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Impact of democracy in political system of India

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Prime Minister Sri Narendra Modi, at his annual Diwali interaction with media persons in 2017, talked about the need to make people aware of the internal democracies of political parties. This statement made me to reflect back into history of democratic Practice by administration in our country from ancient times and their effect on our society. The Democracy of our country has conceded through three periods:

Ancient democracy in Rig Veda

History and ancient literature suggest that democracy and republic ideas were implemented ever since the ‘Age of Vedas‘ and even before. The present style of democracy in India was inherited from the British but the core value of democracy is existing still in our system as per Vedas in Ancient India. The basic principles of democracy were embedded in Indian Civilizations since ages. Real democracy requires secularism in practice and India is the only major nation who can claim this. The credit for this goes to Hindu culture which accepted everyone. Even at beginning of the republican assembly some specific Slokas from Rig Veda were to be sung in unison!

Tulsidas’s Ramayan (written in 16th century AD) describes a scene when king Rama gathers an assembly of citizens and tells them that they are free to express their opinions and disagree with his decisions.  In the Mahabharata, there is a reference to Ganas (republics) being governed by their councils of leaders called Gana-Mukhyas. All these Ganas (republics) had an extremely democratic constitution. Each had its own assembly (parishad)!

The terms Sabha ( gathering), Samiti (smaller Gathering or Committee), Rajan or Raja, (Householder, Leader), are found in Vedic literature. The term Rajan denoted Householder, Head of the Household. One who was eligible to take part in the assembly or gathering or the Sabha. It did not mean a King, but simply meant a ‘Leader’, a leader who was elected. The term Raja came to mean later, a feudal king, a monarch. As with the passing times, the elected leader or elected king, as is usual with human nature, started tradition of  his offspring to follow in his footsteps, and take the leadership or Kingship position after him.

Rig Veda also says that the position of the King (leader) was not absolute, and he could be removed by the Sabha or the Assembly. The term Sabha is still used today, as the Indian Elected Parliament is called the ‘Lok Sabha– Assembly of the People’, Nominated Parliament is called ‘Rajya Sabha‘ and state assemblies are called as ‘Vidhana Sabha’.

Buddhist history of democracy

As per Buddhist texts in Pali, politics was vigorous during the Buddhist period, 600 BC – 200 AD. During this period, India witnessed widespread urbanization, which was almost synonymous with a republican form of government. These ancient classics offer a complex scenario to describe the different groups that managed their own affairs. Some of these groups were probably warrior formations; others were groups with avowed economic aims; some were religious fraternities. These organizations, of whatever type, were usually designated as a GaNa or a Sangha; while less important political structures were known by such terms as Sreni (guilds).

The terms Gana and Sangha initially meant multitude, but gradually with the passage of time, these words come to mean a self-governing multitude by 6th century BC. In this system, all decisions were taken by the Sangha members themselves, and the governing style was stabilized by convention for such groups. The strongest of these groups functioned as sovereign governments, who were generally known as Republics. Various sources indicate an almost universal presence of sovereign republics in India during that time. The word GaNa is still used in India and Republic nation is known as ‘GaNatantra‘ and Republic day is celebrated as ‘GaNatantra Divas‘. Some Greek writers refer to a people who practiced a democratic form of government but were not monarchial, though their sway encompassed a large area. This indicates that Indian republics of late 4th century BC were much larger than the Greek city states of that time. It seems that republicanism was at that time the standard practice in the north-western part of India.

After the sixth century, democratic organisations started declining. Kings and monarchs often remained engaged in wars. Since there was no strong monarch to uphold the solidarity and unity of the country, conse­quently a large number of principalities sprang up throughout the country. From the eighth century onwards, the Mohammedans launched their invasions till they established their rule in the twelfth century. The Muslim rulers were autocratic. In the medieval era, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Islam arrived, and Sikhism emerged, all adding to the region’s diverse culture. Much of the north fell to the Delhi sultanate; the south was united under the Vijayanagara Empire.

The economy somehow expanded in the 17th century in the Mughal Empire. In the mid-18th century, the subcontinent came under British East India Company rule, and in the mid-19th under British crown rule. So Medieval India was under autocratic rule, which caused maximum damage to the social and political fabric of Vedic India. India was then no longer exporting manufactured goods as it long had, but was instead supplying the British Empire with raw materials, and many historians consider this to be the onset of India’s colonial period. By this time, with its economic power severely curtailed by the British parliament and effectively having been made an arm of British administration, the company began to more consciously enter non-economic arenas such as education, social reform, and culture.

Modern democracy:

The British rule also was against democracy. Although the rebellion of “Sepoy Mutiny” was suppressed by 1858, it led to the dissolution of the East India Company and to the direct administration of India by the British government. Proclaiming a unitary state and a gradual but limited British-style parliamentary system, the new rulers also protected princes and landed gentry as a feudal safeguard against future unrest.  The rush of technology and the commercialization of agriculture in the second half of the 19th century was marked by economic setbacks—many small farmers became dependent on the whims of far-away markets. There was an increase in the number of large-scale famines. It was continued for decades all over India, leading eventually to the founding of the Indian National Congress in 1885. It was the Government of India Act, 1935 that laid the foundation stone of democratic rule in In­dia. The Congress remained in power only for two years—from 1935 to 1937. From 1940 to 1945, the British government was preoccupied with the World War 11. The efforts for giving political freedom to India started from 1946 till it became free in August 1947. The Constitution of free In­dia accepted democracy as the basis of ruling the country.

Democracy in Independent India:

After independence, India decided to have democratic political sys­tem. This system is characterised by three elements: 1) there is a high degree of autonomy; 2) economic agents and religious organisations are free from political interference; and 3) competition between various orders does not endanger integration but helps it. Democracy today functions at 3 basic level in India. The village level-The Panchayat (Council of five) Province or State level – Assembly
National – Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha in Parliament.

Democracy in modern India is based on certain principles:(1) That every individual has his potentialities, worth, and dignity;(2) That everyone has the capacity to learn and manage his life with others;(3) That an individual must abide by the decisions of the majority;(4) That every individual should have a part in making decisions;(5) That the control and direction of democratic action lies in the situation and not outside it;(6) That the process of living is interactive and that all individuals work towards commonly recognized ends; and (7) That democracy rests on individual opportunity as well as individual responsibility.

So just what is it that accounts for the resilience and endurance of Indian democracy? Why has it flourished in India when it has failed in other neighbor states? And how it remained intact despite India’s mass poverty, widespread illiteracy, slow economic growth, a large bureaucracy clearly indifferent to norms of efficiency, a culture of permissive corruption, and unrivaled heterogeneity for years! Perhaps the core value of our ancient Vedic democracy still persisting in soul of our society n culture to maintain our Plurality.

The recent time political scenario shed light on Smt Indira Gandhi’s regime of 16 years-between January 1966 and Oc­tober 1984- (minus three years of Morarji Desai and Charan Singh regimes) was not democratic but an ‘authoritarian’ regime. With each successive spell out of power, the party’s ability to retain its supporters has dwindled. By the late 1980s, the famous Congress system had all but vanished. Over the past few decades, the overriding presence of the Nehru-Gandhi dynastic leadership has hindered fresh political talent from outside the trusted circle taking leadership positions thus immobilizing the party’s organizational base. This has encouraged a debilitating trend of sycophancy and preference for loyalists, which cuts off the leadership from the grassroots, in the process making them inaccessible to both leaders and workers. The question mark on inner party democracy of Left too is unavoidable, since the murder of Gauri Lankesh, which revealed the journo’s discontent against the party politics. The other regional parties like SP, BSP and RJD too rolling under dynastic norm, which is unsolicited for a healthy democracy.

As our PM urged all political parties to maintain democracy as it is essential for the future with a true democratic spirit where all voices are heard, he certainly forethought about the autocratic norm that is engulfing our political party’s internal democracy. This is indeed the need of the hour for all our political parties to forge ahead in 21st Century with true democratic value. They should reflect, reform and reengage to add dynamism to democratic legacy of our country.


Ancient Democracy in Vedas, Buddhist & Greek History

Democracy in India: Democracy in Ancient and Modern India

Indian Democracy, A Historical Perspective – Then And Now

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