India, a country of a billion people, is the largest democracy in the world. This speaks volumes of the kind of challenges that the leaders of such a nation will face while trying to run the machinery of the state. It, however does not excuse the behaviour of the people decrying the value of this golden term-democracy.
Instances of undemocratic behaviour
February 2016 – The country woke up to one of the black days of Indian democracy with students of the topmost educational institution of the country slandering the government regarding the judicial killing or hanging of a notorious terrorist who was accused of propagating militancy in Kashmir. The students claimed to be well-wishers of the people of Kashmir and parroted their eerie chant of “Azadi” or freedom.
It cannot come as a bigger shock to witness the hub of political studies indulging in activities that clearly undermine the value of our country’s sacred judicial and political institutions. The Supreme Court is a revered institution and its verdict cannot be questioned, except through legal means in rare instances. Public sloganeering against such a body along with anti-India chants shows the extent of the degradation of democratic values.
While this incident did spark a widespread debate among the intelligentsia of the country, it catapulted the leader of this entire exercise into overnight stardom. He became a hero for all the people who identified with his radical views and even became a successful politician.
Can anybody get away with seditious statements and protests in the world’s largest democracy?
Democracy and its Essence
The most popular definition of democracy is the one given by Abraham Lincoln “A democracy is the rule ‘of’ the people, ‘for’ the people and ‘by’ the people.” It is one the most coveted forms of government and is often touted to be the ingredient for a progressive and developed country.
But, the anomalies of China and Saudi Arabia serve as reminders that democracy, alone, cannot guarantee the success of a nation. There are several factors that determine the success of a country and the foremost among them is the ability of the citizens to imbibe the democratic values of the nation.
Citizens need to start understanding the value of the democracy in which they thrive. The exceptional success of a country like China does not serve as a means of fulfilment for the people. Chinese citizens have been deprived of many fundamental rights, including those of speaking out against their leaders. This should remind Indians of the privilege they possess with relation to criticism of their leaders’ policies.
With regard to the condescension of their leaders and their policies, Indians have the privilege, to hide behind their screens and talk. The opposition to ideas can also take the form extreme berating through sarcastic cartoons and new-fangled substitutes to cartoons, called memes.
This has often been misused and trolling has become the norm in many such democracies. But we forget that there is another part of the world that is completely ignorant to the existence of such means of expressing disapproval. North Korea, a dictatorship under Kim Jong-un, is isolated from the goings-on of the rest of the world.
The citizens are not allowed to be connected to the global internet and only have an intranet of sorts that only allows them to know about their own country and a few other related topics. Freedom is a distant dream for the North Koreans. They cannot even imagine going against their leader. Thus, Indians are privileged.
Dissent and Disapproval
A democratic government comprises the ruling party along with a healthy strength of the Opposition. The opposition is created for the specific purpose of expressing their disapproval, as representatives of the people, in the Parliament. This keeps the powers of the ruling party in check and aligned with the wishes of the people, rather than their own.
However, with the advent of power-politics and the concept of vote-bank, our leaders have turned into mere politicians. They live for the elections and try to perform only as many tasks as are essential for securing the goodwill of the people.
The opposition has forgotten its real purpose of correcting the government and is only concerned with declaring all decisions wrong. This has diminished its value in the eyes of the citizens.
Similarly, the internet, debates and letters to the government, are all methods of expressing disapproval and questioning the actions of the government. This right, in no way, allows the people to dissent. The citizens do not have a right to state such ideas or commit such acts as will undermine the unity of the country.
Our forefathers and the founding fathers of the Constitution of this country had envisioned a system of government along the lines of Britain and France. They understood that Indians were new to the idea of democracy and hence, introduced the Parliamentary form of government along with the system of checks and balances.
These enabled the real and titular heads to balance each other’s powers and the three branches of the government (legislature, executive, and judiciary) to keep a check on each other through various ways, respectively.
Even with such provisions, we fail to understand what the Constituent Assembly idealised. Power-hungry politicians and selfish citizens have combined to form a country where the problems plaguing the country post-Independence still remain a thorn in the side and we fail to recognise that our country is, in fact, giving us so much power and hope which we need to utilise judiciously.
We are reaching the 73rd year of Independence and still India sits at the uncomfortable 114th rank in World Bank’s Human Development Index. Why? The simple reason is that we, as citizens, fail to understand our rights in this democracy and focus on issues that can only divide the country and lead it downwards.
India is grappling with domestic and international issues and while all this is unfolding before us, instead of standing together as a nation, we choose to merely criticise the government and find ways to disintegrate from the state. Education of a child does not begin in school, it begins at home.
When the child sees the primary concern of their parent is their religion, caste or personal growth in place of a collective one; they imbibe these values and grow up to find means of proliferating through means that may even prove to be fatal for the existence and growth of this country.
Thousands of writers and intellectuals have emphasized the need of country before self and unity in diversity. People have begun to understand its meaning, but this is just the beginning. The bud has to bloom into a flower before we find a valley of flowers swaying to the breeze, indicating peace and harmony in this land.
Elections, which form the seminal event in a democracy, are treated as a barter market where votes are exchanged for temporary personal gains like alcohol or small amounts of money. This is largely rampant among the poor and uneducated because they are still living from one day to the next, with a bleak future.
Their issues are overlooked and elections are the only time when they are treated warmly and promised development. The same is also true for the ultra-rich and educated. They secure the future of their enterprises and prospects of expansion by guaranteeing votes for the candidate who vouches their interests.
Elections have turned into a “Game of Thrones” where the parties only wish to grab power and seats and when that is accomplished they begin strategizing for the next. People have understood this and now they, too, partake in this frenzy to gain something, if not permanent happiness.
The people have forgotten what democracy holds. Their barometer for success of a democracy is the growth of their religion, caste or community. When this is not fulfilled, they bad- mouth the very founding principles of this form of government.
The other side of this coin is the testimony of 72 years since Independence when not one but hundreds of anti-national and seditious forces have been at play trying to disintegrate the nation and dissolve the government. These forces are yet to hamper us and we are yet to give in to the temptations of taking up residence in countries that are wreaking havoc in our sovereign land.
Life seems at peril at times in this land of diversity, yet we haven’ given up hope on the parting of the clouds to reveal a clear day that shall mean prosperity for our future generations.
We have witnessed communalism and lynching in the name of purity, but we have also witnessed selfless aid, sacrifice and assistance by our youth when a certain part of this country is afflicted by a catastrophe. We have forces conspiring to radicalise innocent children and proliferating militancy, but we have a more-than-capable judicial system that brings to book anyone trying to bring rifts in the colossal cultural grid of our country.
Is India fit for a democracy? We can only answer this question when we have gauged the understanding of democratic values within our people. We are a sovereign nation and we need to define the rights of our people along with certain limits.
Our rights are the same as the rights of other citizens of the country and they can only be exercised till they don’t encroach on the rights of others. When we get this understanding of subtle boundaries, we shall be able to answer this question with an objective mind and preferably, a positive mind-set.