Democracy and India

Democracy is the rule of the people. It is ‘government of the people for the people, by the people’. It recognizes the paramountcy of the people’s will. Vox populi vox dei: ’the voice of the people is the voice of god’. This will is expressed through the accredited and elected representatives of the people sitting in parliament. In a true democracy even the powers and jurisdiction of these representatives are strictly limited and defined by a constitution, which again cannot be altered or amended except through rigid procedural process. In other words, every effort is made to prevent the accumulation of owner in the hands of any particular individual or group.

It follows that the proper functioning of democracy depends upon its electoral system, through which the people can make its will operative. Elections must be brad-based on adult franchises, so that every man and woman having attained majority is entitled to a vote. Any limitation on the nature of the electorate such as is fixed by considerations of education, property, tax-paying capacity, etc., has the effect of depositing power in a particular class and community, and to that extent is a denial of democracy. At the same time, democracy can function properly only if the electorate is educated, and is able to understand the mystic significance of the vote. It is true that the working-class has a shrewd appreciation of their rights and privileges. But modern society is so complicated by various economic and other factors that without proper education, the ordinary voter is liable to get confused and bewildered. Further, elections must be free. Every vote should have unhindered access to the ballot=-box and he must be assured the secrecy of his vote. He must feel that there is no chance of victimization for him if he votes one way or the other.

No electoral system can be fool-proof, and perfect democracy, like all perfections, can be found only in the utopias of poets and dreamers. We must be satisfied with the nearest approximation to it. Hence democracy is an evolutionary process dependent on constant modification and change in the light of experience. It must always be ready to broaden the foundation, remove impediments of the free expression of people’s will, and minimize the risk of any one class becoming preponderant. Hence democracy depend on freedom of speech and writing. The people must have complete freedom to ventilate their opinions in the press and on the platform. The proceedings of parliaments must be open to the public and must be duly published and circulated. There must also be periodic elections in order to reflect the changes in the people’s views and opinions. Power must be kept perpetually fluid. Every election is in effect a plebiscite for measuring popular opinion. Finally, in a true democracy, the people must have the right of recalling their re-preventatives should they cease to represent them. This would be one of the best safeguards against flouting popular opinion.

India is perhaps making the boldest bid to attain true democracy. The franchise is based on adult suffrage and every effort is made to ensure that the will of the people is properly and freely exercised. Yet certain drawbacks should be attended to. At present the electorate is so large and far-flung, that only a rich individual or a rich political party can set up candidates to won the constituency. The result is that the wealthy classes and parties dependent on their wealth, enjoy an undue advantage. So unless all the voters become sufficiently alert, it might be necessary to go back to the Gandhian formula of having a pyramidal constitution with the village panchayet at the bottom and the national parliament at the top. Another drawback that India is experiencing is that in a vast country, the procedure is bound to be complicated, and the dread of power being abused by individuals has led to constitutional checks and counter-checks with involve delay and wastage. In other words, democracy needs a simplification of the administrative machinery, so that the executive can function smoothly. For this, perhaps, the soviet system of working through specific units is the best. In India much good work is spoilt by cumbersome procedural methods.

Perhaps without representatives drawing salaries and emoluments, we are finding democracy a somewhat costly affair. But that is inevitable, for the representatives of the people must be assured of a reasonable economic security in order to do their duties properly. A prosperous democracy will not grudge the cost, if the system works. India has already managed to establish her claim to be a really democratic state. In South Africa, the ‘colored’ people have no franchise. In Pakistan, democracy has been thrown overboard, and the status of the minority is yet undefined. In France, the democratic principle has had to be suspended. In the U.S.A. the president enjoys unusual over-riding powers and is irremovable during his tenure. We have managed to avoid these shortcomings and defects. If we can secure a proper way to allow the voice of the large minority to be heard effectively in national councils through modifications in the electoral system, perhaps it would be better. That, however, seems to be a far cry. Till it is attained we must be content with the British system of allowing the minority of today to become the majority of the morrow through the slow process of periodic elections.