DEMOCRACY IS DEAD; LONG LIVE DEMOCRACY
BY GURU GANESAN MD
Democracy is a general word giving an impression that in any so-called democratic “nation-state” people have voice in the government and in any progress that the state can make. Democracy as a general term can also be applied to any state that can under the cloak of this term perpetuates ideas and activities contrary to the spirit of democracy. It is a convenient term to be used by any state even if in essence it is either autocratic, dictatorial or one controlled by a group of few elite people who control the economy.
In this context when we discuss democracy, the spirit of democracy is that every society that has different economic strata should have an opportunity in this form of government to advance itself and make a steady progress to minimize the difference between one stratum and the others, thus achieving the ideal of equality. In this context everyone benefits by this concept of democracy.
On the other hand the experience of many different states that attempted to achieve democracy in the past millennium in which the word democracy replaced other terms like monarchy, oligarchy, etc., when the protagonists of the concept of democracy gave hope to common people that good days are ahead for everyone, they created revolutions in some countries like for example the French Revolution, Russian revolution, etc. unfortunately ending up with “Democratic dictatorship” or “dictatorship in democracy.” This history has been repeated in many countries with the same results.
This makes us think what are the factors that despite the struggle to achieve noble goals of the
Society, with sacrifice of millions of people, the concept of democracy is nullified. It is worthwhile to examine the factors that work against democracy that are still active and alive while struggle for democracy is going on. For example, the ethnic groups, economic groups, cultural groups, groups based on language, “race” and “color”, religious groups, etc. that divide a society are still present to achieve their own hegemony. Once the power gets into the hands of any group it will be difficult to dislodge the power from that group. This is essentially antidemocratic.
So when there is a struggle for democracy, concurrently the sectarian forces at play under the surface are also alive. When the state is about to achieve “democracy”, it is either nullified or minimized by these divisive forces. Still people are made to believe that they are living in a democracy. Ignoring the requirements of equal rights legitimizes discriminations and differnces. Such counterproductive forces are very common in a democracy requiring continued efforts at compromise.
This spirit of compromise leads to the tolerance of differences and divisions up to a point finally the imposition of a small group of vested interests, their ideas and domination of others emerges. As long as the economy of the state is thriving or stable, trickle down benefits reach the lower strata of the society who cannot oppose the status quo, democracy of the state is loudly acclaimed to be working. If there is any struggle among the groups the term “class struggle” which is a “no, no” in a democracy is used pejoratively. So this circle of struggle among the classes with various opportunities or lack of opportunities is perpetuated and in essence the “democratic” institutions are used to maintain the vested interests of certain elite or powerful groups.
Utopian concept of democracy is long ways to go but in the nature of things the conflicting interests will always use the democratic institutions to create and maintain the differences and inequalities. This necessitates the methods by which the counterproductive factors that weaken the concept of democracy must be identified and solutions to mitigate or minimize the impact of all such factors be sought.
Now we may examine one factor after another.
Ethnic disparity: if there are several ethnic groups in a state each group is anxious to get maximum benefit out of the state that it feels it deserves or it is deprived of. In that process if different ethnic groups have an understanding among themselves of fair distribution of resources and benefits such understanding will help strengthen the democracy. On the contrary, if the groups have to struggle or fight and come into conflict with different groups at one time or another, the state will remain in a state of conflict. This will weaken the democracy sooner or later. Even the fundamental rights of some ethnic groups remain denied in many democracies.
The economic disparity: if the individual divisions [provinces, prefectures, divisions] have disparity in their market economies that will lead to conflict if one or two “divisions” are economically dominant or superior. This will lead to separation and ultimately imperil democratic institutions especially when the struggle for parity becomes violent. This can shake not only democracy but the strength of the state.
The other factors like the culture of a particular group including language and other attributes can be a positive contribution to a state. If that activity is suppressed and/or commercially exploited by others it will lead to emotional disunity inimical to the state that is struggling to keep democracy healthy, to preserve it and improve it.
Another extreme danger that poses democracy is antisocial elements attaining leadership on various issues that look legitimate and corrupt the system in the elective process with a main aim of obtaining mafia like power. This is one of the worst vulnerability of the democratic process next to foreign interventions silently or openly designed to disturb the state.
Like this there are many other factors like natural disasters, water sharing of the rivers, external forces from the neighboring countries affecting the borderline areas, by ideological oppression and terrorism forces, etc. which can shake the stability of democracy in the state and can perpetually lead to economic drainage. That in turn leads to a sense of betrayal and alienation, etc. causing lack of progress. Such factors are all impediments to the concept of democracy and need to be addressed constructively by leadership in a democracy. But the circumstances of groups protecting their own interests aggravate the problem and hence the struggle of the state and democracy goes on. All this shows that democracy is not easy to achieve but as long as it lives there is hope. With all these struggles one has to hope that democracy is achievable with its real meaning.