With the latest happenings in India and all over the world, and the fundamentals of democracy coming into question regularly, the concept of democracy has become an important subject for discussion now. Democracy in India is a subject of debate for a long time and the concept of the new democracy has emerged as a matter of discussion quite fairly. Here, we will discuss the various aspects of democracy and how democracy plays its role in India, the concept of the new democracy, and its importance.
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The word democracy is derived from the Greek words ‘demos’ meaning ‘people’ and ‘Kratos’ meaning ‘power’ collectively can be meant as ‘the power of people’. It is the government- of the people, by the people, and for the people. People in a democracy exercise their power in the process of decision-making through participation and representation.
History of democracy in India
The history of the concept of democracy can be traced back to the ancient city of Athens. India is one of the oldest civilizations. In India, the history of democracy can be traced back to the presence of Sabhas and Samitis in the Vedic Period. The ancient cities and states generally were monarchies but the monarchs had the responsibility of maintaining justice, peace, and stability. The terms like Sangha, Gana, and Panchayat system are nothing but examples of participatory democracy in India since ancient times.
Even during the Mughal rule, the concepts of democracy were not absent and were present in various forms. Rulers like Akbar realized the importance of people’s support in ruling a state like India and thus tried to establish a secular state through various reforms. The process of readdressing people’s grievances by installing a bell at the palace during the rule of Jahangir is one such example.
It is during the rule of the British that the concept of democracy gained its importance among the people of India. The struggle of Indians against the British exploitation, the protest against the Simon Commission( not having any Indian member), The Nehru report(1928), and the principles agreed upon in the Karachi session(1931), indicate the democratic tilt of the Indian minds and the urge to establish a democracy in India.
Finally, it is by the electoral mechanism established by the Constitution of India that India has ensured itself of a democratic setup in which people have the power to choose their representatives who in turn will affect the process of decision-making in India.
Democracy in India and the Indian Constitution
The Indian Constitution in its Preamble begins by addressing itself as “We, the people of India” indicating that the source of the power of the Indian Constitution is ‘the people of India’. The Indian Constitution declares India as a ‘sovereign’, ‘democratic’, ‘republic’ pointing out the fact that India will be governed by its people and the citizens will play a major role in the process of decision-making.
Features of Indian democracy
- Popular sovereignty- The people of India elect their representatives and through their opinion, the common masses control the actions of their representatives.
- Rule of the majority- The party which gets the majority of votes is considered to be elected.
- Political equality- Every citizen of India irrespective of his or her caste, creed, religion, sex, or race can take part in the electoral process.
- Collective responsibility- The elected government is collectively responsible to the legislature which comprises the representatives of the people.
- Individual dignity- Through various rights like the right to equality, the right to freedom of speech and expression, cultural and educational rights, the Indian democracy ensures individual dignity.
- Rule of consent- It is by the consent of the masses that the elected party will govern and not by force or coercion.
- Welfare government- The elected representatives should work for the welfare of the citizens of India.
- Respect for minority opinion- The Indian democracy has the provision of respect for the minority opinion. The majority also listens to the suggestions and criticisms of the minority and thus minority opinion is taken into consideration while making decisions.
- Independent judiciary- The Indian judiciary is free from any kind of interference by the executive or the legislature which ensures independence of the judiciary in delivering free and fair decisions.
Advantages of democracy in India
- Change in government without violence.
- Democracy in India prevents the monopoly of a single party.
- Democracy in India ensures the obligation of the government towards its citizens.
- The participation of all the sections of the Indian society ensures the participation of all the citizens in the decision-making process.
- Democracy in India ensures that people’s interests are catered to.
Disadvantages of democracy in India
- Difficulty in preventing corruption and malpractices at various levels.
- The lengthy decision-making process takes a long-time to make a decision.
- Domination of the majority opinion is another disadvantage of Indian democracy.
- Wastage of a large amount of money and resources in conducting elections periodically.
- Fulfillment of self-interests by the elected representatives rather than working for citizens.
Issues and challenges
- Inequality- The presence of inequality in Indian society in its various forms- social, economic, political, and others is a major challenge to Indian democracy.
- Illiteracy- Illiteracy in India hinders the decision-making power of an individual and this leads to an ill-informed decision on the part of voters. The voters are not able to differentiate between the wrong and right candidates and who should be elected.
- Growth of a number of political parties- There is a steady and haphazard growth of political parties. It creates confusion among the electorate and administrative problems during elections.
- Lack of representation- It is commonly noticed that there is an imbalance between the votes being polled and the number of seats won by the majority party. The winner party or the ruling coalition sometimes fails to secure even the minimum votes of 50% which shows that a large section of society has no count in the ruling opinion.
- Rise of violence and muscle power- There has been a steady rise in the use of violence and muscle power in elections booth capturing, rigging, use of coercion to force voters to vote for a particular party, or hindering the voting process is a common phenomenon nowadays.
- Use of money power and black money- The use of monetary resources to lure voters is not new. What is more challenging is the use of black money through various channels to spend in elections.
- Criminalization of politics- It is important to note that many candidates who contest elections have a criminal background and most of them have cases registered against them of rape, murder, etc.
- Incitement of caste and communal prejudices- Many candidates incite caste and communal hatred against each other in order to lure a particular caste or community. This creates social disharmony in the society thus harming the very principle of democracy in India.
- Non-representation of minorities- Many times, the voice of the minority sections like scheduled caste, scheduled tribes remain unheard and the voice of the majority prevails. Thus the minority section stays unrepresented.
Many initiatives have been taken by the constitution-makers and by the lawmakers from time to time to deal with the various issues and challenges plaguing the Indian democracy.
- The Constitution of India established an independent body- the Election Commission of India to ensure that free and fair elections are conducted in India.
- The Representation of People Act 1950 and 1951 was one such initiative in which the rules for the conduct of elections were laid down.
- Through the 73rd and 74th Amendment Act, the state election commissions were established to conduct free and fair elections at local levels.
- The introduction of the Anti-Defection law in 1985 through the 52nd Amendment Act to counter the problem of defection in politics in India was a major reform in this field.
The concept of the new democracy
Democracy nowadays is on the decline. The very principles on which democracy is to be established are under grave danger all over the world. The dissenting voices are given the worst treatment. There is the concentration of wealth in the hands of few. The very ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity are under threat. In the name of the will of people, power is concentrated in the hands of a few who are not elected by a higher percentage of total votes. Many a time, there is a nexus between those who are in power and the media which promotes the ideals of the people in power. Democracy is becoming opposite to what it is supposed to be.
The road ahead
There is a dire need to address the issues democracy is facing in the present scenario. The very ideals of democracy need to be protected. Persons from backward classes and those who are marginalized should be given more representation. Women need to take part in democratic processes in large numbers. There should be stringent laws to prevent the criminalization of politics, use of black money in elections, and identity politics. India as the largest democracy can become strongest in the near future only if the lacunas in the democratic system are looked into and progressive measures are taken to strengthen Indian democracy.
- Comment on the present democratic set up in India, the challenges to it and suggest measures to strengthen democracy in India.