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Is the idea of democracy being translated into action?

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Photo: www.dreamstime.com

By Vishakha Mathur

Photo Credit: http://blogs.thenews.com.pk
Photo Credit: http://blogs.thenews.com.pk

“…man was born free, but he is everywhere in chains”– Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote in ‘The Social Contract.’

India is the largest democracy in the world. Nearly 123 out of 192 countries have democratic governments. This makes us ponder as to what democracy actually means and the answer can be found by tracing it back to its origins.

The very basic idea behind democracy is to ensure that people get their rights, whether it is through the documentation of social contract as written by Locke, or by ensuring liberty as listed by Aristotle.

All of the ideas in the nascent stage of democracy talked about giving power to the people, enabling them to take decisions for themselves rather than subjecting them to dictating terms.

Political theories regarding democracy have evolved to inculcate various news dimensions of the government, to make it more representative and answerable to people. The underlying idea is to empower the people. Whether this is through direct democracy or its representative form, what democracy as an ideology desires to do is enable its people to enjoy their liberty while at the same time take decisions that benefit the population at large.

Though the society has transformed since the early days of democracy, basic tenants of the ideology remain the same. However one can question the extent to which these principles are applied in modern democracies. Do the modern governments follow the complete philosophy behind democracy, or have they just taken parts from it to satisfy the people?

As we see the blatant disregard of the parliamentary sessions today, it only raises the question of whether this whole system was intended to be like this or was it supposed to be something different. The politics in India seems to be revolving around what the majority wants. This in principle is something that was intended to occur in democracy according its exponents, but when one looks at the nitty-gritties of these statements, one begins to question if at all it is the majority that is ruling or are they being manipulated by shrewd power hungry politicians.

What this means is that, are the majority really making the decisions? Or is it specific cleavages of society that have overwhelming say in these issues? If you look at it objectively, only 20% of India’s youth was enrolled as voters before the 2014 elections and the instances of espousing religious sentiments during rallies has become a common occurrence. Not only that, there are several parties associated with a single religious ideology undermining the very idea of secularism and equality in the nation.

Photo: http://drunken-peasants-podcast.wikia.com
Photo: http://drunken-peasants-podcast.wikia.com

While one can argue on the lines of the argument suggested by John Locke, stating that decisions should be made based on the consent of the governed, one really needs to analyze if this consent is in fact valid. There are circumstances under which people go to vote, where they are pressurized or simply bribed to vote in one’s favor. This sure wasn’t what Locke intended.

Let’s move on to another aspect of democracy, i.e. separation of powers, as suggested by Montesquieu. The great thinker said that there has to be a separation of powers so as to guarantee the freedom of individuals in the state. While this separation of powers does exist in our society, it seems a bit distorted where the power rests. In the case of India, Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha make up the parliament with both the opposition and ruling parties sitting in the same room.

The concept of ‘opposition’ was well thought out by political thinkers like Aristotle and Tocqueville. Their aim was to have a healthy and effective opposition. Since Aristotle advocated direct democracy, he favored opposition to consist of the minority who could amicably convince the majority of its views and demands, so that a holistic decision could be taken.

This is in principle, directly applicable to the Indian system but with the opposition opposing everything that is on the table, raising placards to disrupt the sessions and walking out after suspension of 25 MPs who violated norms of the parliament, the question remains that, whether the opposition is doing its job of constructive criticism or simply opposing every move.

Take the example of the land ordinance bill, it couldn’t be passed in the parliament while the Congress is sitting in the opposition, even though Congress was the one to propose it in the first place. With most of the opposition gone in protest, the ruling party is simply enjoying its tenure in parliament, working on the agendas they wanted to work on for a long time without hindrances.

However, looking at these pitfalls, one begins to imagine if there is anything that is going right. What is being done to save the democratic ethos of the nation? Now looking at the flaws of rallies and campaigns along religious lines, much effort is being made by the election commission of India to increase voter awareness. This is slowly starting to change the scenario, more evidently seen in the 2014 elections where the voter turnout was higher than ever, among which there were almost 80% youth voters. The government now is focusing more on developing agendas and is less vocal about schisms in society.

What is important here is to weigh the pros and cons and see if principles of democracy are still coherent with the initial idea. The initial idea of power to the people forms the linchpin of democracy and there are signs of gradual change showing that Indian society is trying to rise over pitfalls to enter a new era of development. But does the ban on porn, implementation of section 377 etc. have the same implications or is it still a stage in the democratic evolution of India?

That’s a question for time to answer.

Next Story

Top Investment Options for Beginners in India

The most important thing that guarantees high returns on your assiduous earnings is safety

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Time and Money
"Money can't buy happiness". A group of researchers believes the opposite with scientific backing. Pixabay

Investing your savings is a good idea. You just cannot keep saving money because of two main reasons.

Firstly, the savings will not grow. Most of the times they stay the same unless you count the nominal savings account your bank keeps adding half-yearly or yearly. Secondly, some need or the other arises, and you will be inclined to spend the money out of your savings than going for a loan.

We cannot stop some need. Now and then, some appliance in your house needs a repair or replacement, same goes good with your vehicles, kids, spouse and so on.

So locking away your savings so that you will not use them at convenience and letting them grow in the meanwhile is a good strategy.

Only if you knew how, when and where?

Most of us are good at working hard, slogging it out and earning the few extra bucks, but when it comes to investing and make money grow, we have neither the expertise nor the time for it.

As the famous billionaire and investor, Warren Buffet put it – “Unless you are making money while you are sleeping, you will keep working till you die”.

Safety First

Let us explore some of the investment options for people who are planning to invest.

  1. Public Provident Fund (PPF)

For a change, the Public provident fund or PPF as it is more popularly known as needs no introduction. Every employee working in a limited company or a governmental organization knows of this.

PPF is also one of the main reasons behind most of the Indians growing lazy and not trying to look for other investment options unless your wall in the above average or the top bracket. At an interest rate of 7.9% and dual contribution from the employee and the employer, PPF is the lifeline for all employees, especially if they keep contributing until retirement without withdrawing.

There is a facility to withdraw the money if you are jobless for a particular time or you can even avail three-year loans. However, mostly PPF is looked at as a post-retirement benefit than an investment option during your working years.

But an investment nonetheless.

You can save anywhere between ₹ 500 to ₹ 1.5 lakhs a year, and we all know why it is the favorite – These savings exempt from tax, However, if you choose to invest more than ₹ 1.5 lakhs a year in your PPF, the excess amount will neither earn interest or tax benefits. Minimum lock-in period is 15 years.

Fixed Deposit Scheme, India
Fixed Deposits are one of the more common and preferable investment schemes in India. Pixabay
  1. National Savings Certificate (NSC)

At an interest rate of 8% per annum, backed by the Government of India and the convenience of obtaining one (your nearby post office), a National savings certificate or an NSC can be not ignored.

Though it has a minimum lock-in period of 5 years, (the other option is 10-year lock-in period), the guaranteed good yields make it a preferred investment option by quite a few. But this is also the most ignored option by many for some reason.

Investment up to ₹ 1.5 lakhs is exempted from tax. The interest rate is revised quarterly, and the amount is compounded annually.

Another advantage is that the investments in NSC are accepted as collaterals by many banks and NBFCs (non-banking finance corporations). However, you cannot touch your amount for a minimum period of 5 years.

  1. Equity Linked Saving Scheme (ELSS)

Shorter lock-in periods and high-interest rates are the USP of the equity-linked saving schemes (ELSS).

In the ELSS, the minimum lock-in period is three years, and you can choose to make your earnings as regular dividends through the three years or receive a lump sum at once after your lock-in period ends. Therefore, this is a plan that lets you draw the amount within your investment period and gives you a chance to earn more than the rest – 15-18% returns. A near 11% interest offered by NPS (the national pension scheme) is a distant second. In addition, you do not need to invest the entire amount at once. You have an option called SIPs (systematic investment plans) by way of which you can invest as low as ₹ 500 a month.

Investments up to ₹ 1.5 lakhs are exempt from taxation, but returns are taxable. The LTCG or long-term capital gains from ELSS are taxable if they are above ₹ 1 lakh.

There is a fair amount of risk involved, and your investment may not end profitable every time. However, you can take the help of fund managers (or mutual funds) and play it safe.

  1. Recurring and Fixed deposits

Most of the nationalized and private banks offer you this facility at different interest rates and deposit lock-in periods.

In a fixed deposit (FD) scheme, you make a deposit lump sum, which will mature at the end of the pre-determined period, and if you do not have the capital to start with, you can choose a recurring deposit (RD), where you can add a fixed amount every month, which can be withdrawn at the end of the maturity period.

The interest earned with a recurring deposit may be less than that of a fixed deposit, but in case of an RD, you are creating an investment with your savings. Not all of us may have the luxury of investing a lakh or five lakh rupees to start with.

Again, investments up until ₹ 1.5 lakhs in 5 years fixed deposits are exempt from taxation, but returns are taxable. Recurring deposits and fixed deposits for a period of less than five years are not exempt from income tax.

  1. National Pension Scheme (NPS)

Many, after the introduction of 2-tier system, look upon another government-backed scheme, NPS, as a useful option.

Under the Tier I NPS, one has to contribute a minimum of ₹ 6,000 per year to keep the account active. The money cannot be withdrawn till you reach 60 years of age (partial withdrawal allowed in exceptional cases) and if you choose to exit the scheme mid-way, 80% of your savings have to be invested in an annuity plan (which will be returned to you as monthly pension payments after retirement).

The Tier II NPS is a non-retirement scheme, which is more like a savings account and allows you to withdraw money when you want. There is no lock-in period, but government employees can avail tax exemption if they lock-in their savings for a minimum period of 3 years. You need to have an active Tier I account to open a Tier II account. However, this scheme is not looked at as a long-term investment due to certain limits on investments, as you cannot invest more than 50% of your savings in stock markets, etc.

Interest rates are high at 12-14% and investments up to ₹ 1.5 lakhs a year and an additional ₹ 50,000 per year can be exempted under subsection 80 CCD.

Also Read: Online Games: What Risks Do They Pose To Children?

Though there are many more private and non-governmental schemes whit flexible options which offer you a lot of conveniences and promise higher returns, it is always wise to think about safety first when it comes to investments.

It is hard-earned money, and we cannot earn it again. So, it is always safer and wiser to go with a trustworthy scheme which may offer fewer returns than a fancy scheme which gives you a lot more.

The most important thing that guarantees high returns on your assiduous earnings is safety.