Democracy as an idea has wonderful roots. After all, what could be more beautiful than to have a government of the people, by the people and for the people. If applied appropriately, democracy would serve as a mirror to the ideas and qualities of the people that make up the particular country. However, if we have to go by anything that we have seen in the last few years, this mirror has cracks which reveal the deep fissures in human society.
The USA which is the oldest democracy in the world has gone through two tumultuous election cycles. These cycles bookended four years of upheaval and uncertainty under the Trump administration and bitter conflicts with media houses. Now, with Joe Biden at the helm, America expects a stable hand at the wheel which will help the US to once again take on a leadership role in the world. He has interestingly taken great pains to put a diverse representation in place with women, Blacks, Hispanics and Indian Americans nominated in key positions. It remains to be seen whether this is mere tokenism or actually translates into game changing policies.
India too under the Modi administration which is now in its second term has witnessed great shifts in policy making. From demonetization which sucked the economy of its cash flow to GST which presented a complicated multi-tier tax policy which at times baffled businesspeople to a foreign policy where surgical strikes were undertaken against Pakistan and dialogue was shunned. By and large, the Hindu majority country has gone along with Modi’s policies because of his sheer popularity with the masses. Of late though, this mirror of support has developed cracks in it.
One sustained criticism of the Modi government is the lack of attention given to debate and discussion in parliament. Key policies and measures are introduced under the cloak of ordinances, rammed through the Lok Sabha (where the government has a majority) without any significant debates and turned into law. The most recent case where this kind of policy of making has caused damage to the government is the three farm laws which aim to bring about much needed reform in the agricultural sector.
The rush to turn the bills into laws has come to bite the government as farmers are unclear as to how the bills will help them and are convinced that the new measures will destroy their livelihoods. The need of the hour is to explain to the farmers as to how the government views the future of agriculture in India. However, the problem with a government that has a brute majority is that it rarely sees the need for debate and discussion. Meanwhile, the farmers are unwilling to accept anything other than a complete rollback of the laws. The situation has degenerated into a stalemate which could cause major problems in future.
The idea behind democracy was to have power reside in the hands of the people. It was believed that a representative government of the people would be best suited to handle the challenges of governance and administration. However, as BR Ambedkar who was in charge of drafting India’s constitution commented — it would be difficult to retain a sense of equality in politics when there is inequality in society. It is this social inequality that has, in a sense, come to define democracies over the world.
All over the world from the US to the UK to India, people are craving for their voices to be heard. America has just emerged from four years of mayhem under Trump where the economy was booming, unemployment was at all time low but then Covid-19 came and shook the country. The majoritarian voices have started asserting themselves more and more and demand that their demands be met. The Ayodhya verdict which asserted that a Ram temple be built in Ayodhya gave much joy to Hindus. If only as much attention was given to economic policies and GDP numbers, the government would have a lot to answer for.
Democracy is not a perfect solution by any means but it is solution with noble ideas. It depends on the people as to how they choose their leaders. The trouble is that in recent years more and more politicians with extreme ideas are being chosen for key positions. It almost appears that a beast which had been lying asleep for many years has kicked into life and started to express itself. All societies go through cycles and maybe it is time that we dealt with these extreme ideas of religious persecution, militant nationalism and cult status of political leaders once and for all.
Leaders will come and go and societies will change as time passes. However, policies have a way of making their presence felt for years to come. If parliament fails us or the opposition is incompetent then it is up to the people to take matters in their own hands. Protest but peacefully and within the limits of the law. The events in Delhi on Republic Day were unfortunate but the farmers must learn to not allow these hiccups to halt their protest. However, what is even more important is that farmers have an open mind as to how they can best go about their work keeping in mind soil, suitable crops and market demands.
It is easy to idolize political leaders and accord them with cult status. They are after all our representatives, rulers and represent our countries in the international community. They mirror our dreams and desires. The media might condemn certain comments that politicians make but those very comments may be discussed in the living rooms of the country. However, we owe to ourselves to not blindly support our leaders. There needs to be a sense of detachment and analysis given to their steps and policies. We should not be like idle sheep who line up every four or five years to cast our vote and forget things till the next election cycle.
The mirror of democracy is made up of millions of glass fragments which are me and you, living breathing people who are citizens of a country. It is our duty to arrange ourselves so that our nations can be governed smoothly and fairly. There will always be cracks, if there weren’t we would just be reflections. It is up to us to ensure that our leaders are subject to analysis, debates and discussions which keep them on their toes and not take the public for granted. The mirror of democracy has cracks and it is up to us to ensure that the pieces don’t come apart and leave us with bloody hands.