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[Burning Issue] Democide: Causes and ways to avoid it

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When democratically elected governments cease to be held accountable by a society weakened by poor health, low morale and joblessness, demagogues are prone to blindness and ineptitude.

John Keane

The global surveys are everywhere reporting dipping confidence in democracy and marked jumps in citizens’ frustrations with government corruption and incompetence. Young people are the least satisfied with democracy — much more disaffected than previous generations at the same age.

Most worrying are the survey findings for India, which is fast developing a reputation as the ‘world’s largest failing democracy’. In its Democracy Report 2020, Sweden’s V-Dem Institute noted that India “has almost lost its status as a democracy”. It ranked India below Sierra Leone, Guatemala, and Hungary.

In this context, let us find out that do India faces any challenges to democracy and what can be done to make it a better democratic country. But before that, let us find out what a true democracy means.

What is mean by democracy?

  • Democracy is a form of government in which power ultimately comes from the people who are governed, either through direct voting or through elected representatives.
  • Democracy is a whole way of life. It is freedom from hunger, humiliation and violence.
  • Democracy is saying no to every form of human and non-human indignity.
  • It is respect for women, tenderness with children, and access to jobs that bring satisfaction and sufficient reward to live comfortably.
  • Democracy is public and private respect for different ways of living.
  • It is humility i.e. the willingness to admit that impermanence renders all life vulnerable, that in the end nobody is invincible, and that ordinary lives are never ordinary.
  • Democracy is equal access to decent medical care and sympathy for those who have fallen behind. It’s the rejection of the dogma that things can’t be changed because they’re “naturally” fixed in stone.

Why democracy?

  • The idea of democracy derives its moral strength – and popular appeal – from two key principles:

1. Individual autonomy: The idea that no one should be subject to rules which have been imposed by others. People should be able to control their own lives (within reason).

2. Equality: The idea that everyone should have the same opportunity to influence the decisions that affect people in society.

What are the basic forms of democracy?

1.  Direct Democracy: Citizens participate in the decision-making personally. Example- Switzerland.

2. Representative Democracy: Elected officials represent a group of people. It is an element of both parliamentary and presidential systems of government.

For example India, UK, US, etc.

What are the essential elements of democracy?

  1. Freedom
  2. Respect for human rights
  3. Holding periodic, genuine elections by universal suffrage.

Democracy in India

  • Ancient India had democratic republic even before 6th century BCE and India has seen democratic rule through ages. Vaishali (in present day Bihar) is considered one of the first republics around 6th century BCE.
  • Republics at that time were called ‘Mahajanpadas’ and Sabhas and Samitis (assemblies) existed. Panchayat systems were also used in some of these republics.
  • Anti-colonial movements in India brought democracy in picture during British rule in India. Nehru, Gandhi, Ambedkar, etc helped in bringing universal adult franchise, at a time when literacy rate was very low in the nation.
  • Government of India Act, 1935 laid foundation of democratic rule in India.
  • Although Gandhi wanted village republic as a basic unit, India went for Westminster type of political model.
  • But India granted Universal Adult Franchise under Article 326 of its Constitution effective since 1950 giving a strong base for democracy.
  • Indian Republic at present has a parliamentary system of democracy and a federal structure in which leaders are elected by citizens of various castes, classes, religions, etc.

How do democracies die (Causes of Democide)?

(1) Failure of the government

  • Democide is usually a slow-motion and messy process. Wild rumors and talk of conspiracies flourish. Street protests and outbreaks of uncontrolled violence happen. Fears of civil unrest spread.  
  • The armed forces grow agitated. As the government totters, the army moves from its barracks onto the streets to quell unrest and take control. Democracy is finally buried in a grave it slowly dug for itself.
  • The military coup d’états against the elected governments of Egypt (2013), Thailand (2014), Myanmar and Tunisia (2021) are obvious examples.

(2) Social Emergencies

  • Democracy suffers a slow-motion social death when social fabric weakens and the place of harmony taken by many evils of the society like discrimination.

(3) Weakness of constitutional machinery and institutions

  • When a constitution promises its citizens justice, liberty and equality, the splintering and shattering of social life induce a sense of legal powerlessness among citizens.
  • The judiciary becomes vulnerable to cynicism, political meddling and state capture.

(4) Inequality in the society

Massive imbalances of wealth, chronic violence, famine, and unevenly distributed life chances also make a mockery of the ethical principle that in a democracy people can live as citizen partners of equal social worth.

(5) Indignity: a form of generalized social violence

  • Domestic violence, rotten health care, widespread feelings of social unhappiness, and daily shortages of food and housing destroy people’s dignity. It kills the spirit and substance of democracy.
  • When millions of women feel unsafe and multitudes of migrant workers are forced to flee for their lives, the victims are unlikely to believe themselves worthy of rights, or capable for fighting for their own entitlements, or for the rights of others.
  • Ground down by social indignity, the powerless are robbed of self-esteem.
  • Social indignity undermines citizens’ capacity to take an active interest in public affairs, and to check and humble and wallop the powerful.

(6) Demagoguery

  • When millions of citizens are daily victimized by social indignities, the powerful are granted a license to rule arbitrarily. Some at the bottom and many in the middle and upper classes turn their backs on public affairs.
  • Citizen disempowerment encourages boasting and bluster among powerful leaders who stop caring about the niceties of public integrity and power-sharing.
  • When democratically elected governments cease to be held accountable by a society weakened by poor health, low morale, and joblessness, demagogues are prone to blindness and ineptitude.
  • They make careless, foolish, and incompetent decisions that reinforce social inequities. They license big market and government players — poligarchs — to decide things.
  • Those who exercise power in government ministries, corporations, and public/private projects aren’t subject to democratic rules of public accountability.
  • Almost everybody must pay bribes to access basic public services. The powerful stop caring about the niceties of public integrity. Institutional democracy failure happens.

(7) Absence of redistributive public welfare policies

  • In the absence of redistributive public welfare policies that guarantee sufficient food, shelter, security, education, and health care to the downtrodden, democracy morphs into a mere façade.
  • Elections still happen and there’s abundant talk of “the people”. But democracy begins to resemble a fancy mask worn by wealthy political predators. Self-government is killed.
  • Cheer-led by lapdog media, phantom democracy becomes a reality. Society is subordinated to the state. People are expected to behave as loyal subjects, or else suffer the consequences.
  • A thoroughly 21st century type of top-down rule called despotism triumphs.
Recent instances confirming to threats for democracy

NIA Amendment Bill, 2019

  • The amendment to the NIA Act gives the agency authority to investigate crimes committed by persons which are against Indian citizens or “affecting the interest of India”.
  • However, the term “affecting the interest of India” is undefined and can be misused by governments to curb freedom of speech and expression.

Bypassing the Parliament Committee System

  • According to data by PRS Legislative Research, while 60% of the Bills in the 14th Lok Sabha and 71% in the 15th Lok Sabha were referred to Departmentally-related Standing Committees (DRSCs) concerned, this proportion came down to 27% in the 16th Lok Sabha.
  • Apart from the DRSCs, there are negligible bills referred to Select Committees of the Houses or Joint Parliamentary Committees.
  • The last Bill referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee was The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Second Amendment) Bill, in 2015.

Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021

  • Social media intermediaries include messaging-related intermediaries, such as WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram, and media-related intermediaries, such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
  • The rules bring a high level of government discretion in determining which platforms need to comply with what regulations and it enables the Central government to enforce discriminatory compliances.
  • These rules have far-reaching consequences on online privacy, freedom of speech and expression, and access to information.

Passage of the Aadhar Bill as a money bill

How can we avoid the democide?

(1) Constitutional Renaissance

  • It refers to the process of constant repair and renewal of “constitutionalism” as a function of adjudication.
  • It stands severally described now as –
    • a constant awakening as regards the text, context, perspective, purpose, and the rule of law”,
    • an awakening that makes space for a “resurgent constitutionalism” and
    • “allows no room for absolutism” nor any “space for anarchy”

(2) Constitutional Morality

  • Constitutional morality means adherence to the core principles of the constitutional democracy.
  • It effectively coordinate between conflicting interests of different people and the administrative cooperation to resolve the issues without any confrontation amongst the various groups.
  • It also makes the governing institutions and representatives accountable.

(3) Rightful interpretation of the constitution by the judiciary

  • This refers to the interpretation of the constitution by the judiciary in light of the interest of the people of India and maintaining institutional integrity.

(4) Good Governance

  • Good governance unable reach out government schemes to the needy and it entrust the desire to do well in life.  It also helps to realize ones duties and rights and boosts confidence in government.

(5) Welcoming criticism

  • The Government should hear criticism rather than rejecting it out rightly. Suggestions on eroding democratic values need a thoughtful and respectful response.

(6) Freedom of speech and expression to media for checks on the executive

  • The press and the judiciary, which are considered the pillars of India’s Democracy, require it to be independent of any executive interference to enable auditing of the

(7) Need For Strong Opposition

  • Strong democracy requires strong opposition. Without an alternative choice, the very objective of election to provide a check on arbitrary power gets defeated.

(8) Equality in the society

  • If redistributive public welfare policies are effective, the inequality in the society would be reduced. Thus, it must be the priority of the government to maintain social and economic equality and inclusive growth.

(9) Parliamentary oversight

  • It is necessary to hold strong checks on executive through parliamentary committees, question hours, etc. Separation of powers is the most important thing for healthy democracy.

Conclusion

Until and unless we don’t realize the real sense of Democracy we can’t live with dignity. It is the need of the hour to strengthen the voice of the public against Democide which takes away the rights of the people. Only with people’s participation, it can be achieved. It is important that all the government organs work in harmony to uphold the trust people of the country have held in them and ensure objectives of true democracy.


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