Karan. S. Sabnis

‘Democracy’, the word itself brings a lot of thoughts to our mind. Justice, equality, secularism are some of the attributes which we strongly associate with democracy. It is acclaimed by many that democracy is the only form of governance which empowers the masses, eliminating all the drawbacks of autocracy.  But the conditions in countries like India, where the gap between the rich and the poor is so wide, give rise to the question “Is democracy the best form of governance?”

Abraham Lincoln described democracy as government of the people, by the people, for the people. Derived from the Greek words ‘demos’ and ‘kratos’, the word democracy in literal sense means people’s rule. A form of governance exercised directly or through elected representatives. The people themselves are the sovereigns. Democracy respects the individuality of a person. It recognises secularism and does not discriminate on the grounds of faith or religion. Based on liberty and equality, it bestows certain rights on individuals such as freedom of speech and expression, freedom of press etc. and lays emphasis on justice and equality.

Executive, Legislature, Judiciary and Media are said to be the four pillars of democracy. Albert Einstein once said- “My political ideal is democracy. Everyone should be respected as an individual, but no one idolized”. As the very foundation of democracy is to prevent concentration of power, it emphasises on separation of powers. Executive, the government, implements policies and programs, conducts national affairs and administers the national budget and does not interfere in legislative or judiciary matters. It can propose laws which may be enacted by the legislature. Judiciary deals with decisions related to guilt or innocence of individuals charged with a crime. Media plays a crucial role in a democracy. With freedom of expression, media helps in exposing the loopholes in the system and educate the masses.

Democracy is probably the most approved form of governance as it empowers individuals with certain rights. The very life blood of democracy is freedom of expression.  People can voice their opinion against the government and no democratic government can overlook the force of public opinion. Right to elect representatives is another important right bestowed by democracy.

Citizens under democracy also have certain responsibilities, one of them being choosing the leaders. Ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all, thus, it is important for a responsible citizen to elect the right representative.

Although the concept of democracy is eulogised worldwide, it has been widely used not “for the people” but “against the people.” This reminds us of Winston Churchill’s words “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

It is said that “power corrupts”, thus, democracy is preferred over other forms of governance as it separates power. But in the real world, the scenario is different. Misuse of power for personal benefits, by the elected representatives in a democracy, is very common. Moreover, in developing democratic countries, hardly any attempts are made to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor.

Democracy is said to have originated in Greece where a group called senate, as representatives of the citizens, used to frame policies and strategies. India, since its independence, has adopted democracy and is described as sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic in the constitution.  

In India, the democratic governance has created a paradoxical situation wherein the masses have the power to elect their representatives but these very people are exploited and have to face various atrocities once the representative comes to power. The very principles of equality, justice and secularism are at stake.

Equality, for which democracy is considered superior to autocracy, is often sacrificed at the altar of power and politics. Autocracy believes in patriarchy where the power to govern is transferred from an autocrat to his scion. Democracy on the other hand gives the right to elect a suitable representative who will have the power to govern. However, today we see, from local political parties like Shivsena to giants like Congress, following this patriarchy. Heirs who are not so competent are dragged into politics. This violates the principle of equality as this not only hampers the growth of new emerging leaders but also leaves us with incompetent representatives.

We also have political parties like MNS who encourage discrimination on the basis of regional orientation. It claimed that migration to Mumbai has lead to unemployment and thus it should be curbed. Moreover, the supporters used violent means to exhibit their protest. This claim stands void as the constitution considers all Indians equal and allows free migration within the territory for employment or any other purpose.

In fact reservation for a certain minority is also discrimination and breach of the principle of equality, as it is not purely based on merit.

In India, gender discrimination has prevailed since years. It is a country which has witnessed norms and rituals which imposed several restrictions on women. Over years, with democracy, the malpractices of sati and child marriage have reduced to a huge extent, but are women actually treated equally? The condition still remains the same; the only difference is that the norms and rituals are replaced by rapes, female foeticides and harassments.

Recent cases of crime against women, especially the delhi gang rape case which was condemned worldwide, casts a serious doubt on the state of democracy in India. This incident was followed by huge public protests and protests on social networking sites like facebook and messengers like whatsapp. But the Prime Minister only uttered a few words of sympathy and no prompt measures were taken to stop such inhuman activities.

Equality in a democracy should ensure safety for women. Laws have been passed, amendments have been made but all these measures come to us as a mockery as the situation is worsening day by day. It is a very shameful especially in a country like India, where on one hand women are worshipped as Durga and on the other hand they are treated unequal.

As metro cities like Mumbai grow to become jungles of concrete, there are also slums mushrooming in and around the city. Huge edifices on one side and lugubrious slums on the other is a ubiquitous scenario. Democracy should minimize this economic disparity.

In India, various reasons such as unemployment, poor academics lead to economic inequality. It is a vicious circle. An individual with poor academic qualifications is employed at a lower wage rate or is unemployed; this not only hampers his growth but also that of generations to come. Thus poverty continues to prevail with many leading a ‘hand to mouth’ life. In a Democracy it should be ensured that, appropriate measures are taken to reduce this disparity.

Government has, with development and employment schemes like MGNREGS, made attempts to reduce this disparity but with such a vast geographic area and huge population, many are still below the poverty line.

A lion’s share in the failure of most of the schemes to uplift the poor is that of corruption. In India, it is often said that “corruption is the price we pay for democracy”. Democracy with its complex procedures in a way facilitates corruption. In a democracy, where the power is not concentrated, long procedures are to be followed in decision making. This involves various complex stages and approval of many. Thus, we see corruption proliferating at every stage.

This has lead to a situation where this malignant corruption has spread across miles and minds and is constantly harming the four pillars of democracy. Power is being misused just for monetary benefits. Recent Coalgate and CWG scams are examples which show how corruption is deeply rooted in our country. But we cannot deny that the so called “practical” mentality of Indians has also contributed towards this grave problem. Just as a corrupt autocrat can exploit the masses, democracy can also lead to exploitation through corruption.

Though the constitution states India as a secular nation, many instances make us think, ‘Is India actually secular?’ Secularism ensures equal treatment to all religions and also represents religious tolerance. Though India is a democratic nation, disparity between religions has prevailed since years. May it be the Babri Masjid case or the Godhra riots or the recent Assam riots and its impact on the other parts of the nation, India has experienced a lot of loss, both human and property, due to this disparity. Moreover, we see politicians using this disparity as a platform for their own benefit. Cases like Ishrat Jehan case, where an 18 year old muslim girl was brutally killed by Gujarat police just because she was suspected to have terrorist affiliation, are a blot on the Indian democracy.

Recently, Congress was alleged to discriminate the citizens on the basis of religion. It was also said that they threatened people from a minority community against Narendra Modi, Prime ministerial candidate of the opposition party, who is said to be a communist. This was only to gain votes. This comes as a shock in a democracy.

The judiciary is also not free from corruption. The judicial decisions in a democracy are said to be for the benefit of many. But the fundamental principle ‘Not a single innocent person should be punished’ leaves several culprits unpunished. We also have cases like Jessica Lall Murder Case, where the jury and witnesses were influenced and evidences were tampered, as the accused was an MLA’s son. Such cases show how power can influence judiciary even in a democracy.

In India democracy has been widely misused for personal benefits by politicians and bureaucrats. The elected representatives exploit the citizens using the power bestowed upon them. But the fact remains that democracy has emerged as the best alternative to autocracy. Dictators like Adolf Hitler have shown how a single dictator’s thoughts and prejudices can lead to gross loss not only to a nation but also to humanity.

Democracy, as a model, is acclaimed worldwide, but as we say “nothing is perfect”, it can be misused. The principles of democracy, if followed ideally, can benefit many. It is truly a model which advocates the ancient aphorism used by Buddha, “Bahujana sukhaya, bahujana hitaya cha”, which means in favour of many. We, as citizens of a democratic country, should see to it that democracy shouldn’t be misused.

On the backdrop of 2014 lok sabha elections, it is important for us to understand the importance of voting. Democracy gives us the right to elect our representatives and it is our duty to see to it that we do not bring the goons to power. Or else we will have to do nothing but repent for the next 5 years. It is also important for us to exercise the right to vote. The off we get on the day of elections is celebrated as a holiday by many. We should remember that those who can influence the judiciary can also influence the elections and come to power with the help of bogus votes.

Democracy in itself is not flawless to be considered as the best form of governance, but it is better than any other forms of governance. We can view democracy as a “tool” which when used appropriately, following all the principles ideally, can prove to be the best.