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Is the idea of democracy being translated into action?

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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.

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India Continues Engaging With USA Over H-1B Passport Issue

India is closely engaged with the US administration as well as the US Congress on this matter.

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As Trump proposes changes in H1-B visa, India continues to engage with US

India is continuing to engage with the US over the H-1B visa, largely availed of by Indian IT companies, after the Trump administration proposed changes to the programme, a senior official said on Thursday.

“It is a very important topic for us and that is the reason why we have time and again at various levels, we have taken up this matter with the US side,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said in response to queries by journalists here.

Kumar said that most recently, the issue was raised during the first ever India-US 2+2 Ministerial Meeting held here last month that was attended by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis.

On Wednesday, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said that the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) plans to come out with its new proposal by January 2019.

India n Passport
It will also “revise the definition” of employment and employer-employee relationship to “better protect” US workers and wages Flickr

The DHS said it was also proposing to remove from its regulations certain H-4 spouses of H-1B non-immigrants as a class of aliens eligible for employment authorisation.

The move to end the rule could have an impact on more than 70,000 H-4 visa holders, who have work permits.

The H-4 visas are issued by the USCIS to immediate family members (spouse and children under 21 years of age) of the holders of H-1B visa.

The DHS said it will propose to revise the definition of speciality occupation to increase focus on obtaining the best and the brightest foreign nationals via the H-1B programme.

It will also “revise the definition” of employment and employer-employee relationship to “better protect” US workers and wages, the DHS said.

Donald Trump, India
President Donald Trump speaks about immigration alongside family members affected by crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, at the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex, June 22, 2018, in Washington, VOA

In his remarks on Thursday, Kumar said that India is closely engaged with the US administration as well as the US Congress on this matter.

Stating that there are certain bills which have been introduced, he, however, said that “it is important to note that none of these bills have been passed so far”.

“When we have engaged with the US, we have emphasised that our partnership which we have in the digital sphere have been mutually beneficial,” the spokesperson said.

Also Read: USA And Other Countries Pledge To Eradicate Illegal Wildlife Trade

“We have highlighted the role which has been played by the highly skilled Indian professionals who have actually contributed to the growth and development of the US economy,” he stated.

“And also they have helped the US to maintain a competitive edge in the world towards innovation and science and technology.” (IANS)