Friday, September 16, 2011

Democracy That Delivers!

“Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people.” These words of Abraham Lincoln are resonant even today in the Immortal Halls of History. These words were not merely a consolation to the miserable conditions of slaves at the time but an undying hope that every man on this planet irrespective of country, caste or creed has the freedom and the right to choose his or her leader.


Democracy was successful in a country like the United states because of the belief that, ‘No man is good enough to govern another man without that other's consent.’ Although Lincoln spoke these words in the 20th century, the working of this type of government was nascent in 508 BC in the Greek city- state of Athena which radically transformed from an oligarchy to a well established Direct Democracy. Etymologically the word ‘Democracy’ comes from the Greek ‘demos’ meaning people and ‘kratos’ meaning power. Most democracies today however are representative democracies.

From the tiny Greek city states to the French Revolution of 1789, World Politics was undergoing a continuous change. The French Revolution gave to the world the principles of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. It is from these principles that the mushrooms of Democracy sprung up on other parts of the globe. The Rule of law became the hallmark of this new political set- up.


The crowning features of a democratic form of government includes Popular Sovereignty, Universal Suffrage, Freedom of Speech, Debate and Enquiry, Equality of the Law for all people, Economic redistribution of wealth to ensure Economic democracy and providing a transparent form of Mass Media and its accountability to the people.

Having said this, it becomes necessary to answer some vital questions on the functioning of this government like, “Can a democratic form of Government really successfully thrive on all these principles? Can a democracy deliver all its promises?”


As a citizen of India, the largest existing democracy in the world, I believe that a democracy can withhold and thrive far more efficiently than any other type of government. It must be noted however that a Democracy is not impervious. It faces challenges that are more intense and complex to solve. It is wrong on our part to write of an ‘Ideal democracy’ in theory while it is just another Utopia in reality. It includes the careful amalgamation of various levels of thoughts. This means that it is essential to have a careful scrutiny of the issues at hand to seek a solution in common agreement among the representative leaders. On the flip side however, it could also lead to a conflict of thoughts could result in the rise of situations so adverse, that they become a threat to the nation’s internal security. A glaring example of this kind of crisis is seen in the Naxal hit areas of India. The Naxals maintain their ground of maintaining an autonomous rule with socialism as the principle which is unacceptable in a democracy. Their demands have not only led to unnecessary chaos, but also loss of lives that can never be reverted. But this does not mean democracy has failed completely.

Jawaharlal Nehru, the former Prime Minister of India and a Diplomat of international repute once stated, ‘….a vote itself does not represent very much to a person who is down and out, to a person, let us say, who is starving or hungry.’ This is the reality of the scenario not only in India but with every democratic system in the world. India is the second most populated country on this planet and is on its way to being number one within the next fifty years. However the factors that can cause colossal damage to the overall growth of the country apart from over- population include illiteracy and energy crisis.


A reason why Parliamentary democracies are unable to meet all the needs is because in nearly every nation, a wide majority of the public is dissatisfied with how responsive their government is to the ‘will of the people.’ But, it must not be forgotten that in the case of a theocratic, autocratic or socialist government the will of the people has little value. The people are imposed with rigid beliefs and values and are compelled to accept it without resistance. Failure to do so could lead to harsh measures including imprisonment. Skeptics like the Nigerian Scholar Claude Ake believe that a democratic form of government is not favorable in the contemporary world because according it is a lenient form of administration which has been rendered meaningless.

It thus becomes necessary for me to justify the reasons as to why Democracy must be encouraged on a wider scale. This means that the broader issues of national and international interest must be discussed fully well.


A major facet that requires to be discussed is how the Art of Diplomacy is handled in a democracy. The question that arises is, ‘When developing a foreign policy, how much should government leaders pay attention to public opinion outside the country?’ According to a poll conducted by the World Public Opinion it is stated that on a scale of 1 – 10 the average was said to be 5 which means that most of the countries which participated in this discussion believe that a foreign policy must be developed with moderate influence from the Global arena.


The second important factor is that Democracy allows its citizens the freedom of speech, thought and expression which makes it a more people- friendly government. It is beyond reasonable doubt that citizens around the world consider opting for a democratic government because of the freedom that cannot be expected from an autocracy or a theocracy where the real essence of liberty can almost never be felt. When we talk of a Free State it is necessary to understand the meaning, context and usage of the word ‘Free’. In a democracy the citizens of a country have the right to choose responsibly the individuals of solid repute and determination to run the nation’s administration fairly without any bias or selfish gains. These leaders further enhance the opportunities for their electors to gain social, economic and political gains on a global level trough their own insight and skills. Sadly, today this scenario is one of disillusionment. The reforms, zeal and the willingness to work for the people are now slowly dying down. The situation has worsened as Corruption, Scams and Scandals are on the rise and the general public has been led- on by the media to believe that the Government is in fact unable to meet with all their requirements. Despite all this it must be noted that, ‘The underlying principle of any form of government is ultimately to meet with the requirements of the common man along with maintaining and stabilizing the political and economic relations on the International front all at the same time.’


A cause for concern in a democracy is that the people are under the sad misconception that a democracy is far slower in Economic growth. Although this is true in countries that have mass unskilled labor which leads to high rates of unemployment, there is always greater hope for democracy to meet the challenge and maintain stability. In a democracy, we have the freedom to make proper use of the resources along with having a proper platform to hone one’s skills. The idea that ‘equality of opportunity’ can be maintained through political democracy alone has long been challenged by socialists and others, who insist that economic democracy through economic equality and public ownership of the major means of production is the only foundation upon which a true political democracy can be erected. All these debates and discussions are futile when compared with the Global Economic Recession that hit in the year 2008- 2009. The international markets came crashing down and was a result of people in power not using their abilities and skill to avert a crisis of this sort. Even amidst the Global Economic downturn countries like India continued to grow in terms of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Despite the increase in the number of countries holding multiparty elections, however, the United Nations issued a study in 2002 that stated that in more than half the world's nations the rights and freedoms of citizens are limited. For a democratic set up to be successful, we must remember that each right and each duty bestowed on each citizen gives us a certain amount of Power. This power can be utilized to create an effective change in the development in terms of financial and social well being of the country.


The next challenge that a democracy faces is the obliteration of poverty. Unemployment is a constant reminder to the government that with all unrelenting and untiring efforts nations around the world are still trudging in unstability. To begin with, the two major reasons that have led to a vast amount of populace to writhe in the clutches of poverty are lack of education and over- population. A milieu needs to be created in such a way that one can shoot two birds with one stone. Awareness needs to be created among the people, especially in Youth and the economically backward population in the continents of Asia and Africa where the relation between the wanton growth in the population and the curtailment in the economic growth of the country as a whole has not yet been fully understood.


An ideal democracy would inculcate Education as a fundamental pillar. This would include the need for Mandatory primary and basic education for all. This would create a feeling of equality among the people. Using education as a tool the government could carry out awareness drives regarding Family Planning. This increase in knowledge could pave a way for higher economic growth and political maturity in the common man. Communication and technology would increase manifold. This would further enable individuals to progress faster, culminating in the success of the Democracy at a much faster rate than any other type of government. Common man will be able to voice out his opinion on giving him a chance to share the same platform as the Representative he has chosen as leaders. This would also give a chance for a type of Mixed Democracy where the Government will come in direct contact with the people. Social Networking like sites Facebook and Twitter have almost solved this issue. Leaders of National and international repute like the President of the United States Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, the Govenor of Alaska, David and Edward Miliband brothers and prominent leaders in the British Parliament and International diplomats like the former Under- secretary General of the United Nations and current Member of the Indian Parliament Dr. Shashi Tharoor have made it a rather indirect form of a direct democracy where people can actually interact with them and ask questions which would otherwise be quite difficult to. What is even better is that it is not restricted to one’s own countrymen. Thanks to the internet Instant Global Communication is actually possible now!


As we seek resolutions to these rather important issues which can be effectively channelized in a way that could make it convenient to, there are some more seeking immediate resolve. These issues have affected citizens around the world too an extent that has led to loss of life and resources. Terrorism is a threat that has not only impaired political stability but has endangered the security of the citizens as well. The question thus arises, Can democracy stop terrorism? 9/11, 26/7, 26/11 are incidents that the world is less likely to forget for decades to come. George Bush’s ‘generational challenge’ of democratizing the Middle East is a dream still to be realized. He believed that the establishment of democratic set-up in the Arab countries would lead to a change in the fundamental beliefs of these countries and could lead to a reduction in Extremist activities on their part. But then again there is no guarantee for this to happen. It could be effectively argued that with the advent of democracy a sense of excess freedom from a state of such restricted liberty could lead to these Governments to be less co- operative with countries in the West.


Energy Crisis is also one of the major factors that could hamper democratic growth. For a sustainable society it is essential that the government clearly demarcates which fields must be democratized and which must be privatized and others that are to be handed over to the public sector. In many parts of the United States on the request of the citizens the government is working with the people to reduce green house emissions. For this purpose they are recovering a significant amount of electricity from Renewable energy. The cost of producing electricity from turbines or even solar energized installations could save the exhaustion of fossilized fuels. It is believed that a decentralized energy system is more efficient than plantations system. Slowly but steadily even countries like India and China are employing the same systems.


Having discussed the predicaments suffered by a democracy and the measures employed to curtail them it now becomes necessary to convey the positive aspects of this government. One of the major assets of a Democracy is its ‘Unity in Diversity.’ India could be used as an apt example to portray Multi- Culturalism. The Indian society is a composite and homogenous whole of people from different castes, creed and race. The country has been a constant source of awe and wonder to other countries of the world. The population in India has thrived successfully despite having 28 languages and nearly 3000 dialects apart from the number of religions and beliefs. The concept of Cultural Unity in India can be highlighted by the difference not only in the languages, but also unity among people from various faiths who come together to celebrate the Joy of Living.

Another benefit of democracy is the Rule of Law. The Rule of Law states that no one is immune to the law. In a democracy, it would also represent equality before the law. This further ensures that by no means are we to believe that we are superior or inferior to any other citizen and that Justice will serve its purpose. To one extent we could say that the slavery and revival of the freedom of the Black- Americans was because of the stronghold of the Rule of Law. The Rule of Law and democracy are said to be two important pre- requisites for development. It would be right to assert at this time that the Human Rights of the citizens of a country are safe- guarded. The establishment of Law and Order in a country is vital to its internal security. The existence of a comprehensive set of laws enables us to understand exactly how the judicial assemblage functions. For a clear and concise set- up we must have well established law enforcement agencies with hardworking and well trained officers. In 1948 the United Nations passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide established international principles of the rule of law. The principles of both declarations have played a vital role in the establishment of an adequate judicial system.


It must be absolutely clear for any analyst to understand that there is no one type of Government that is perfect in all senses; but given the circumstances that we face today, Democracy is the safest and the most appropriate form of government that can effectively reduce the discord between the common man and the Government. Democracy is not just a form of government it must become a way of life for every citizen. For a democracy to deliver its promises, it is necessary to create a sense of awareness among the citizens. This would encourage them to actively contribute towards the well- being of their nation through a simple act of Voting. It is disheartening to see that a majority of the educated people do not bother or rather do not want to vote. We need to develop at grass- root levels the need and the importance of our Vote.

A Democratic government with all its challenges stands strong because of the support system that it has in the form of the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. The Legislature allows the Democracy to lay down the rules and define the limits of the citizens by means of Rules Regulations and Bills. The Executive in a Democracy is responsible for the responsible working of the government. It maintains a check on the government and thus strives to maintain the transparency in the working of a government. The passing of important bills like the Budget are not passed unless it has a significant support of the Elected Representatives in the Government. As discussed earlier, the Judiciary fortifies the both the Legislative and the Executive. Together they form the backbone of any Democracy.

Democracy without people is like a soul without a body and People without Democracy is like a body without soul. In order that a Democracy should execute its tasks, it is mandatory for every citizen to take up individual responsibility on checking the working of the government. Today, politics has been highly restricted to the limits of the criticism and cynicism of the media of picayunish issues of the political arena and the judgments that the misinformed common man makes on the basis of this information.

In the end, the Government and individual are inter- related and the success or failure of a Democracy will depend on the joint efforts of both participants.


History of the World

An Introduction to the Constitution of India – Dr D. D Basu