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“As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master.” This was the idea of Abraham Lincoln’s about democracy. Though very true in its basic form, does this idea hold true In the Indian context? After completing 62 years of being a ‘sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic republic’ and currently being in the 65th year of its independence, we can definitely call India a successful democracy for sustaining all the ups and downs in these years. The political traditions inherited from our history do not provide a sufficient explanation to this. India was ruled by outsiders, Moghuls and Englishmen, before its independence. Prior to that there are slight references of the common people being included in the functioning of the kingdoms that existed in Indian history. Colonialism was the crucible of India’s democracy. Western-educated leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru were inclined towards democracy. Considering the fatality rate of democracies in post-colonial settings, the political traditions inherited from the colonial past are clearly not a sufficient explanation. The democratic commitment of India’s leaders since independence has also made a major contribution to the survival of democracy in India.
Abraham Lincoln aptly defined democracy as a government of the people, by the people and for the people. This definition clearly underlines the basic tenet that, in this- form of government, people are supreme. The ultimate power is in their hands and they exercise it in the form of electing their representatives at the time of elections. With a billion people, the Republic of India is the world’s largest democracy. India modeled its government on the British parliamentary system, with a healthy dose of influences from the United States and the rest of Europe. India is run by a parliament made up of two houses, (similar to the United States Congress, which comprises the Senate and the House of Representatives). These two houses are called the Lok Sabha (House of the People) and the Rajya Sabha (Council of States). Of the two, the Lok Sabha holds more power, but the two houses work together to make the laws of the country. Though the four pillars of our democracy are strong enough to carry the burden of the country, whether Indian democracy itself is still strong and credible, is a matter of debate.
We are surely free from the suppression and exploitation of the British Raj but are still governed by laws and practices adopted from them. The Indian Penal Code has its roots in British judiciary with the first penal code being drafted in 1862 by a commission chaired by Lord Macaulay. No doubt that these laws have been amended and made better, at least on paper, but what about their implementation? So many good initiatives are proposed every year by the government but when it comes to implementing them, we only find scams and goof-ups. The judiciary of our country is armed with some of the best employees. Lawyers or judges, we have the best and through all these years the judiciary has achieved milestones in its verdicts and has also banged themselves on milestones in some. Cases in Indian courts take ages to get solved but the results are satisfactory in majority of the cases. Since 1950, Indian democracy has flourished and degraded simultaneously. On one hand citizens got their fundamental rights of equality, freedom, religion, right to constitutional remedies, right against exploitation and the recent right to education while on the other they reduced voting which led to a decline in the quality of candidates contesting the elections.
One reason that this can be attributed to is, people got educated and got to know about the dirty games of politicos and this led to the lack of interest in voting. We may see the number of voters turnout increasing but how many of these voters are there according to their own will? The educated man always has this thought in his mind- ‘If I am being duped of my tax money, why should I vote for the person responsible for it?’ This thought comes as an encouragement to power hunger people who know that if the educated man is not voting, they can always mislead the illiterate and poverty-stricken population and gain power. Take the case of the UP polls where 190 out of the total candidates had criminal charges against them. With so much of poverty, feeding the poor and distribution of money are the easiest way to get a guaranteed seat. In Punjab, drugs, alcohol and cash worth crores of rupees was seized before elections. This is just the tip of an iceberg but it is enough to question the credibility of our legislature. Our tendency is to find loopholes in the system and then exploit them as much as we can. The evil of casteism is one such example.
When Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar drafted the constitution, it was clearly mentioned that reservation will exist only till the backward classes are uplifted but till date exploitation in the name of ‘lack of exposure’ continues. Considering the pleas of the needy is definitely a noble gesture but being lenient towards those who act needy will add to the already expanding population of criminals in the legislature. In a country where money is the supreme factor in the functioning of almost everything, corruption will definitely scale soaring heights and in that process it will impair the very functioning of the system. Almost every one of us has experienced corruption in our lives. Bribing the traffic havaldar or the peon at a government office is the standard norm to get a work done. The anti-corruption movement or the Anna movement, as it was popularly known, did make a mark on the minds of many people initially. All the protests, candle-light marches and rallies catapulted Anna Hazare to a household name. The movement started with a pure effort to eradicate the social evil of corruption by bringing in a Lokpal committee for each state but later it developed into a circus wherein there were threats issued to both the government and Team Anna. It looked like all Anna cared about was being in the spotlight.
Where were his Gandhian principles when he talked about whipping people who consumed alcohol in his village? If we keep apart this part of the movement, the rest of it was a big example of how strong our democracy is. The people power was victorious over the Government power and it did instill a sense of responsibility in the citizens throughout the country. Here is a question to ask ourselves- Did we really follow what we promised to follow during the rallies? Freedom and liberty are two things that all people cherish; young and old alike. Democracy precisely gives both of these. In today’s world democracy is needed for a smooth running of a country. The Arab Spring proved this point when all the dictators, who ruled most of the Arab nations, were overthrown in an attempt to bring peace to the country. There are examples of monarchies turning into democracies and people being given their basic rights. Suppression of feelings and speech only adds more air to the ever-expanding balloon of worries of people and sometime in the future that bubble will surely burst the way it did in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and other nations.
The British ruled India for 150 years whereas prior to them we were ruled by Mughals. It was after so many years that the people of India had the freedom of thought and opting for democracy was a wise decision that our forefathers made. Apart from the factors that are already mentioned some other factors like religion, development, regions and population also affect our democracy a lot. A lot of political support is garnered based on one’s religion. With Hinduism and Islam being major religions here many national religious issues are the key points of the success in elections. The population boom has been a major problem for the government because it has resulted in lack of employment and increase in poverty, thereby also affecting the development adversely. The accommodation of demands of various groups in the centralized structure has strengthened Indian Democracy regularly. The best example is Kashmir which was granted a special status and its own separate constitution was drafted. Many a times this accommodation of demands has also brought problems to the government. India is a multicultural, agrarian society with a rigid and hierarchical social structure.
In a world where most stable democracies have industrialized and capitalist economies, this existence in such a setting of periodic elections, constitutional government, and freedom of expression and association has posed an intellectual puzzle. Many experts believe that the Indian Democracy is a just a show-off on the outside and that in the coming years it will weaken but our democracy is based on very strong foundations and given its qualities, it will never falter. It has faced many challenges in the past years and it is strong enough to face new challenges. India’s destiny as a nation depends on how successfully our democratic system will work in the years to come. Still there are many serious challenges before our democracy. Communalism, poverty, casteism, terrorism and illiteracy, etc. are some of the basic problems and challenges being faced by the Indian democracy. Ours is a secular country and by secular we have the freedom to teach, practice and propagate one’s religion without interfering with that of others. But every now and then there are people who showcase communalism and fundamentalism thereby causing widespread riots.
This has lead to a lot of religious discrimination and sidelining of certain castes by branding them responsible. Therefore, we have to be very vigilant and alert about it. There is no state religion and all religions and sects are equal before the law. Democracy has been successful in India because we are a tolerant people and have proper regard for the others’ point of view. Difference of opinion is not only compatible with democracy, but an essential ingredient for it. No country can be perfect. Every new milestone that a country reaches comes with many sacrifices and flaws but that does not make it a bad country at all. Whether Indian Democracy is alive and kicking?
Yes, it definitely is. True that it has many problems to deal with but without problems there will be no solutions and without solutions there will be no development. Winston Churchill once said that ‘democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried.’ When a government is formed there is bound to be restrictions and power-hungry politicians. So, maybe Mr. Churchill exaggerated by calling it the worst but we all know how monarchy and dictatorial regimes have ended in the past and that is enough to make a democratic path the best among others. In the end, it is our duty to maintain the liveliness of our democracy to make it effective. To end with, I quote the Father of our nation Mahatma Gandhi- “The spirit of democracy is not a mechanical thing to be adjusted by abolition of forms. It requires change of heart.”