Democracy and its structural slippages

Source– The post is based on the article “Democracy and its structural slippages” published in The Hindu on 24th January 2023.

Syllabus: GS2- Polity

Relevance– Democracy in modern times

News– The article explains the features of modern and concept of equality. It also explains whether elections are truly free and fair.

What are some features of modern forms of democracy?

The democracy that is functional around the world today was essentially a 19th century to 20th century western creation. The institution of universal adult franchise and governance through regular and multi-party elections is at most a 100 years or less phenomena. In Britain, women obtained the right to vote in the 1930s, in France in 1944.

Basic to democracy is the devolution of power. It is based on the premise of the individual and equality. There has been near-universal abolition of monarchies and hereditary aristocracies and their replacement by governance through popular mandate.

The spread of economic resources, infrastructure, education, health to the masses, with some shortcomings shows the effectiveness of devolution in practice.

There is an unbreakable link between the development of devolution and capitalism. Capitalism’s basic requirement is freedom for resources such as land, labour. So, the notions of the individual’s rights and equality evolved. It culminates in the notion of a free market for every kind of resource mobilisation, including labour.

What are some facts about equality?

Human history has witnessed several experiences of equality. It is mostly in its religious form like, non-theistic Buddhism. Monotheistic religions such as Christianity and Sikhism were proponents of social equality. However, equality demands the subjugation of the individual to the community.

It is notable that no egalitarian ideology has ever been able to create an egalitarian society. These ideologies reshuffle existing social hierarchies and create some space for the upward movement of the lower rungs. It seeks to establish uniformity through the same or similar institutions and practices.

The uniformity takes the form of periodic multi-party “free and fair” elections and guarantees of various kinds of freedoms.

Are elections truly free and fair?

Elections divide voters into a dubious majority and a minority. The majority-minority division is hardly a decisive mandate. There is hardly a government anywhere in the world that governs through a majority of the mandate.

Usually, 30% to 40% of the votes give a comfortable majority. This is structured into multi-party elections through “the first past the post” principle.

In practice, voting by individuals is still conditioned by numerous demands of family, community, religion, culture. It is also conditioned by the political alternatives offered by political parties. A loss of individuality is implicated here.

The individual does not create the choices. These are given by parties and often wrapped in false propaganda and even more false promises. The individual has the “freedom” to choose between these choices.

The complete equation of democracy with electoral politics draws one’s attention away from any alternative form of governance.

What is the scenario of India?

Democratic politics has been impacted by identity politics of caste, sub-caste, community, region, language.

Nehru had hoped that education and the experience of democracy would generate a more “modern” consciousness among the masses. The very success of political mobilisations has reinforced identities instead of weakening them.

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