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Democracy: Still Alive?
The world is passing through a strange time. It seems that proclaiming to be democratic has become a kind of a ‘fad’ for many countries. But, should we really think that democracy is still an idea to celebrate or merely fathom?
This article endeavors to look into various misdemeanours of the people at the head of democracy all over the world, which, in turn, is making democracy vulnerable.
In the skyscraper-infested streets of New Delhi, one can easily spot several important buildings from the political point of view- the Prime Minister’s Office, the Finance Ministry, Home Ministry and many more. But, easily in the city, we all can spot the office of the Election Commission as well as the imposing Parliament Building - the upholders of democracy in the second-most populated country of the world. But, what do Election Commission and our Parliament and similar institutions all over the world do? All of us unanimously say (almost in the same manner as we did in school): For upkeeping democracy!
On paper, a clean 10 out of 10. But, just a cursory look on the incidents of the recent past compels me to question the impeccable faith, citizens of the world have in their institutions responsible for upholding the principles of democracy. Are we really worshiping the great idea of Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States, "Democracy is the government of the people, by the people and for the people” or a hollow statue of democracy.
Son, carry forward the torch well: Life in Sri Lanka does not look good for its people. The ‘Rajpaksa Effect’ on the island has turned the country upside down. Ever since the Rajapakse brothers have come to power as Prime Minister and President, things have taken a very negative turn for the Lankans’ lives and their democracy. The economy’s collapse has been marked by the stubborn resistance of the President from resigning, as well as, a very difficult procedure of a successful Vote of No-Confidence, with the Parliament screening the motion twice, requiring half and two-thirds majority for the bill to pass. Even now that they have fled the country, recovery is frustratingly slow and hope has been reduced to a glimmer.
The Lankan case seems to be one of the examples of the negative effect on democracy due to dynasty politics. The Rajpaksas have had an influence on Sri Lankan politics since Independence, four generations of this family have held a political responsibility, and 7 members of the Cabinet bear this surname. The President has filled almost every gap which threatens his throne; and, worst of all, the President has almost dictatorial rights over the Cabinet. Common blood is one of the biggest threats to democracy; it is an almost sure-shot way to maim democracy.
The saintly way to go about it: Religious leaders are another threat. It is of utmost importance in a democracy that religion stays a blip away and democracy reigns supreme. However, several people, in the name of religion, continue to wreak havoc and destabilize the country. The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has clearly demonstrated that religion continues to be a great influence on politics in many parts of the world and radical Islam’s potential to bring the world on the verge of Armageddon every hour. Today’s self-proclaimed ‘saints’ and godmen continue to take a stance on politics; and their followers, often thousands in numbers, blindly follow their commands, without question or logic.
The Throne is Made of Money: The interface of economics and politics is inevitable. But sometimes, it acquires an altogether different meaning and proportion when politicians and industrialists decide to scratch each other’s’ back. Candidates do need to present and promote themselves (for which they do need money), but in some countries, there are no limits on political spending and seeking financial favors from industrialists and private corporations. This ‘investment’ by the corporates is more than handsomely paid back, when the politicians they sponsored are in power. The politicians show no hesitation in twisting and turning the regulations in such a manner that the corporates benefit the most, in place of, the citizens who voted for their election, often enamored by their lofty promises.
Are you really the leaders?: One of the most noticeable things today, is the indirect pressure by the industrialists on the executive. The Cabinet must not do anything against the high-profile, Rolex-wearing, French-perfume-wearing lest the companies cause devastation to the economic and political stability of the nation through activities such as inciting thugs, causing riots, bribing Members of Parliament, bringing about losses to the government through stock market crashes, and many more. The government is compelled to answer to these situations, and eventually it falls- a failure caused by those Armani wearing ‘dissatisfied’ people.
Wait, what was the definition?: Often, comprehensions of democracy by countries are quite faulty too. The American form of Presidential democracy, where an enormous amount of power is concentrated in the hands of one person-The President- is rather unfair in reality. Though the masses do get to choose their President, but the meagre number of political parties (two in the United States) and hence the small number of candidates, the people have to choose from, is quite hurting to the idea of free will- a core concept of democracy.
General sahib is our leader: Sometimes, a devil is mistaken for an angel. Similar is the relationship between the executive and its military. Musharraf, Franco, Gaddafi, Ayub Khan. All of them, general ‘sahibs’ with skyscraping ambitions, proved that democracy is truly susceptible to the emptying of the magazines. Why, the common man still has to bow down to ‘sahib’ to live! Perhaps there are two ways to sit on the throne: either by making false promises or by shooting the ballot box altogether. As they say, my way or the highway.
You voted me, well, forever: Alas, the intoxicating power of the seat can truly change our dear, honest, equality- loving politician’s head. Were the adjectives true or rhetorical sounds? Why not take a trip to 1932 Germany? Would-be dictator Adolf Hitler has secured a respectable 36% of the total votes in the elections, but loses to celebrated war general von Hindenburg. Hitler, one of the most charismatic speakers of the 20th century, inspires masses to denounce capitalism, communism and worst of all, annihilate the Jews. It seemed that Hitler had Presidency written in his destiny, but not so soon; there were still some hurdles. But again, our very own businessmen (Look who’s back!) bribe advisors to convince Hindenburg to give Hitler the Chancellorship. The same year, the Reichstag, Germany’s symbol of democracy, is set on fire. The ensuing Emergency and Hindenburg’s ill-timed death leave Hitler unchecked, and pave the way for one of the most shocking times of atrocities and genocides mankind has ever seen.
Was the path taken by his partner-in-crime, Benito Mussolini, any different? Starting off as a socialist, Mussolini was thrown out of his party for his pro-WW1 stance. Eventually denouncing the complete idea of socialism, his idea of genetic and racial superiority, Fascismo (fascism) turned Italy upside down. Staging a coup in 1932, Mussolini declared himself ‘Il Duce’ and chose Nazi Germany as allies and helped them with military support in the Second World War. As evident in his brutal end, Mussolini refused to listen to any Italian except himself.
Inequality in equality: Consider these eye-catching slogans:-
• ‘From Each According to His Ability, to Each According to his Needs’
• ‘Workers of the World Unite’
• ‘Let the Ruling Classes Tremble at a Communist Revolution!’
Admittedly, a lot of innovation is put in these slogans. While these Marxism-influenced slogans sound so good on paper, to what extent are they in harmony with the basic ideas of democracy? But the on-paper theory of Marx, which has had a great impact on history, really as democratic as it sounds? No. The Workers’ state allows no decision-making power and authority to the common man. In reality, it is only the Politburo which calls the shots and the guns are out at anyone who objects. To quote Orwell in his novel ‘Animal Farm’: ‘All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.’
Hey, I’m Mr. Politician. I suffer from short-term memory loss: Today’s definition of a politician roughly means ‘a voluble speaker with an exceptional ability to lie with a straight face and attack the heart’. Today’s common man is used to hearing tales of their leader proclaiming himself a messiah. Particularly in OUR vast country of mass diversity and hence innumerable politicians, almost every single one forgets about what they so honorably and breathtakingly promised. As that common saying goes, ‘Kehna aasaan hota hai, lekin karna mushkil’(It is easy to say, but difficult to perform). But does it matter? Well, as our politicians seem to assume, no. But, line of the hungry get longer, the farmers’ debts get deeper, the number of criminals increases, and the sounds glorified as ‘promises’ continue.
Here arises a pertinent question- is democracy just a lofty promise or is it truly the best form of governance? Personally, I am cautiously optimistic about the future of democracy. As erudite constitution expert of India, Dr. Subhash Kashyap, once famously remarked that democracy was an irreversible journey- which means once a country or society adopts the democratic path of governance, it is bound to move forward on it. Of what use is the object, however lustrous it may look, if it is not utilized well? It is, evidently, of no use. Hence, it is imperative that people practicing democracy must do so with the required diligence. At the same time, we the people cannot and should not skip our responsibility just by blaming politicians, industrialists and religious leaders. We have to stand guard to democracy, its ideas and its institutions. Ultimately democracy is supposed to be “of the people, by the people and for the people", as Abraham Lincoln so wisely said.