The 21st century challenge for democracy

News: 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.

What are the factors that are/may harm the institution of democracy? 

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 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. 

What are the challenges that India faces in protecting its spirit of 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. 

How can democracies adapt and overcome these concerns?

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. 

Source: This post is based on the article “The 21st century challenge for democracy” published in Indian express on 4th Jan 2022. 

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