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Democracy in dire straits - Prof. Mathew C. Ninan

Published On : 24 Mar 2020

The term ‘democracy’ comes from the Greek language and it means "rule by the people". We also recall the words of some of the great votaries of democracy, if only to evaluate where we stand today in relation to the ideal.

“I understand democracy as something that gives the weak the same chance as the strong.” This was how Gandhiji summed up his thinking on democracy.

One of the most respected American Presidents Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as: “Government of the people, by the people, and for the people” in his Gettysburg address.

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." – Martin Luther King, the crusader for civil rights said.

“Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.” - Nelson Mandela who walked free from jail after 28 years said, having lived that experience himself.

This is a checklist for us to evaluate our own democracy. Are we anywhere near the ideal laid out by these great champions of democracy? Will our present elected leaders pass muster when juxtaposed against the noble traditions of democracy? No doubt, there are exemplary instances of people with honesty and rectitude, upholding the tenets of democracy. The sad fact is that the latter are a miniscule minority in an ocean of corruption and dishonesty.

What we see today is a mere shadow of a democracy. One may even go to the extent of saying it’s anything but democracy. Our brand of democracy is riddled with unprincipled politicking, self-aggrandisement, nepotism, corruption and the worst of all the denigration of basic human rights and the annihilation of the judiciary which is the last bastion of the common man. So what’s left?

A few recent developments at the highest levels smack of utter disregard for norms of basic decency integral to democratic governance.

There is not even a fig-leaf of pretence in these actions. A Delhi HC judge who sought to pull up some politicians who made provocative speeches that preceded the riots in Delhi last month was transferred out the same night. Whoever would believe that it was a routine order, which was the defence given?

The second is the nomination of the recently retired Chief Justice of India to the Rajya Sabha. This person was accused of dubiously manoeuvring and favouring the executive in many cases in the recent past. He had many accusations including one of sexual harassment against him. Surprisingly he himself presided over an in-house committee of 3 judges and cleared himself of the allegation. What a farce! The oft-quoted aphorism "Not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done” was all but forgotten.

Is it not an insult to the intelligence of the common man? How can the common man have any trust in the system when such things are done in a blatant manner with alarming regularity? A quid pro quo can always be traced when such appointments happen. Several judges and jurists have questioned the wisdom of this action. But who cares? Flippant explanations and justifications for these decisions only add insult to injury.

If judges are rewarded or punished in this manner, how can we trust the system? How many judges will stand up for their integrity and take decisions regardless of its consequences upon them? We have enough evidence to show that when there is a conflict of interest, some judges choose to look which side of their bread is buttered. Are the days of the upright judges a thing of the past?

The political circuses staged in Karnataka recently which resulted in a change of government and now in Madhya Pradesh by engineering defections from one party to another in their greed for power and the spoils of office is again a most shameful development. MLAs who defect from one party to another resign thanks to the anti-defection law and force an election on the electorate like in Karnataka and burden the state exchequer heavily.

‘Resort politics’ is the modus operandi where millions are spent or lavished on the prized legislators to manufacture a change of government. The haven often chosen for this brand of politics is Bengaluru, for some mysterious reasons. How can these acts be justified? Are these not crimes against democracy itself?

Democracy can succeed only when those who seek to represent people in leadership roles have certain basic qualities integral to democracy. Most importantly they should not only swear by democracy, but also practice a democratic way of life. Democracy is an article of faith; it’s a great value, a noble ideology, and a wonderful mode of self-government. It happens to be the best available form of government, but its success depends entirely on the people at the helm of affairs. If they adulterate the system for their selfish ends, democracy will be violated and smothered to death.

We have people masquerading as leaders, when in reality they are at best rabble-rousers and demagogues. What’s happening oftentimes in the name of democracy is outright deception. The common man is taken for a ride in a cavalier fashion. The sad thing is that most people just do not understand or pretend to be unaware of this massive deception that is perpetrated on them. So the charade goes on, merrily. Democracy is being systematically debased and dishonoured. Where are we heading to?



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