The Case for Liberal Democracy

News: India’s political system has always risen to challenges facing the nation.

After Independence, India’s democracy was faced with numerous challenges. However, it was able to self-correct and rise against all odds. Democracy functioned as a safety valve, managing and mediating pressures that emerged from our vast country.

Having said that, contemporarily India’s democracy is facing many issues and our democracy and our economy need a course correction.

What are the challenges/issues posed to India’s democracy after independence?    

With the passage of time, some concerns were raised about our initial design. Some concerns are,

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, 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.

How India’s Democracy was able to self-correct itself?

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 to1. 3 years.

Why our democracy and our economy need course correction now?

First, decay of a range of democratic institutions, be they Parliament, the judiciary, the Election Commission, academia.

Second, misguided attempts to associate the national political consciousness with a religious identity is alienating our religious minorities. Our relationship with friendly neighbouring countries has deteriorated.

Third, by reverting to the populist and protectionist policies of the past, we are doing injustice to the demographic dividend.

Source: This post is based on the article “The Case for Liberal Democracy” published in ToI on 22nd Jan 2022.

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