Sunday 29 July 2012

An Imperfect Ally - Democracy

This is the destiny of democracy, as not all means are acceptable to it and not all practices employed by its enemies are open before it. Although a democracy must often fight with one hand tied behind its back, it nonetheless has the upper hand. ”

- Justice Aharon Barak, Supreme Court of Israel 

In the wake of long perpetual assaults on democratic ideals, one would have us believe that perhaps India is undeserving of democracy. Perhaps its citizens are too callous to appreciate and revere the priceless gifts of liberty and freedom that come wrapped with democracy. I've often heard my peers remark in sheer rage, "Is desh ka kuch nahin ho sakta...Aur Banao democracy ise... Are humein democracy nahin, military rule ki zaroorat hai (Nothing can save this country...keep hailing democracy. The fact is that we deserve military rule and not democracy). It doesn't require a remarkable deal of aptitude to understand the reasons behind such hopelessness. Since the time we attained sovereignty and independence, most of those who had been since conferred with power, have abused it to some extent. The range of such abuse spans from having a free meal to stashing away billions in benami accounts. Despite lack of complete official confirmation of such abuse people are aware, more than ever that persons in whom they rested their faith for ushering in a better tomorrow, have betrayed mass expectations for their individual gains.
Democracy is the only form of governance in which the will of people is supreme. Therefore there exists a constant process of appeasement of popular sentiments in the form of minority wooing & election oriented policy making. But it's ironic that the real purpose for which people choose representatives is totally belied. That includes, though not limited to, improvement in welfare measures, education, healthcare, economic empowerment, security and justice delivery system. It's not difficult to understand that if pleasing people is what it takes to remain in power, why aren't beneficial steps being taken in order to improve their quality of life. It's indubitably because of the reason that taking such steps would naturally entail expenditure of Govt. revenues and other State income, due diligence, sincerity and a completely corruption free work culture, which at least in the current scenario seems as impossible as cheating death.

Another essential feature of any democracy is its justice delivery mechanism, which in our country, has suffered an erosion of faith. This is mainly because of the delay in conclusion of Court cases and the seemingly large number of apparent criminals escaping punishment. But most people misunderstand the causes behind these maladies. (For a discussion on this issue read this ). Be that as it may, in a democracy, the manner in which justice is administered by Courts rests largely on the principles of natural justice. In such systems the thrust is on two major norms. Firstly, no one shall be condemned without having been provided with an opportunity of making his defense and secondly no one shall be a judge of his own cause. While the former ensures that every man has a chance of being heard the latter prevents possibilities of bias creeping into the judicial process. In according opportunity of being heard, the person accused, is provided with all fair & reasonable means to make such a defense. It is this particular scope, that has been the subject of all kinds of exploitation and abuse by persons thriving on ingenuity. One cannot help but lament at the cause for which such a facility was accorded to accused persons in the first place and the resultant manipulation that it has been made subject to at the hands of the cunning & the crafty. A hundred guilty may go free but one innocent man should not be punished. This has been the code of the entire judicial process that our Constitutional drafters created. Obviously they had an oppressed, exploited and a truly innocent accused person in mind while injecting this principle into the entire system. Little did they know that the men in whose hands they were bequeathing the freedom were the least capable of handling it.

I often see elite, erudite scholars analyzing hundreds of issues concerning the welfare of our nation. They are ready with theories, analyses for each situation. The media shows a keen interest in creating an optimum environment where there'd be free exchange of such stimulating thoughts. So many scandals have been unearthed. So many politicians have been brought under the scanner. Yet they prevail in the end. They manage to climb back to power. That too by votes, not by magic. There could be many causes for that. One of the startling causes however remains the apathy and indifference of the people who listen to those debates and discussions of those scholars and happily wake up the next morning and embark themselves upon their private pursuits. On the contrary people who matter to say the least - tribals, uneducated minorities living in remote areas, right wing, left wing, fanatics, poor farmers and villagers, never hear these debates. They are ultimately the cause for the electoral outcome.

However, despite such difficult scenarios, democracy remains the best form of governance. The simple cause  being the existence of regard for civil liberties and fundamental rights of its subjects, in a democracy. It is needless to say that when tremendous significance is ascribed to rights and liberties, there's bound to be some collateral damage in the form of hijacking of such facility. That's the paradox of the times we live in and the irony of the lives of so called the aware and educated mass. However in the recent times Anna ji may have captured the imagination of these sections of our community which, hitherto only indulged in sulking but doing nothing about it. They finally gave up their bread earning pursuits, may be for a few days, and joined a mass agitation. People who know, know, that this may actually end up solving nothing, for the real cause of worries lies somewhere else. However it did shake the power corridors out of the notion that the common man is not only living to earn his daily bread. Given the right galvanizing factor, he too can stand up and cause commotion for his rights. This again is another beauty of democracy. It offers a chance at redemption, at gaining for lost stuff, for standing and shouting for our rights. Had we not been a democracy, Anna ji, like Aung San Suu Kyi, might have been thrown under house arrest indefinitely.

A few years ago, when the Hon'ble Supreme Court was seized with adjudication upon issue whether narco analysis and brain mapping procedures used by investigating agencies on suspects for extraction of information, is valid or not, the Court decided against the use of such methods. Though there was widespread frustration among investigative agencies, including the CBI on having to relinquish this technique of investigation, it cannot be denied that involuntary administration of narco analysis on criminals is against their fundamental right to life and liberty and their right against self incrimination. The Court held that narco-analysis test, polygraph test and compulsory brain mapping of the accused persons are violative of Article 20(3) and Article 21 of our Constitution. Many people may disagree with this verdict. But that's the way democracy is expected to function. The Supreme Court while so deciding took into consideration various studies which show that what a person may speak during the test may not be entirely credible, since there is a possibility that drug induced revelations may not necessarily be true. Being aware that its decision will cause serious discontentment among investigative agencies, the Hon'ble Court quoted the aforementioned statement of Justice Barak, a renowned Judge of the Israeli Supreme Court. The full judgment can be read here .

So the point is, that despite serious setbacks, democracy is too precious to be substituted by any other form of governance. It gives us the chance to oppose, to speak freely, to raise our voice to criticize and to protest. No country is perfect. What's therefore important is that there should be a constant effort towards achieving that perfection. Democracy affords that opportunity. There are a few other forms of governance in various countries. Experience has proven that they are not ideal either, despite not being democracies. But unlike in a democracy, their civilians have the least scope of raising their voices and protesting against what they feel is wrong. So also it is often seen that there is always a perpetual inclination towards democracy in non democratic countries but not the vice versa. The irresistible deduction therefore is that no matter how frustrating it could be to witness democratic ideals being manipulated and used for perpetrating wrongs, it inevitably remains the best choice of administration, if not for anything else, for the opportunity it accords for making things better without having to resort to non violent methods.


  1. Erosin of faith,corruption etc has been all around at all levels of society since ages in India and places around.The form of government was not democratic in the times of kings,but thanks to colonisation,industrialisation and globalisation.By practising democracy,we have provided ourselves every opportunity to grow,fight and demand our rights.But still we lack a proper mechanism to avail the innumerable benefits Democracy can provide.Privatisation is a tool which i think is the answer to all the ill effects of the outcome of democracy.Several processes like electing representatives in a multi-party system,Reservation,Presence of several castes and giving them all unequal reservation spreads more inequality.
    If democracy is good because it just give the power to its citizens to speak ,but what is the use if it only hears and does'nt see.Several things ,i think should be borrowed from the west and must be incorporated in our present system like dual party system ,Lok -pal bill(was there but ineffective),privatisation of many government bodies,outsourcing and thus creating job opportunities.Then only democracy can be said to be a good ally.

    1. Thanks for reading and sharing your valuable points of view.

      My friend, perhaps you are unaware of corporate corruption. Privatization will solve nothing significant. It's only a matter of time, when we shall realize that all that matters to corporations, by & large, is their balance sheet. I don't deny that there may be exceptions who go the extra mile to serve social needs without expecting typical profits. The fact of the matter is that unless we as persons, individuals or human beings do not better ourselves nothing is going to change much. Greed, perversion of sacred institutions of authority, corruption etc. must go from our individual systems first.Till that happens, no matter what we do things won't change much.

      Secondly saying in one line that privatization will solve everything is quite non specific. One must understand the plethora of issues that malign our society, the multiple sets of rules, the law of our Constitution, its effects and scope, the various layers of governance and administration that keeps some semblance of order in the society before suggesting privatization as a means to an alternative form of administration.

      I agree with you that a multi party system has flaws, in as much as, there is a lot of confusion and trading happening all the time to preclude any assurance of transparency. But at the same time our choices are increased. What's the guarantee that the bi - party system will not consist of those two parties which are corrupt. That'll be even more frustrating. Speaking of reservation, my dear friend, it's a far complex issue to be resolved than just saying that it doesn't help so remove it. If we claim to be an inclusive country, we cannot have closed mind approach towards reservation. It's an issue which requires serious study of the past history, mulit disciplinary understanding of the present and an encompassing vision for the future. Taking a simplistic approach saying that caste based reservation is meaningless, will lead to more chaos than order in society.

      In the last para of your statement, you've basically addressed the issue of malfunctioning of Govt. When you say that democracy only hears and sees nothing, you've missed the whole point my friend. Democracy is not an entity, its a system where people elect their administrators and policy makers and welfare doers. Now if all those persons are themselves bad, then what can one do. If the people I elect to hear my woes, choose to turn a deaf ear to my cries, that's not the fault of democracy, but the problem of the person who has cheated his electors.

      I'd humbly beseech you to show us another form of Governance, apart from democracy, which taking into consideration, the past and present of Indian scenario, is a better choice than democracy.

      Corruption my friend, is the germ that is the cause of all diseases that have presently affected the organs of our governance. If it were to go, everything automatically will fall into place. Now by no means corruption is limited to taking bribes only.

      It's interesting Gunjan, that most of the suggestions that you've made are based on democratic ideals, though you do not consider democracy a good ally. An ally is as good as we allow him to be. I cannot choose to fight by your side against a common enemy, yet during the battle keep going against your wishes, not cooperating with you and even cheating you. That's what we've done. We have cheated demcocracy for we haven't stuck to its ideals, to the Constitutional goal that the founding fathers of our republic set for us in the preamble of our Constitution. It's not democracy that's should change, we should.

    2. I have always believed that the emancipation and liberation of humanity is not in the so called liberation theologies but liberation of minds of human beings.I want to ask you one thing,Does democracy leads to development or development leads to democracy.I never said ,we need another form of government.Since ages,arguably democracy has been the best form of government.After all turbulent years in India ,democracy still exists in unique forms.

      Remember,the popular definition of Democracy is that it is the government of the people,by the people and for the people,though in actual practice ,we know that this is not always true.It is not possible for million of people to participate in the formulation of policies or in the execution;it is largely left to their elected representatives.Elected Representatives often play on caste for their vote banks,minorities,etc.Yet Democracy is the best form of government.

      According to the Democracy-Index published by the Economist,India has a flawed democracy because of rampant corruption, deterioration of political culture, electoral malpractices and lowering of standard of governance in all respects.The factors taken into account for the preparation of the Democracy-Index were Electoral Process and Pluralism, Functioning of Government, Political Participation, Political Culture, and Civil Liberties. India fared very poorly in Political Participation and Political Culture.You can refer to the scenario now.Still,Democracy is functioning well out of all odds.

      You speak of Corporate corruption.Isn't it too early to decide for a developing country like ours.

      I fully recognise Democracy as a system and not an entity.Refer to the functioning of UPA,Raj Thakre Movements against the Biharis,the list is long.It has been used as an entity for long and by many.
      I do not propose a new Governing system,But i do propose some changes in the governing system which may be in nature of democratic ideals,viz.,Freedom,Justice,Commitment to education,Equality,Equality of Opportunity,Participation,Social Mobility,Economic Justice,Progress,Integrated diversity,compassion,economic vitality,economic security,etc.
      It is the fault of Democracy,that in the long run,it has provided every chances for the corruption to grow and become a strong.Democracy has no longer remained a system,it is becoming an entity.

    3. I'm glad to know that you too believe in improvement of persons as a means to improvement of the over all working of a system. As for most of the points raised by you, I think i will repeat myself in answering them, as I've already dealt with them in my write up & my previous reply.

      Now as for the question whether democracy leads to development or vice versa. I think the answer lies in the fact that democracy and development are two sides of the same coin. Without sticking to democratic ideals & methods it's highly improbable that real development can be achieved. Now by no means I intend to refer democracy as a failed democracy. And about corporate corruption, I do not think after exposure of their indulgence in scams galore in the area of mining, the 2G spectrum, the Satyam fraud etc, we can claim that our corporate guys are the best alternatives to a corrupt Govt. But at the same time it's advisable let's not have a closed mind and deal with these issues objectively.

      As for the last paragraph of your reply, let me assure you that the very fact that you and me and before us hundreds have discussed these issues is because we live in a democracy. The fact that serious protest was raised against assault on Biharis was because we live in a democracy.

      See, the thing is that we cannot have an utopia. Which country does not deal with these problems in their social and economic set up? Are we to seriously believe that there is a country in this world without social unrest, economical & legal challenges in governance ? Degrees of their penetration vary. Political will to counter them vary. But democracy offers, relatively the best shot towards makes a lot possible towards achieving the best. There are a few other forms of governance in various countries. Experience has proven that they are not ideal either, despite not being democracies. But unlike in a democracy, their civilians have the least scope of raising their voices and protesting against what they feel is wrong.

      So my friend the whole point boils down to the fact where we started from - emancipation of human minds from the tentacles of greed & corruption. And I'm glad that you think the same and that you also think that demcocracy is the best form of Govt. and that it is fucntioning well despite all odds. Therefore I'm shocked when you said at the end that it's the fault of democracy that it has allowed in the long run the chance for corruption to grow. I'm shocked because I thought you understood that it's the people who make a system and not the system which makes people. Though the popular perception is that because of a faulty system criminals are born, but we fail to understand that it was NOT the system which was bad but some man / men in it who were.

      However I agree with you when you say that there are serious improvements required in the fields of justice delivery, education, Equality of Opportunity, Social Mobility,Economic Justice, Progress, etc.

    4. This conversation was nice,please don't take it as a debate.It was nice exchanging views and there is no near conclusions but only inferences.

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  3. nice post... a bit long.. but nice..:)

  4. Hi Anupam! Where people see dark clouds I think there is room for hope. When information was not available, corruption was still going on - only we were unaware of it!. The very fact that we see so much of news about corruption also shows that light is now being thrown on deals done under the cover of secrecy. That augurs well for the country.

    Much needs improvement in Society and Governance. Democracy assumes that people exercise informed choice in voting for candidates, the executive is independent of the legislature - except insofar as it adheres to the laws made by the latter, that the judiciary shall serve as an independent watchdog as well as enforce the laws, that the media shall keep the people properly informed of the way they are being governed.

    If India fails as a democracy one of the major failings is the lack of civic mindedness of its citizens. Where are the citizens - educated, socially aware and willing to complain about governance - who will even lodge a complaint with the necessary agencies and follow up as well as take to the streets if necessary? Where are the community groups that will act to safeguard the rights of the concerned area/colony? We hardly ever have people who vote!

    I am one with you on the issue of privatization. It is the naive that believe in corporate responsibility. In the early days of capitalism, it was the industrialists who ran sweat-shops and used child labor mercilessly till the State made laws to prevent them from doing so. The MNCs continue to dump pharma products with proven negative side effects on countries without the laws to protect them. In fact, when we talk about corruption in India, all that talk and all that outrage started off with corporate corruption. The problem with India is actually the fact that the corporates can write the rules that will govern the way they play - for a price!

    Development - in economics - means not merely growth in GNP but also a more equitable distribution. Unbridled privatization will only lead to more concentration of wealth.

    1. Wonderful insight Sureshji. It has deepened the discussion.

  5. Hi Anupam

    Living in India can be a frustrating experience - the inequity and the flagrant disregard for the concerns of the man on the street has reached epic proportions. A lot of people mockingly call it a demo-crazy, but we have to live with it.

    The commoner finds it hard to believe that he is living in a democracy because other than the power to vote he has no voice. There seems to be two sets of rules in action - one for the privileged and another for the rest.

    And any change attempted to tilt the balance is quickly terminated or discredited by the people in power.

    In spite of all this I think democracy (or our version of it) is the best form of governance. We need to find a way to reduce the inequities and have more widespread sharing of the benefits of development.

    Good that the younger generation is thinking about nation and talking about it; the more such things happen the greater the chances of real change happening.

    1. Thanks for reading Jayadev and sharing your viewpoint.

  6. But there's no excuse for the police not doing their jobs. They're like street dogs. Feral and shameless. Everything is out in the open.

  7. Anupam, there are two sides to this argument. While I agree democracy is the fairest of all forms of governance, there are limitations to it when the factors leading to decision making are based on less than intelligent choices. I mean, of majority of voters, we have to remember that most are swayed by religion, caste, region, language and other forms of coercion. Where then, are we making informed decision in chosing the guys who run the democracy (albeit on our behalf)? I am not saying democracy is not the way forward - but it needs ALL of the educated population of the country to make the effort to drive changes. Phew!! Sorry for such a long comment!

  8. I cant write like this, but i do love to read such ensembles. Democracy is the way forward, nothing can be better than people getting to live with most basic of rights (read powers), and not having them is what people in middle east have witnessed and educated the world with.I guess the day we all come together to work towards a singular goal, and ofcourse have education to back the spirations, half the ironies (read problems) will disappear! Ofcourse you, me and all of us have to work towards it, we cant import leaders across the globe and then wait for miracles to happen!

    Much Love,

  9. I would say democracy is the best form of Governance. Unfortunately, our democracy is not delivering due to the inadequate and misapplication of rules, lack of accountability and in many cases redtapism.

    1. Unfortunately what you've said holds true in the current state of affairs.