Tuesday, 12 November 2013

True Democracy? - Zuchano Khuvung, Asst Professor Political Science

"Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." – Winston Churchill.


Winston Churchill stated this quote in 1945 after losing the elections. Even though he was responsible for guiding Britain to victory in World War II he still lost the elections. Naturally, he was bitter with the ungrateful British public when they voted against him. Fortunately, he took it like a gentleman and wryly remarked, “They have a perfect right to kick me out. That is democracy.” The system of Government in India and Nagaland is democratic so that the leaders who are elected are the representatives of the people. Our experiences with democracy have not been perfect. Democracy as an ideal form of government has complex demands but it also requires the protection of liberties and freedom, respect for legal entitlements, and the guaranteeing of free discussion and fair comment. When this happens, the right people can say the right things and the right people come to power. Churchill recontested in 1951 and came back to power.

 True Democracy?

When we look back at what happened in the twentieth century, we encounter many events and developments – the downfall of the European empires, rise and fall of Fascism and Nazism, rise of Communism and its fall, and we even witnessed two terrifying world wars. However, we cannot deny giving primacy to the ‘rise of democracy’ as the most preeminent development in the twentieth century. No doubt the idea of democracy originated in ancient Greece and was seriously put to practice, though on a limited scale, before it collapsed and was replaced by more authoritarian forms of government. We might as well find its traces in the contributions made by the contractualists like Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Rousseau in the 17th and 18th centuries. The basic assumption of their theory was that, the existence of political authority must be based on the consent or will of the people. This reflects the contemporary concept of democracy. Thereafter, democracy emerged gradually and it was in the twentieth century that the idea of democracy became established as the ‘normal’ form of government to which any nation is entitled.

We are all aware of the fact that India adopted a democratic system of government. So, the question here is what really the implications of democratic government are? When we try to analyse that, I want the rational faculty to relate it with India in general and Nagaland in particular. How well have we adapted to this system. The basic implications underlying democracy is popular sovereignty which implies popular opinion is sovereign or the basis of government authority is the will of the people. Popular sovereignty and representative government are the terms that we use synonymously for democracy. Can we say that “Popular opinion is sovereign in our society” and “We have a government that represents our thoughts, opinions and our values”? Whatever means the governing authority adopts, the end must ultimately be “welfare of the people.”

Equality is another important implication of democracy. It is a principle that a democratic government will always uphold. Taking political equality in particular, it implies the equal distribution of political rights. The citizens must enjoy their political rights like the right to vote, the right to participate in public deliberations, right to public offices etc., on equal basis. If the citizen of a state has access to all these rights, then, we may comfortably say that that particular state has achieved one of its fundamental democratic ideals. Democracy as an ideal form of government has complex demands, which certainly include voting and respect for election results, but it also requires the protection of liberties and freedoms, respect for legal entitlements, and the guaranteeing of free discussion and fair comment. Even elections can be deeply defective, if they occur without the different sides getting an adequate opportunity to present their respective cases, or without the electorate enjoying the freedom to obtain news and to consider the views of the competing protagonists.
Thus, we have the following different ways in which democracy can enrich the lives of the citizen. First, political freedom is a part of human freedom in general, and exercising civil and political rights is a crucial part of good lives of individuals as social beings. Therefore, to be prevented from participation in the political life of the community is a major deprivation. Democracy also has to act as an important instrumental value in enriching the people’s expression and support their claims to political attention. The practice of democracy in any state must give the citizens an opportunity to learn from one another and help society to form its values and priorities. Even the idea of needs, whether it is economic or social needs, requires public discussion and exchange of information, views and analysis.

Our society has not been able to achieve all these requirements. We can always find a common answer to this i.e, inequality of opportunities and resources. In states where decentralised market economies are not sufficiently regulated, they will eventually produce large inequalities in economic and social resources, from wealth and income and education to social status. Generally, what happens is those with greater resources tend to use them to influence the political system to their advantage and the existence of such inequalities constitute a persistent obstacle to the achievement of a satisfactory level of political equality.
Social justice is another inevitable feature of democracy. It simply implies the balance between individual’s rights and social control ensuring the fulfilment of the legitimate expectations of the individuals under one existing law. Therefore, if a state is professing social justice, it must be efficient enough to maintain the balance between the distribution of individual’s rights and the obligations laid on them. But unfortunately, in a society like ours, the latter is weighing us down. In addition, social justice also relates to the eradication of social evils like unemployment, poverty, diseases, etc., which have their stigmatic expression on the face of the developing countries.

Having analysed the implications of a democracy or what it takes to be a democratic set up, we may undoubtedly mention that we do have a democratic system but it is related to the elitist notion of democracy. Expressions like “voice of the people” or “rule of the general will” are discarded and instead we have a democracy that stands for “the rule of the chosen few”, implying minority rule. We are now left to decide what kind of democracy we want and need – a democratic government which represents the privileged minority or the one that will represent the toiling majority. It is high time to stop the blame game and start acting positively, as responsible citizens. We are gifted with the power of reasoning and this is what should determine our decisions, even on political issues. What we should be asking ourselves is whether we are pushing hard enough to bring about positive change in our society. In the light of these challenges, amongst some countries that have made the transition to democracy, the new democratic institutions will probably remain weak and fragile, and others might even lose their democratic governments and revert to some form of authoritarian rule. Therefore, if we are to survive in this system of governance, first, we have to fulfil every requirement of having a democratic system and second, we must equip ourselves to meet the challenges, both old and new.

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