As you might have already guessed today, we shall be talking about the long lost (or perhaps far-fetched) story of a “democratic” India. But for that, we first obviously need to pay undue attention to what is democracy exactly. Let’s have a quick throwback to our school days and recall what we all learned in our ninth and tenth class civics books.
What is democracy?
The term “democracy” comes from a Greek word meaning “rule by the people.” It is used to describe a political structure where citizens hold power. They may have an impact on significant decisions, either directly or by the individuals they elect.
What makes a country a democracy?
If a country has the following characteristics, then it is deemed to be a democracy. The pointers are as follows:
- Many of the big decisions are made by rulers chosen by the people.
- Elections give voters a choice and a reasonable chance to choose for the existing rulers to alter.
- This choice and opportunity are available on an equal basis to all individuals.
- The exercise of this option leads to a government restricted by the Constitution’s basic rules and the rights of citizens.
Well, taking a look above, we can very well conclude that India is a democracy, at least on paper.
Why is Democracy a big deal? Why is it actually sought-after?
This is something we all hear every day but do not ponder around. Democracy does have a lot of merits, some of which are:
- A democratic government, a better form of government, is a more transparent form of government.
- The level of decision-making is increased by democracy.
- Democracy strengthens the honesty of individuals.
- The rich and educated are equal in rank to the poor and less educated.
- Democracy requires us to correct our own errors.
I shall leave you here to think whether all these are true for India. And, if yes, then how much.
But, why are still some countries in the world which do not prefer democratic rule?
Just like a coin has two sides and just like every story has two sides, democracy isn’t exactly an all-good phenomenon. It is an institution created by humans for humans and with humans drawing a darker side to it as well. The following points highlight what I am trying to say.
- Democracy contributes to instability, which keeps changing representatives.
- Democracy is all about political tensions and there is no room in the power play for morality.
- Discussion of multiple people in a democracy creates delays.
- Democracy, since it is based on electoral rivalry, leads to corruption.
- Normal individuals do not know what’s good for them.
Let’s begin with the main theme of the piece now.
At times, understanding how checks and balances are meant to operate in a democratic society is good. Claim that you have a political party chosen by a large majority. A government is established, ministers are appointed and, supposedly for the nation’s good, they begin to conduct their business.
For argument’s sake, let’s say that the minister who oversees the national law enforcement forces and the police in the capital city commands the local police in the capital to go and arrest an individual in another major city for the ‘crime’ of organising a widespread demonstration against some of the policies of his government, as the minister sees it. What’s going to happen then? Or rather, what should happen then? Well, democratically, the police officers in the capital city should evaluate the merits of the case and respectfully send a letter to the minister indicating that the person has not necessarily committed a crime under the national penal code, so no action can be taken. The minister would seethe, but the matter would end.
Now imagine, the minister, for instance, persuades the police to begin an arrest operation in a slightly different situation and the cops happily go to a knowledgeable judge and apply for an arrest warrant. Having sworn an oath to the Constitution and not to protect or advance his career, the fair magistrate will look at the file and laugh at the police officer. He’d ask the officer respectfully or rudely to take this sheaf of ludicrous charges and leave. The cop and the minister would seethe, but the matter would come to an end there.
Once this has happened, say, another minister, or the same one, chose to attack a loosely allied group of activists in various parts of the country engaged in a genuinely non-violent tribal rights struggle.
Let’s say, one day, the head of a national law enforcement agency got a call: ‘I want you to arrest the following tribal rights movement lawyers and activists,’ followed by a list. The director of the national law enforcement agency, an honest and honourable man or woman, who is consistent in his or her fidelity to the Constitution and the rule of law, will point out that there was no need to arrest such lawyers, teachers, physicians, poets and priests.
The voice at the other end of the telephone could then tell the director that they will find such and such documents on his computer when his agents arrested such and such a person, documents that would include anyone on the violent conspiracy list. The director would laugh:’ Sir, my department and I can’t be part of these kinds of underhand, illegal acts with all due respect.’ Also, it would be observable if anything had been planted on the man’s machine, and we would end up being embarrassed globally.’ And the entire sleazy enterprise would crumble there.
After this, his organisation would come up against the beady eye of the courts if the director were morally hollow enough to conduct such an operation, where stern and diligent judges would clearly say: ‘Well, without providing sufficient evidence, you should not imprison these accused. Such persons can remain under investigation but are free to continue their normal lives. In a fair and open courtroom, the only ones that can do some prison times are the ones you manage to convict. Before a fair hearing, we will not allow innocent citizens to be convicted.’
The other strong pillar of democracy, the media, must have worked overtime to discover the facts and bring it to the public’s attention, in all these obviously conjectural scenarios. this ultimate aspect will enhance all the other checks and balances and prevent the body of the nation from inflicting its sinister agenda on every elected or appointed official.
Sounds perfect, right? Unfortunately, what is outlined here, of course, is an ideal scenario and not what we have seen in collapsed, disgraced regimes such as the 20th century South and Central American dictatorships, Idi Amin’s Uganda or South Africa in the Apartheid period, to name only a few examples from around the world. Indeed, India is a democracy and the Indian constitution is one of the most beautiful documents which have ever been thought of, debated upon, and penned down in the history of human kind. But with this “hypothetically ideal” situation in mind, I want you to reflect and introspect and grade yourself, your government, your society, and your country on the democratic scale. If you’re satisfied with your score well and good, and if not, think about how you can stand-up and raise a voice.