Democracy – De-hyphenating power-people theme in politics

Ideally, democracy is not a shrunken and shriveled political domain of numeric outcomes but it substantiality transcends the walls of ‘otherness’ in politics  and in such glorious processes democracy invents and sustains the unique spirit of solidarity amongst the citizenry so that the sovereign functions of the State naturally transform into society-espoused movements, where individuals altruistically immerse their sacrosanct rights to accomplish the common cause of the well-being of the democratic society.

Ever since the advent of human settlement on this planet, the saga of human life has been uninterruptedly blood-stained by turbulence of power-politics. Concepts, practices, behaviour, conduct in the backdrop of discriminatory socio-economic realities led to human experimentation with one or the other political model for governance. Thus the emerging trends and tendencies of the nascent and experimental stages of   political orders continued in a state of fluidity. The power-centric models led to dictatorships and the concomitant tyranny of such polity negated and nullified the processes of establishing a peaceful order in the human society.

The dread of totalitarianism, the pain of authoritarianism, the mess of anarchism, the trauma and agony of State-dictated and State-effected homogenization, all intensified human quest for a sustainable and welfare-oriented political order. Thus, somewhere on the terrains of political thoughts, a moment of epiphany was experienced by the political thinkers and the blessed humanity celebrated the arrival of Democracy.

The political orders, one after another, historically evolved in the uneven terrains of socio-economic realities of human life proved fragile and unstable in the social scenario of self-assertions, dominance, authoritarianism, and hegemonic tendencies, especially in the absence of a consensus in the society. Thus fragile and shaky experiments in the political power-centers of the societies literally degenerated, by the events, into jinxed catalysts for the countless conflicts, destructions, holocausts in the historical chronicles of the past civilizations.

The political experimentation, over the centuries of human existence, with Monarchy, Oligarchy, Aristocracy, Dictatorships in human society certainly failed to gain popular acceptance and resultantly either sank into anarchy or re-constructed their functional institutions.

Thus democracy as a form of political organization gained popular support globally. Democracy represents a government by the people and for the people. Etymologically the expression is rooted in the words demos (people) and kratos (rule).The political scientists identified three forms of democracy , namely, ‘direct democracy’ ‘representative democracy’ and ‘liquid democracy’. Out of the said three forms ‘representative democracy’ is the common form of democracy, where the representatives elected by the people run the government. Referendum culture in politics symbolises a form of direct democracy. Liquid democracy is an amalgam of the other two forms.

Thus from Pericles to Rawls, from Rawls to the most recent class of jurists, the history of establishment and transformations of democracy can be traced. The quest for a universally acceptable ‘political order’ has been a Sisyphean endeavour since the celebrated moments of Runnymede (where Magna Carta was signed on June 23 , 1215 ) to the  later day historic  events, such as, Revolutions in France and Russia. The anecdotal occurrences in the periods of Suzerainty to times of Trusteeship council, have demonstrated the democratic themes politically whirled into eternal processes of being rehearsed and re-scripted.

However, in the recorded history of political thought, Cleisthenes (508 BC) is hailed as the father of Athenian democracy. In ancient era, Romans called their polity as Respublica and described their citizenry as populous romans.

The extra-large spectrum of political theories and political philosophy, over the ages, can be explained comprehensively by selective references to the well-acclaimed works of Pericles, Aristotle, John Locke, Montesquieu, Hume Rousseau, John Stuart Mill, John Dewey, Habermas and John Rawls.

Pericles (495-429 BC) descended on the center-stage of Athens, during the interlude between Persian war and Peloponnesian wars described as ‘golden age’. He was initiated through his mother in the radicalized patriarchic society of the day. Thucydides hailed him as the First Citizen of Athens. Pericles fostered what is historically recognized as Athenian democracy. Pericles stoutly favored democracy to win public confidence and loyalty.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) is an eminent philosopher and polymath of Greece. The Western Civilization is deeply indebted to Aristotle for empowering them with an indelible intellectual lexicon for their further studies. Treating virtue as actual function (ergon) of a thing, in his famous Nicomachean Ethics (scripted on papyrus scrolls) he developed the theory of ‘virtuous mean’. His work Politics is a well accepted thesis of ethical political practicesHis enlightened view that man is a political animal, on its own merit, gained wide acceptance. Even while his conception of democracy carried various qualifications which are not accepted in modern political models, his focus on eudemonia (happiness) of the society per se rule out any tyrannical form of government.

John Locke (1632-1704) is an English philosopher also known as ‘Father of Liberalism’. His contributions to classical republicanism and liberal theories have shaped United States Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson extolled the works of Locke for laying foundation of those superstructures which stand in the physical and moral domains of human life.

Montesquieu (1689-1755, full name: Charles Louis de Secondat Baron de La Brede et de Montesquieu), a French philosopher is deemed to have added a word ‘despotism’ in political vocabulary. He was a champion of theory of separation of power in politics. Thus the bane of ‘absolute authority’ was a critical negativity in political life as per his opinion which needed to be purged out of democratic institutions. His anonymous work ‘Spirit of Law’ globally impacted the political philosophy and practices.

David Hume(1711-1776),a Scottish Enlightenment philosopher, notably contributed to the fields of empiricism, skepticism and naturalism. His theory of compatibilism seeks to blend the perceived mechanist reality of humans being a part of deterministic universe with passionate cravings for human freedoms. Thomas Jefferson banned the controversial book of Hume ‘History’ from the curriculum of University of Virginia, for the fear that such literature would universally spread Toryism.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau ( 1712-1778) is famous for his thesis of General Will in his book of  ‘Social contract’ and his critical discourses on Inequality.’ Rousseau’s work Social Contract, propounding the thesis of classical republicanism was published in the year 1762 where his famous quote “Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains. Those who think themselves as Masters of others are indeed greater slaves than they” inspired the generations.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) an eminent English philosopher is known for his contributions to classical liberalism. He is proponent of theory of utilitarianism which was developed by his predecessor Jeremy Bentham. Mill examined the extent and nature of power which the society can impose on an individual. He favoured what came to be classified as Harm Principle. He defined social liberty as protection from tyranny of political rulers. He championed the movement of constitutionally guaranteed rights.

John Dewey (1859-1952) is an American philosopher and educational reformer. He opined: “Democracy and the one, ultimate ethical ideal of humanity are to my mind synonymous”. Dewey propounded a view that complete democracy is obtained not just by extending voting rights but also by ensuring that there exists a fully formed public opinion, accomplished by communication among citizens, experts and politicians with latter being accountable for the policies they adopt.

While in India the full blossomed forms of democratic traditions are historically recorded in the ancient history ( Vaishali, Capital city of Vijjan confederacyin 700 BCE ) as well as in medieval history ( Election of Gopala in Bengal region in 750 CE).

India became the biggest democracy of the world by adopting the Constitution of India on 26th January 1950.

In the context of Indian constitutional democracy, a glance at the following relevant judicial dicta portraying the warp and weft of Indian democracy, elucidate the constitutional structure, form, functional modalities, tonalities, organic facets as well as ideals and values of the liberal and representative democracy.

 “A democratic polity, as understood in its quintessential purity, is conceptually abhorrent and, especially corruption at high places, and repulsive to the idea of criminalisation of politics as it corrodes the legitimacy of the collective ethos, frustrates the hopes and aspirations of the citizens and has the potentiality to obstruct, if not derail, the rule of law. Democracy, which has been best define as the government of people, by the people and for the people, expects prevalence of genuine orderliness, positive propriety, dedicated discipline and sanguine by constant affirmance of constitutional morality which is the pillar stone of good governance.” (Manoj Narula V Union of India,(2014) 9 SCC 1 ) 

“Democracy’ and ‘free and fair election’ are inseparable twins. There is almost an inseverable umbilical cord joining them. The little man’s ballot and not the bullet of those who want to capture power (starting with booth-capturing ) is the heartbeat of democracy. Path of the little man to the polling booth should be free and unhindered, and his freedom to elect a candidate of his choice is the foundation of a free and fair election.”(Special Reference 1 of 2002 in re : Gujarat Assembly Election Matter,(2002) 8 SCC 237 )

“Democracy cannot survive and the Constitution cannot work unless Indian citizens are not only learned and intelligent, but they are also of moral character and imbibe the inherent virtue of the human being such as truth, love and compassion.”(Aruna Roy v Union Of India (2002) 7 SCC 368)

“Democracy should have a content of universal value which is something more than the merely political, social or national. The value is the ethical and spiritual content. Without that content, our democracy will be nothing more than a mere carbon copy of what happens in the democratic countries of the west. Science and democracy are shaping the growth and development of human culture and civilization. With the development of science, an amount of force and power, scientific and political, is itching for a fight creating new tensions, creating instability and insecurity. The nation has to handle the force and the power in such a way as not to result in corruption in the wielders and in the confusion to harm the people at large. India hold science and spirituality in harmonious and hospitable coexistence fostering human value. Vedantha enables the Indians to digest the forces generated by science. The spiritual meaning of democratic living and fulfillment, i.e., spiritual oneness of humanity taught by ancient and modern India seers has to be received and reactivated in men’s thinking and day-to-day living and its powerful influence brought to bear on these new and ever never forms of scientific and social power, thereby giving them a higher direction and a loftier, spiritual and human purpose. This is the central message of religion. It is a message which requires to be specially emphasized”.(A S Narayana Deekshitulu v State of AP (1996) 9 SCC 548 ).

Understanding and critiquing democracy necessitates bifurcation of the concept into its value and processes. In terms of value, democracy is a glorious political order. It is quintessentially  a paragon of  all the exalted values which are politically discovered by mankind to sustain, promote, strengthen and even glorify human life.

As regards the processes of democracy these precariously rest and balance on the character and credentials of persons wielding levers of political power.  The processes of democracy are implemented through the State established institutions and such institutions seldom remain immune to the imperfections and frailties of the bureaucrats. Thus the ‘democratic deficits’ within the porous aggregations of democratic processes, keep haunting and even tainting the political realities in the democratic societies.

Thus the values and processes of democracy are often questioned in public domains. There are perpetual debates about the ‘democratic deficits’ across the length and breadth of the political order of the democratic society.

The predominant reason for such ‘democratic deficits’, actual or perceived, is in-built freedoms in the democratic society to self-draw and self-construct the ‘shared humanity’ value-patterns, in the common pursuits of society. This paradigm of self-drawing and self-constructing the value patterns have been defined by the jurists as demosprudence as distinguished from jurisprudence. The socio-cultural milieu of the democratic society remains perpetually on the paths of self-correction, with the intrinsic fragilities as well as strengths of multi-cultural social realities.  State controls in the multilayered socio-cultural milieu of a democracy are minimal and merely persuasive, as in an ideal democracy a trust is reposed in the normal and gradual processes of habituation of the individual lives in harmony with the constitutional values. The State-effectuated homogenization of the society, treating such homogenization processes as a form of State violence, are alien to the liberal democracies, though remain sporadically present in some theocratic democracies.

The ‘democratic deficits’ are to political order what disease is to human body. Democratic deficits are inevitable and hardcore realities of political life, as viral infections are hardcore realities of human life. The ‘democratic deficits’ not only perpetually remind the society that ‘Utopia’ is an imaginary political order but also affirmatively highlight that democratic society is a progressive, aspirational and politically assertive form of polity. The State in a democratic polity, keeps addressing, in its own way, the deviations and aberrations, as politically identified ‘democratic deficits’. The critical identification of ‘democratic deficits’ brings forth Protean forms of the functional imperfections in the processes of democracy.  These critical factors and instances of political malfunctioning often creeps in the executive, judicial and legislative institutions of democracy.  Such functional imperfections noticed in the ground realities, vary in shape, size and intensity from incident to incident, from event to event and from anecdote to anecdote. Once politically identified and critically dealt with in the system, these aberrations and deviations gradually limp back to the path of normalization within the constitutional values of democracy.

‘Democratic deficits’ are also perception–based and such perception-based narratives often erupt as power-centric narratives in political trajectories of the society. These features of public outcry and street protests based on perception-based ‘democratic deficits’ often expose the democracy to the ridicule of being the noisiest form of governance. Be it as it may, these violent features are politically wrapped up in a phrase ‘vibrant democracy’, a well-chosen phrase which operates both as an affirmative recognition of the strengths of the democracy and a ‘cover-up’ for its perilous negativities.

Nani Palkivala, an eminent jurist in a poignant expression articulated his view of democracy. He opined;

“There are three types of democracy. The first type of democracy is that which Greeks knew, where people acted according to their will, their whims and their fancies; and they did not like any restraints on their power to make any decision whatever by a majority vote. That was primitive kind of democracy.

The second type is the democracy that our founding fathers brought into existence. It is democracy where there is obedience to law.

There is a third type of democracy where there is obedience to the unenforceable.

The first type of democracy is infantile. The second type of democracy I would call a teenager democracy. It has just attained majority, though not maturity; it is to be compared in intelligence and outlook to a person 18 years old. It will be a long time before the third type of democracy flourishes in India”.

Democracy, like all other forms of government, is evaluated by the space for dissent available to the citizens. Those who do not ideologically accept constitutional values and public morality norms also form part of the society. These deviant citizens opposed to constitutional values or norms of public morality appear in public spheres in the political disguise of organized dissent-outfits. Such politically-disguised dissent-outfits not only claim their expropriatory rights in the democratic processes, but also seek to negate the democratic forces. Thus in their own ways, howsoever deviant, disruptive or subversive are such ways, these politically-disguised dissent-outfits continually resort to violent incursions in the name of dissent .The undemocratic political ideology and secretive agenda spur and instigate these outfits to encroach upon each and every corner of public space in the democracy, jeopardizing  general peace and harmony.

The existential question countenanced by a democracy is resilience and strength of its institutions to coexist with anti-democratic and un-democratic forces within its functional space. A democracy, with its quintessentially freedom-centric and transparency-oriented processes, remains highly vulnerable to secretive agenda of disruption and subversion. As a form of governance of a Sovereign State, a democracy has to be a highly energized and highly vigilant and  highly prepared paradigm of governance.

To actualize its own ideal essentiality, ‘democracy’ has to necessarily transcend ‘anti-democracy’ as well as ‘un-democracy’ , not through processes of state-invented and State-controlled homogenization, but by general Will of its enlightened citizenry.

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