It is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. That line said by Abraham Lincoln is one of the most widely used definitions of the word democracy. But to think about it, what exactly is a democracy and where did it even originate from? In my essay, I aim to answer what exactly a democracy is and how should people be involved in this particular system.
the Greeks were the first to use the system of democracy in their civilization then followed by the Persian and the Romans. They introduced a policy in the 5th century BC where citizenship prevailed and the administration and policy formation was the right of the citizens calling it ‘Democracy’ which is derived from the Greek word ‘Demokratia’ which was amalgamation of the words ‘demos’ meaning people and ‘kratos’ meaning rule to denote the system of policymaking. Cleisthenes, the father of democracy first introduced it in the city of Athens. However for a democracy to prevail back then two conditions were required. There should a small enough city to conduct direct democracy and two the people should give enough leisure to indulge in politics. All the citizens of the city above the age of 18 had the right to vote except for slaves and women.
On these grounds the Roman Empire was set up where the government was in a represent form which had representatives of the nobility in the senate and representatives of the commoners in the general assembly. Cicero, a roman statesman was fond of the form of democracy and believed that all people have a certain number of rights which should be preserved.
However democracy was not favored in the middle ages and gave rise to feudalism (the church) ending the system of democracy.
However with the Magna Carta in England and with philosophers like John Locke and Jean Rousseau, the social contract emerged paving way for the modern day democracy in countries like America and cities of Europe.
By this time most of the independent countries sought to follow the principles of democracy. However, countries like Germany, Italy become democratic after the reign of Hitler and Mussolini were crushed in the World War ll.
In today’s time, the system of democracy has not always worked for some countries because some just choose to stay a monarch or are not strong enough to revolt against it. But even the citizens of a country want a democracy they are suppressed and forced under the clutches of socialism, secularism, communist, capitalism making today’s time, a mixture of various forms of government, with no one as the same.
We see different kinds of government, like capitalism in china, a monarch in Britain, communism in Korea, which makes it possible for different forms of democracy to exist.
These forms can be a direct democracy or an indirect / representative democracy where a direct form is where the citizens cast a direct vote. This form is not applicable for large governments and is mostly seen in small organizations and communities.
India, being the world’s second largest populated country has new laws and policies made and old ones changed everyday making it difficult to consult all the citizens of the country for their consent. Therefore the representative form of democracy also known as the liberal democracy steps in where a certain number of people who are voted for and they make decisions on behalf of the citizens of the country. The elected parties are important because they are made on the basis of protecting rights of the citizens, empowering those who have been suppressed and giving equal opportunities in every field, e.g. in India, the parliament has made it necessary for reservation of seats in any field for the schedule caste and schedule tribe in order to provide equal opportunities for all. In order to prevent all the control of the power into the legislatures hand, there exist the executive and the judiciary for checks and balances so no one exceeds their power. Representative democracy can be of various forms in which they elective their leaders like parliamentary democracy, presidential democracy, etc. It can further be classified on the basis of which they elect their representatives like federalism.
Every system is not perfect and has its own share of advantages and disadvantages which help it to stand out from the rest. Even though a democracy is widely used around the world for it offers a lot of advantages, it has its own share of disadvantages but the main reason why most countries choose a democracy is because it serves as a means for the people to choose their leaders and to hold their leaders accountable for their policies. It is a self –governing system which safeguards the interest of the people and is responsible to the citizens for every move they make, unlike an anarchy or monarchy. The people are considered to be the sovereign i.e. the highest form of authority as the power flows from the people to the parties in the government. This is conducted done by a fair election by the means of universal adult franchise. The people are then free to critics their leaders and remove them out of power if they fail to do their job. The second most important feature of a democracy is that each and every person in the country has a certain number of basic human rights which cannot be taken away from them. For example, In India we have the fundamental rights and duties which cannot be taken away from the citizens like the right to life or right to equality. It provides ground for rule of law rather than rule of people and ensures a just system of justice. The democracy Is considered to be a group of representatives running the country, so in an unstable world when a crisis arises it becomes easy to solve because there is flexibility and a number of people can come together to solve it. Where as in a country that follows dictatorship it becomes difficult to solve a problem as one can not be flexible and there is only party that handles everything. Thus a democracy removes all such barriers as more efficient can replace the less efficient by the system of elections. In the fear of being voted out of office, most parties perform their jobs carefully and try to give their best. According to the economist intelligence units latest democracy index 2016, Norway followed by Iceland are the strongest democracies in the world.
In all these years of governing, there hasn’t been a system without any flaws. A democracy does indeed represent all the citizens but not everyone has the similar thoughts. What A thinks is right may be wrong for B or vice versa. The problem with the democracy is the difference of opinions everyone has or even as john rawls define ‘the veil of ignorance’ people have. Since not everyone know what part they play in the society they cannot fully contribute to the fullest. Another disadvantage the democracy offers is the fact that not all the citizens know what kind of government they wanted to be ruled by, so if the people cant decide what they want, you cant expect them to elect someone who will have a clear idea about how to rule the country thus leaving everyone at an advantage. Many a times since the masses can’t decide what they want, the concentration of power goes in the hands of the elite who then elect representatives for their advantage. The more people start to appear ignorant, they more power the government seems to have thus bringing in laxity and in a way, corruption. Since there is no perfect definition of a democracy, countries bound to twist and turn the definition of democracy in order to suit their needs.
Like Mahatma Gandhi said “my notion of democracy is that under it the weakest should have the same opportunity as the strongest.” Or how Winston Churchill defines It to be “democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tired from time to time.” the notion of how these two people seem to see democracy as is different which makes a huge impact. Because not everyone is on the same ground and that can twist the whole meaning of democracy. One uses it as a means to uplift the poor while the other uses it because he has no option. But there have been times where the democracy has not always worked in a particular country. For example, when US tried to attack on the democracy in Iran or the time it failed in Columbia because the central government was too weak to control all the land transactions happening.
Till now we have looked at the what a democracy actually is, how it was formed and its advantages and disadvantages. The next that now follows is that how should people be involved in it. a democracy is made from a legislature which consists the parliamentary system, the executive which is the prime minister, the judiciary which constitute of the courts and last is the citizens of the country that directly or indirectly elect these bodies.
Without these parts, a democracy cannot function but that is not it. As said before in the disadvantages if the people do not pay an active role in electing their representatives it can lead to many problems leading to the the democracy to fail. One of the most important feature of the democracy is the active participation of the citizens both in public and civic life. They have the right to be informed about all that the government does and can express their own opinions. Even women should play an active role in this and not be sidelined to the private sphere of life. When a person has to vote during elections, he has a duty towards the country to do it responsibly and not just vote for anyone who can cause harm to the country if elected. Since everyone has the right to run for election, it then becomes the responsibility of the citizen to vote for someone who will actually represent his/her rights. Nor should anyone be pressurized to vote for a particular party. Even though voting is done under a separate just body, there are times where people make a wrong decision. Before every election, we suddenly seem to see parties doing good in the society by promising to provide free education to the girl child or a free supply of electricity/ water to the household, but citizens should not get carried away by these short term promises and reflect back on their past tenure and see whether they have actually done any good or not rather than voting for them for the good they’ve done in the last few days as an election gimmick. in recent times, there has begun a trend ,most popularly seen in Mumbai, that people tend to take off for a small weekend get away rather than staying back and vote. People at times become so oblivious to politics that they don’t even know which party to vote for at the time of elections and don’t show up to vote or just choose randomly. Hence giving power to a party that is relatively inefficient.
But like I said before, the democracy is not made of one part, there are times when even the legislature fails in doing their job. In India, there have been times when the government failed to enroll many newly turned 18 year olds in time for the election. (Hindustan times, 2017) This not only prevents potential votes but also has a major impact on the results.
In India, the citizens directly vote for a party, and the party that wins the maximum number of seats in the lok sabha gets to then elect the prime minister for the country from within the party. Now in the current times of globalization, it becomes important to maintain peaceful relations with countries around the world, therefore it important to elect such a person who can handle both the internal and external matters of the country at the same time and not put the countries position in threat by posting tweets that not only affects the integrity of the country but also raises a threat to a war.
The opposition party and the judiciary too play an important role in maintaining a democracy. With checks and balances between the legislature, executive and the judiciary the democracy is stable. The judiciary that is the courts to say makes sure that the legislature does not make any law which affects the basic rights of the citizens and does not cross over its jurisdiction. It is important that if a judiciary exist, the appointment of the judges shouldn’t be done by the executive or the legislature because it then brings in biases. But if the judiciary itself is unable to be united, the democracy is bound to be dominated by the government. Just as the case in India is right now where four Supreme Court judges are fighting with the Chief Justice of India on an appointment of a case to a judge who would be liberal in his judgment. (NDTV, 2018)
Hence I would like to conclude that there is no perfect definition of a democracy. And each democracy of the world is not exactly the same as the other but there is one common similarity that there is a constant checks and balances by the executive, judiciary and the legislature so no one over powers the other in order to rule and the basic principle of democracy remains the same that is to provide such a form of government where the rights of the people are protected and everyone has representation. Democracies in the future might be threatened due to external forces or some internal forces like religious groups, regionalism, castes, etc. but if the political parties unite and try to stop these antinationalist movements, a brighter future for democracy is visible. Moreover, everyone should be educated on the importance of democracy. A democracy can only survive if the citizens of that country are alert and made conscious of their rights, duties and responsibilities along with the efforts made by the leaders in order to maintain the integrity of the country.