Democracy has been defined in the words of Abraham Lincoln as ‘Government of the people, for the people, and by the people’. All Governments claim to be government of the people. This means that the main task of the Government is to keep the people under control, to realise taxes from them in order to carry on the machinery of the government and to preserve the integrity and security of the country against all hostile forces, whether within or outside the country.
All Governments, even the most dictatorial and tyrannical, profess to be acting for the good of the people. When the British ruled India and held the country by naked brute force, they claimed to be doing so for the good of the Indian people.
Democracy differs from all other forms of government; it professes to be government by the people. This means that the rulers are the chosen representatives of the people, elected from time to time by free and fair elections. By fair election is meant that no under-hand means or undue influences are used to tamper with voting papers after the people had cast their votes.
India claims to be the biggest democracy in the world. Judged, by standards, the machinery for a democratic Government is well established here. Unlike other Asiatic countries except Japan, there is no change here of any sudden military intervention by uprising.
The press is free to express the most hostile criticism of the Government. The people can voice their opinion, however, unpalatable to the functioning Government, at public meetings. Every precaution has been taken to see that from the exercising of the right to vote to the counting of votes, there is no chance of interfering with the actual results.
The ministers are responsible to the elected representatives of the people who have the full powers to remove them, if they forfeit popular confidence. There is, no doubt, that the people of India, as a whole have full faith in the superiority of democracy over all other forms of Government.
And yet when one looks at the scene, one feels that something seems to have gone wrong somewhere, and our democracy is not functioning as we would wish or expect. For want of proper education and low percentage of literacy, in the early stages, Indian democracy was ‘Buy people’, instead of rule ‘by the people’. This leads us to question the efficacy of democracy for our country.
There are two factors that militate against the proper functioning of democracy in India. First, success of a rule by the people depends, to a large extent, on an educated electorate. When Disraeli extended the voting right in England, he said. “We must now educate our masters”.
In India even after sixty years of independence the minimum education figure has not reached even more than fifty two per cent of the people. As a result, people are easily misled. This can be dangerous for an ignorant and superstitious people. The second of these factors is the existence of innumerable Parties, most of which have no clear-cut ideology or conception of what they really want.
In their hunt for power they make unscrupulous alliances or honey-moons with parties with which they have little or nothing in common, use and play up local or communal passions to win popular support, and bribe them. Such marriage of convenience and regionalism, can frustrate the proper functioning of democratic government and prejudice the minds of the people.
There is a third factor which we have to take into account. We have cast our democracy in the British mould. It is questionable whether a system, suited to a small country like Britain, can be equally suited to the requirements of a large and densely populated country like India. The constituencies are large and spread over extensive areas. The voters have little or no knowledge of candidates seeking their franchise. Wealthy candidates have an undue advantage and money can have corrupting influence, having far-reaching effects on the moral of the people. Some suggest that the Presidential form of democracy, as it prevails in USA will work better in India.
Perhaps democracy would work better if we can evolve the panchayet-based Constitution as Mahatma Gandhi had suggested. Such a Constitution would ensure larger devolution of power on the people and thus make them more responsible as well as conscious of their responsibilities. The British system may be suitable in a country having two parties: where there are too many parties, government becomes unstable and, as a result, bureaucracy gains more power. If democracy has to succeed in India and strike roots, people must begin to think afresh and create a Constitution in conformity with the traditional needs and ideals of the people.