A democratic state is a social organization in which freedom has been rendered secure by the removal of all social obstacles in the way of enjoyment of freedom by the individual. In this sense, the functions of the state are the elimination of the possibilities of social chaos and the creation and maintenance of social, economic, political and other types of order. Democracy—”government of the people, by the people and for the people” implies certain standards of understanding, education and tolerance. It is not simply a form of government but also a form of State and society, a method of regulating life and social structure. Of course, it implies self-determination, independence from control by any extraneous authority. It also implies social equality, absence of privilege and preference, fundamental rights for all. It necessitates a democratic temper, a spirit of accommodation, unadulterated secularism and full freedom of expression and of the press. It is the surest guarantee against arbitrary rule, despotism and unbridled, autocratic power; it is the most dependable assurance of justice and individual freedoms.
In recent years, democracy in India has come under heavy strains and stresses which are like dark dismal shadows over the set-up. Things have come to such a pass that people have started posing a baffling question—”Is Democracy in India a success or is it in reality a failure?” The stresses cannot be described as altogether new, or unexpected, or unwarranted. Our founding fathers of the Constitution were aware of them but they entertained a fond hope that in course of time, the difficulties would be smoothed out and democracy would triumph. But all hopes seem to have vanished. Let us analyze the major impediments to the success of democracy.
The Parliamentary Democracy in its present form has been brought into India by the British. It is the logical outcome of our contact with Western civilization during the last couple of centuries, but when we view this democracy in the context of our cultural background it appears to be purely incongruous or contingent. The social and political past of India is entirely, autocratic and antidemocratic, whereas the religious and spiritual heritage of the country calls for the broadest-based democracy. This position of contrary tendencies is a. potent threat to Democracy in India.
Another inescapable difficulty in the way of Indian democracy is India’s geographical situation on the map of Asia. All along her frontiers, India is surrounded by countries on all sides which have in large or small measure some kind of autocratic rule—Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Burma3 Indonesia, Egypt, Iran, Iraq and even the communistic China. India the last bastion of democracy in Asia is having a real tough time surrounded by autocratic ideals.
Thirdly, there can be no real democracy where there are gross and all-too-glaring inequalities of various types and in almost all spheres of life. Even official circles concede over the past three decades the social and economic disparities have deepened and that a substantial part of the national dividend and allotted funds have been mopped up by or benefited the economically better-off-sections of society. To the large sections of people who live in poverty and privation, democracy conveys little meaning; it only fetches a derisive smile.
Fourthly, because of the inequalities, there are glaring injustices and distortions. There is no justice for the poor, the weak, the helpless and the under-dog. As Jawaharlal Nehru said, a social structure which devices the common man in the street full opportunity for progress stands self-condemned. And, with equality inequality is closely linked political status, or political inequality. Thus, India is not fit to be described a full-fledged democracy.
Fifthly, as long as there are religious, or caste, or class wars, ruthless massacre arid persecution in the name of communities arid clan, and racial and other social prejudices, there can be no real democracy in India. The protagonists of democracy must hang their heads in shame on hearing of Bhagalpur blinding, gang-murders of rival caste groups in U.P. and Bihar, the communal notes in U.P. and Gujarat, and the violence situation over linguistic issue in Punjab, Assam, and the South. This virus of caste and communal hatred is bound to eat into the vitals of democracy in India.
Another grave risk to the growth and success of democracy in India is its illiterate electorate. Democracy presupposes an intelligent-electorate. Unfortunately, the masses in India are still illiterate, clamorous and highly irresponsible, so often duped by agitators and crafty politicians and easily swayed by money power, false promises and other tactics. Adult franchise without adult education is a grave menace to democracy.
Seventhly, in this land of ours, our democratic state has become the sole guardian of the common man. The individual is not left with sufficient initiative to maintain his dignity by his own efforts. Things naturally boil down to this there is repression and suppression of the people’s rights, both by the upper classes and castes in rural areas and cities and by the police acting ‘suo motto’ or under orders of the supposedly ‘popular’ government. Demonstrators against injustices and unjust orders, or delay in redressing wrongs and grave injustices are ruthlessly lathi-charged, tear-gased and even fired at. This hinders democracy.
Eighthly, what sort of democracy do we really have, or are we going to have in the midst of horrible, often immense and unimaginable poverty and unemployment? When poverty and unemployment assume serious proportions, they result in a violent eruption of riots, disturbances, looting of grain shops, bank robberies etc. Surely, this is not conducive to healthy democracy.
Ninthly, there is the pollution caused in Indian democracy by money-dominated politics. Politicians thrive on grossly tainted funds. Winning elections by all means is essential to political success. This needs black money and this presupposes the presence of black-marketers, smugglers and business magnates. This reduces democracy to a farce.
Again, democracy takes a back seat, and sometimes becomes a casualty, where corruption and graft become the order of the day. Despite all the fanfare of the anti-corruption drive, the indispensable evil of corruption prevails everywhere, from the very top to bottom. The common man is so fed up by the farce of democracy and the nude dance of sheer money-power and corruption that he often argues that “democracy is a show of the rich, for the rich and, of course, by the rich”.
Yet another cause of the failure of democracy in India is the lop-sided functioning of party-system in India. There can be no question of justice, equality and fair play when rival political parties are not allowed to function freely and where political regimes run by parties other than ‘the ruling party at the Centre are discriminated against in respect of grant of funds, favors, economic and political, not excluding Government grants. This has been the sad experience of State governments in the Punjab; Karnataka, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and now Haryana.
Lastly, the very existence of democratic decentralization, ‘unity in diversity’ is imperiled when regionalism, linguism provincialism, parochialism, or say-separatism raise their heads. Secessionists occasionally raise a question about the legationary of the existing government. They contend that the top leaders and those others in power are not the real representatives of the people. This goes against the democratic ideal of cohesion and integration.
Thus, democracy in India is endangered by a number of factors that are geo-political, social, economic, inherent and even anti-national. Formal democracy is too weak to function properly in India. If we really want that this forty-one-year old seed of democracy, which has started rotting even as a spront to grow into a healthy tree providing font and healthy shab, we should nurse it zealously and carefully. Eternal vigilance is the price not only of liberty but of the Indian democracy as well.