Importance of constitutional and public morality in democracy

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Working of democracy

Mains level : Paper 2- Evolution of democracy in India

Democracy has evolved in many ways with time. The article examines its evolution in the Indian context.

Historical background of democracy

  • In recorded history, the Greeks were the first to experiment with models of government.
  • There were monarchies, oligarchies and democracies among the Greek city-states of the 5th Century BCE.
  • Aristotle wrote that while monarchies were for the benefit of the monarchs and oligarchies for the benefit of men with means, democracies were for the benefit of men without means.
  • Democracy has travelled a long way from those times.
  • In the world’s successful democracies like the US, UK and India, there is a fine balance between the elected and non-elected institutions with enough safeguards.

How democracy worked in India

  • There was much scepticism about the idea of universal adult franchise during the making of the Indian Constitution.
  • But Rajendra Prasad assured the Assembly’s members about the raw political wisdom of the average Indian as also the strength of the other institutions to safeguard the democratic process.
  • However, the infamous Emergency exposed the flaws in Indian democracy.

Gandhiji’s and B R Ambedkar’s approach

  • Mahatma Gandhi was not a big admirer of the parliamentary system.
  • Gandhi’s view was that in the British system, the parliament works only for partisan interest — and not for the national interest.
  • He wrote in Harijan in January 1937 that by political independence he meant system suitable to Indian context i.e. Ram Rajya — sovereignty of the people based on pure moral authority.
  • B R Ambedkar too described democracy in India as “only a top-dressing” on an Indian soil “which is essentially undemocratic”.
  • He underscored the importance of social democracy for the success of political democracy.
  • Gandhi was referring to the tyranny of the British rule and Ambedkar was responding to the oppressive caste system.
  • Neither was against democracy, but both were against the idea of “majoritarian rule”.
  • For Gandhi, democracy meant the weak getting the same chance as the strong.
  • For Ambedkar, it was about giving voice to the voiceless.
  • For democracies to succeed, both believed that the parliamentary majorities need to be restrained through constitutional ethics and public morality.
  • Constitutional ethics is about leaders respecting constitutional order, conventions and institutions.
  • Gandhi’s greater emphasis was on public morality.
  • He insisted that for India’s democracy to succeed, the Congress should convert itself into a lok sevak sangh and work at the grassroots level.

Consider the question “Public morality and unelected institution are necessary checks on the elected government not inimical to it. Comment.”

Conclusion

India’s democracy, as envisaged by the makers of its Constitution, thrived essentially because of the respect of the leaders for ethical constitutionalism and moral activism of the grassroots activists. Neither should see the other as an enemy and try to bring them down.

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