Editorial Notes

[Editorial Notes] New democracy: A systemic transformation?

Democracy is far from becoming universal even well into the 21st century, its own life history is just a tiny dot on the canvas of time: short of a hundred years.
By IASToppers
September 07, 2020

Contents

  • Introduction
  • What is Democracy?
  • Majoritarian governments in India
  • What did democracy bring?
  • Distortion of the exercise of vote
  • A global scenario
  • Conclusion

New democracy: A systemic transformation?

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Introduction:

Today, the world is witnessing the transformation of the regime of democracy, a systemic transformation from within, from one that had brought us the promise of liberty, equality, fraternity political, social and economic, to its very opposite: the highest concentration of economic, political and therefore social powers ever in history. 

What is Democracy?

  • Democracy is a system of government in which laws, policies, leadership, and major undertakings of a state or other polity are directly or indirectly decided by the people.
  • The democracy that a major part of our world swears by comprises free and fair, multi-party, fixed-term elections based on universal adult franchise in its ideal state.
  • A contestant party winning the majority of votes represents the will of the electorate and gets to form the government; others sit in the opposition until the next election. 

What did Democracy bring?

  • Democracy’s accoutrements included guaranteed individual rights and freedoms, free market economy, equality of all citizens, freedom of life and property, etc.

Universal adult franchise:

  • Universal adult franchise (the right to vote given to all adult citizens) itself is yet to hit the 100-year mark in the most advanced nations.
  • In the U.S., white women won the franchise a hundred years ago but their black sisters had to wait another few decades.
  • The Swiss women got the vote less than a half century ago, nearly a quarter century after Indian women did.

Elections:

  • Elections created space for change of governments even as they guaranteed security against challenge to the regime; the challenge could arise only outside of it, through ‘revolutions’, which in turn had much contracted the space even for a change of government and none for a change of regime.
  • In the end, most ‘revolutions’ could not escape the dragnet of ‘democracy’, their existential as well as conceptual adversary.

Free market:

  • One of democracy’s primary premises, free market, is now under threat not from its adversary but from its own internal dynamics.
  • The unprecedented concentration of wealth at the top 1% around the world knocks the bottom out of competition in the market, so integral to its freedom.

Majoritarian governments in India:

  • Democracy’s simplicity conceals some of its structural flaws. The ‘majority of votes’ actually boils down to the majority of seats in the legislature which, in 99% of the time, comes riding a minority of votes.
  • Rarely is a government formed backed by a majority of votes won in a free and fair election.
  • In 1984, Rajiv Gandhi’s formidable, highest-ever majority in Lok Sabha was still short of a majority of votes by about 2%.
  • In 2014, India moved towards becoming a majoritarian state, present union government had the backing of 31% of the votes cast and in 2019, of just about 40%.

Distortion of the exercise of vote:

  • The notion of the free choice of the exercise of vote gets distorted with innumerable manipulations of that choice on all sides, all within the four walls of the constitutional provisions:
  • These include distortions injected into the electoral process through control and misuse of the institutions responsible for carrying out the process;
  • The creation of an atmosphere of delegitimisation of dissent or protest vis-à-vis the government by counter-posing the demands of unquestioning patriotism or nationalism to it;
  • Using the sentiment of patriotism to circumscribe the dispensation of fair justice;
  • The control of the flow of information through the ‘independent’ media; setting up of professionally organised mechanisms for creating and propagating fake news;
  • Creating and promoting hatred between communities of people through patronising identity politics and using frenzy in lieu of reason as a mobiliser of votes;

A global scenario:

  • Today, democratic and progressive constitutions around the world give rulers enough space for misuse for achieving those goals and yet making the misuse palatable to voters through media and mobilization.
  • Concentration of wealth and political power attributed to a more generalized, global scenario: in the U.S., China, Russia, India, Brazil, Hungary, Turkey and elsewhere. Voters haven’t tired of this misuse anywhere going by the ever-rising voting percentages at election time.

Conclusion:

Still the democracy remains its trademark. The authenticity of democracy is that it permits citizens to participate in making laws and public policies, their participation is to be meaningful and effective and have the ability to critically evaluate political arguments. Each of those things need education.

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