. It is said that democratic ideals fueled the revolts against Colonialism and laid the foundation of the modern welfare-state, and the representative form of parliament became the core of democratic governments.

CASE STUDY AND COMPARISON

For this research, India has been taken as the case for analysis, being the largest democracy in the world. Before proceeding, we will first trace the development of the form of democracy the country has witnessed over the years.

As mentioned earlier, Vedic India, though a monarchy or oligarchy, was liberal enough to delegate powers to the members of the basic units of the kingdom. Even though the ruling was based on heredity, social welfare took predominance over personal security and prosperity. Taking the example of Emperor Ashoka, sculptures like the stupas mention him as devanama piyadassi, literally the name of God or the beloved of God. Thus it can be interpreted that, rulers were believed to be a representative of the God on earth, thus calling the respect of the subjects to the noble deeds of their potente. It was an equal world, with the right of women to claim property (stridhan).

Medieval India brought into picture a new dogma of female subjugation. Though women exercised the right to claim mehr, they were socially discriminated and psychologically abused. But that does not imply into rulers and emperors not being considerate towards the common men, which can be proven by the example of the removal of the tradition of jizya by Emperor Akbar. Offenders were duly prosecuted, ministers could be rusticated for proven mala fide.

It was in 18th century with the colonialism of the country by three European kingdoms of Portugal, France and United Kingdom, and the subsequent underyoking of the local populace that brought out the sentiments of nationalism and the concept to formulate own laws to coexist peacefully. The Indian Modern History recites the Independence Struggle, which was aimed at attaining Swaraj on the ideals of democracy. The Constituent Assembly debated on every issue, on the aspirations of giving each section of the society what it needs the most to evolve.[1] However, one thing they were determined upon is, creating a representative democracy with universal suffrage. The Indian Constitution is a haven in itself – has adopted the ideals of the American, English, French, Australian, Canadian, Russian and Japanese constitutions, and shaped them to suit its own development process.

We have observed every now and then in the Indian political history that, it is the people who are ultimately the rulers – be it the most recent example the return of the AAP government in the NCR, due to the faith placed by the citizens in them, and the overthrow of the Congress rule in the 2014 elections, even though it was ruled by the oldest dynasty of the country, to pursue higher levels of democracy, and move ahead of the basic ideals of equality, liberty, freedom and fraternity – to that of honesty, transparency, development-orientation and novelty. And needless to say, the BJP-led coalition has lived up to our expectations. Be it the Make In India Campaign, India Against Corruption Movement, the Swatchh Bharat Abhiyaan, Banking and Finance schemes or the inflow of foreign investment in the pursuance of economic, educational and lifestyle modernization.

In early Greece, the citizens themselves sat together and made laws, chose their ruler and his men. They had the right to bring down a ruler who didn’t cater to their needs without further ado. That is about as far as pure Democracy goes, definitively, and that presents an impossible method of government for any but the very smallest organizations. Very large organizations or nations need, as a matter of simple practicality, some form of representative body, elected by and representative of the whole populace, to make and enforce law and national policy. In its truest and most effective governmental forms, Democracy may be better described as a Republic, or it may be described as a Liberal Democracy, or it may be described as a Social Democracy. In actual practice, governments that describe themselves as Democratic are so diverse as to nearly defy any all-encompassing definition.

Absolute Democracy is quite impossible for all but small groups, as might fit around a conference table.  Even then some external rule (such as a Constitution) is required to keep proceedings from degenerating into chaos. An example of an unrestrained Democracy might be a lynch mob.  Do we hang this man or not? The ayes have it; get the rope[2]

Truth suffers as much when the majority rules as when a dictator rules.  The majority can be just as wrong as any dictator. Perfection is not of this world, but the next; and recognizing that a “pure” Democracy is unlikely to exist, the Pure Democracy link will describe the IDEAL that the notion of a pure Democracy represents. For the counter-point ideal of those who oppose representative government, Pure Socialism is what they aspire for.

Democratic processes, such as public deliberation and debate over policy matters, continually pit ideological stances against one another. Citizen participation, worked into the fabric of democracy through voting, encourages attention and provides a method of expressing and affirming one’s stance, which further strengthens it. Most directly, participation happens through the act of voting. More broadly, democracies are traditionally associated with discussion and debate. Democracies will thus create and enforce a social norm of rhetorical participation in the political debate between respective ideologies. Effective participation seems to demand the articulation and dissemination of opinions.[3] This participation can happen both through the public act of private voting and in open conversations about politics by which an individual articulates an ideology and hence makes it their own.  Democracies tend to prioritize such values. Effective participation seems to demand the articulation and dissemination of opinions, which will generally be couched in the form of principles.  Therefore, a person will be encouraged to articulate an ideology.

On a larger level, democracy makes a series of normative promises about the procedures of the society which adopts it. Democracy promises the potential for changes to status quo driven by citizen participation. In an authoritarian country, the status quo is not open to public debate. In a democracy, the status quo is open to change. People then will align themselves into groups, defined by ideologies, that either tend to favor or oppose the changes in the status quo. In public, people tend to express their wants and needs in terms of principles rather than preferences.

 

CRITICAL ANALYSIS

Amen to that. Democracy, as an abstraction, cannot be substituted satisfactorily for the authority of God. The modern mind has fallen into the heresy of democracy – that is, the ruinous error of vox populi vox dei, that an abstract People are divine, and that truth issues from the ballot box, as in the abrupt ascent of the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

I heretically denied that dogma of ideological Democratism, assertion to the contrary that there exists no single best form of government for the happiness of all making. The most suitable form of government necessarily depends upon the historic experience, the customs, the beliefs, the state of culture, the ancient laws, and the material circumstances of a people, and all these things vary from land to land and age to age. Monarchy may defend the highest possible degree of order, justice, and freedom for a people – as despite shortcomings, the Abyssinian monarchy did in Ethiopia, until the Marxist revolution there. Aristocracy, under other circumstances, may be found most advantageous for the general welfare. The Swiss form of democracy may work very well in twentieth-century Switzerland; yet it does not follow that the Swiss pattern, imposed abruptly upon Brazil, say, would function at all.

For democracy is neither a political philosophy nor a plan of political organization; rather, it is a social condition that may have political consequences. Democracy does come with its own shortcomings.

  1. A democratic governance is based on assumptions too idealistic – that of a consensus between millions of people, which may sound unpragmatic.
  2. There lies much faith on the civic capacity, which refuses to take into account their indolence, lack of knowledge and education, and apathy.
  3. Dirty politics cultivates due to this party system, this has been molded into practices like booth capturing, lobbying and corruption
  4. This form of rule has led to the growth of class struggle, wherein the varying aspirations of different classes of citizens are not catered to or opportunities not distributed in equity, sometimes leading to conflicts between them
  5. It is an expensive process
  6. The skill of vilification which every member of a political party has polished and the negative media coverage of the same tends to downgrade this play of diplomacy in the minds of the voters
  7. It has been observed that giving people the power to choose, alter, remove or getting involved in the governance has led to interference in administration, delayed enactment of laws or passing of judgments, and disturbed the peace of the process.

However, the points mentioned above can never overweigh the universal fact that Democracy as a form of government allows its citizens a right to have a right, which in itself is a fundamental human right. It ensures welfare of oneself and of all, and flourishes the humane ideals of brotherhood and comradeship.

CONCLUSION

Democracy will cease to exist when we take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not. It is the form of government wherein the advantage lies in everyone being the others’ master, and the disadvantage of each being a slave to the rest, it gives every man the right to be his ruler, and the power to be his own oppressor. It must remain a rule of the indigent, and not of the man of property. Democracy cannot be saved by the ‘super’men, but only by the unswerving devotion and goodness of millions of men. Allegations and intolerance against corruption is the nature’s way of restoring our faith in Democracy.

Currently, the issue which needs to be addressed immediately not only by citizens of a nation, but with the concord of the seven billion people on this earth is, how to minimize the injustice and barbaric treatment meted out to the people of a quasi-democratic country like Syria, where though citizens have a right to participate in the election process with equal value of all votes, but their government has repeatedly failed to restore their pitiful state and has been sold to the fear of some terrorist organizations; and specifically to the people of nations who are oblivious of the idea of democratism and continue to live in Paleolithic Age with the notion of their ruler as the best man to God, like in North Korea.

The Post- World War and Cold War Period brought into a new perspective to the forefront: that of “self-rule” with established system of laws. In this 21st century Modern World, with a growing number of countries propaganding democracy as their type of government to command attention to their world, it is time for another Revolution by the disadvantaged and deprived people to rightly demand what is theirs – their freedom, right to expression and equality. Take the most recent example of Nepal and the making of their Constitution, or the ultimate victory of Aung San Suu Kyi and her people in Myanmar, and promote your modus vivandi, to reach the apex of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Self-Actualisation.

Thus quoting Sir Whinston Churchill aptly as a concluding note, “No one pretends that Democracy is perfect. It has been called the worst form of governance except all the other forms that have been tried since the origin of the human State”.

[1] Ramachandra Guha, India After Gandhi: The History of World’s Largest Democracy, 2007

[2] Ashutosh Varshney, Battles Half Won: India’s Improbable Democracy, 2013

[3] <http:britannicaencyclopedia.org/politics-MacIver-democracy>

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