Democracy in the 21st century | Timeline

Globally, there is a growing aspiration for democracy among ordinary people seeking greater freedom and dignity. Pew Research survey of 17 advanced economies in 2021 shows disaffection of people with the lack of individual freedom in authoritarian states. According to the survey, a median of 74% of people in these countries had no confidence in Putin doing the “right thing in world affairs.

Further, the 20th century was seen as the century of democracy’s expansion. But the recent factors like rise of authoritarian regimes, parties with huge majority and hype of nationalism have somewhat endangered democracy.

If it has to be prevented from this decay, then the public discourse around questions of its meaning, purpose and limits needs to be revived.

The dividends of democracy are worth the requisite investment – Livemint – 3rd Mar 2022

Democracy is a key ingredient for economic advancement, as creating space for decent democracy nurtures innovation and consequently economic flourishing. Except for China, economic progress stalls in countries that are guided by religious fundamentalism or authoritarianism.

While many justify democracy as a means, democracy is an end in itself. Even if democracy slows economic growth, it brings equality which is vital for an equitable society.

India is the best example of how democracy can bring growth. Despite many economic mistakes, India’s investment in its education is bearing fruits today. Pickup of India’s democratic growth after the 90s is also an account of democratic dividend.

Autocracy vs Democracy

Democracy ought to get the better of autocracy – Livemint – 28th Feb 2022

In a protracted battle, the Russian state is likely to sustain leadership because though there are elections, the opposition has been crushed by the Russian ruling regime. This is further exemplified by the rule in Iran and China. The example of China shows that autocracies may even be able to bend global rules. Chinese economic model uses economic feedback for a self-correction like democracies use elections.

However, the most pressing issue with an autocracy is its structurally low sensitivity to actual needs. It is governed by a command economy, not aware of the market and consumer needs. It also covers criticism and runs propaganda in the guise of information. This is why autocracies like the Soviet Union crumbled. Thus, democracy can be seen as the best bet.

[The 21st century challenge for democracy – Indian express – 4th Jan 22]

An oversized image of the leader: Excessive majority and unbound faith prevents constructive criticism, which may lead to turning a democratic polity into an autocratic one.

If elected leaders are left unquestioned then they may use it for not just changing the physical structures of the polity, but to affect even the ideological foundations on which it stands.

Electoral majorities are sometimes projected as representing the view of a single community which may create divergence between different communities and may even lead to prejudices and conflict in the society.

And at the level of polity, this may lead to the sentiment of communalism/ hyper-nationalism overpowering the principles of democracy.

All of these factors are so much a part of the institution of democracy that it becomes difficult to tough to identify them, critique them and isolate them. That’s why scholars have been calling these as “democratic” ways of subverting democracy.

Challenges faced by India’s democracy

– Politicisation of Bureaucracy

– Allegations on media of being biased towards ruling party of the day at any time.

– Allegations that Judiciary has in some cases failed to prevent erosion of democratic credentials.

[The Case for Liberal Democracy – TOI – 22nd Jan 22]

First, enormous power given to the state against the citizen became problematic and there was no safeguarding mechanism against this. This led to issues like authoritarianism during the 1975-76 Emergency.

Second, the Constitution decentralised only to the state level. It did not empower, fund, or staff government at the village or municipality level to any significant degree.

Third, the economic system was undetermined. So, the state could not establish strong protection for contracts between the citizen and the state, or for private property.

Fourth, the private sector was given a limited role, whereas the public sector was allowed to occupy the commanding heights of the economy.

Finally, the delivery of public goods to improve the lot of the ordinary citizen, especially the poorest, was abysmal in the initial years. For example, education. In 1950, Indians had, on average,1 year of education. In comparison, the then Chinese average was 1. 8 years. By 1970, after 20 years of democracy, India had crept up to 1. 7 while China had progressed to 4.2 years

[The Case for Liberal Democracy – TOI – 22nd Jan 22]

After the Emergency, India strengthened its democratic institutions.

Regional parties, some representing the underprivileged, captured more of the vote and refocused the government on providing better public goods.

The Constitution was amended to enable Panchayati Raj.

The private sector’s role was given more importance after the liberalization of the economy.

The average years of education in India more than doubled during 1970-1990 to 3.6 and doubled once again by 2015 to 7.4, narrowing the gap with China to 1.3 years.

[The 21st century challenge for democracy – Indian express – 4th Jan 22]

Path of Protests, agitations and movements: This has seen the involvement of students, farmers and many other sections of the society. While these protests may not substantially alter the course of democracy’s erosion, they do have the potential of rejuvenating people’s agency.

Need of politics which is not person or one party centric: India is a multiparty democracy and only this normal politics will do justice to it. Normal politics means that no party, no leader, no idea, no dream is final or invincible.

Need for ideological engagement at the intellectual level: There is need to ponder over the question that what we mean by democracy and what we need to do with it.

Democracy can be practised in real terms only if there is emphasis on inclusion, institutions, procedures and deliberation and power-sharing.

Globally, governments have turned into regimes. The challenge is to break this regime-ness and treat elected representatives for what they are — just power-holders, deservingly scrutinised for their use of power.

These changes will not happen through any set grand political theory, but these pathways have to be utilised daily, in matters of routine nature where democracy is being compromised. Political criticism keeps democracy alive.

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