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After 75 years of democracy

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“the individual has a soul, but as the State is a soulless machine, it can never be weaned from violence to which it owes its very existence. Hence I prefer the doctrine of trusteeship.”- Mahatma Gandhi

DEMOCRACY, when we hear this word we aren’t always sure what could be the correct meaning of it, even political scientists aren’t fully sure what even democracy should be. Many philosophers and thinkers have given their interpretations of this, and yet democracy still remains a very argumentative topic for us. At its core democracy means a way to form an accepted authority over you for governance, the word ‘accepted’ here implies that governments can change over time as the will of the masses changes and can do acceptable violence over you like taxation or punishment by the law.

Elections are very common in our minds when we think of giving the masses the ‘power’ to change authority or its roles and purpose by changing different demands and aspirations. This is the mechanism by which our democracy and other works. In retrospect, democracies are always at threat from majoritarianism, meritocratic elements in individual lives, and most importantly rising socio-economic inequalities which breed fierce competitiveness in democratic societies.

The constitution of our country declares India to be a welfare state, meaning taking care of everyone’s aspirations, but the machination of how ‘welfare’ should be done lies in conflict, especially in a democracy where many socio-economic groups can equally have their interpretations of what welfare is.

One may say that subsidies and affordable prices are welfare, and another may say industrialization will lead to more welfare for people. It’s simple to say that there are no right or wrong answers to the nature of what welfare means. Whatever the popular will is, that is how welfare is to be determined. It is the reason why democracy mostly remains a system of government that is just a hollow and soulless mechanism that does not have any essential elements or values for the society it works for.

Most democracies have emerged out of social revolutions in the change of people’s social and political values, it is indeed very rare for democracies to just go under political revolution or just change in forms of governments before any social revolution, and India was of those very rare nations to have democracy after a political revolution, movement and most importantly our national movement which was successful in gaining independence.

Yet, social changes in our democratic society are still a process and suffer setbacks or move forward to their dreams. Our Constitution makers indeed were very aware of the nature of how democracy has emerged in India, this is also the reason why our democratic state is federal in its essence but in reality, the central government is the most powerful organ in our democracy. Consider our border nations like Pakistan, which suffers from military coups and rule in its democratic history. Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Myanmar also have gone through a democratic crisis in their history.

Most of them indeed have been part of Undivided India or British India at some point in their history, It could be attributed that they have merely gone through political revolutions, not social ones which were indeed necessary for a stable democracy. We can directly see that democracies suffer the most if their outcomes were merely out of political movements. The most unfortunate thing that happened from Colonialism was that it left its biggest demonic scar on former colonies, It never could have brought any social developments to make the masses inhibit democratic ethics and values for their independent future. Policies like education, schemes, or awareness and greater mass participation have indeed given citizens some understanding of what democracy is but they have a lack of knowledge in social sciences due to employment factors. As said earlier, elections have been the most popular image of democracy with lots of parties contesting it.

But is this really what democracy is? Having the means to choose an authority acceptable to everyone or those who vote is not the end of democracy but, unfortunately, most people consider democracy just to be that, nothing else or more. Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity are the common values associated with democracy, they indeed have helped understand the welfare, development, and progress of any nation.

Many ideologies somehow work in a democracy, even ideas that are anti-democratic work democratically. It seems that it is a hallmark and a major feature of our Indian democracy, everything assimilates and finds someplace to even be influential and flourishes in our democracy. Such a mixture has led to confusion among citizens on the very definition of our democracy. it is the largest democracy after all, and the most diverse in every aspect, and we cannot bank forever on this present system to work since the end of time.

The end-state principle of democracy largely goes unnoticed and is not discussed by many, and it is very essential to determine what is the end goal of democracy considering realities. Is it a system that is endless? Is there only military takeover or dictatorships to replace it? Is democracy a remedy to some illness in our society that once it is cured will wither away? The question lies in its heart, what is next?

What is ‘Indian’ in our democracy?

The Government Act of 1935 is often considered the root of our constitution; and indeed, our constitution has borrowed many provisions from other democracies of that time. This is not to say that this is necessarily bad or that we should just scrap our constitution because of this fact, in reality, ideas are universal, their origin does not matter. We have tried to fuse Indian elements in our democracy which tried to give its character to distinguish it from others, but they often are merely more added layers of decision-making, they do not hold significant powers. It is indeed centralization vs decentralization that is being talked about here. 

The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts of 1992 or the introduction of a formal panchayati raj system in our democracy highlights our society’s pluralistic side. Now, it is a matter of debate whether Indian elements represent a more centralized or pluralistic system. India often holds an argumentative tradition as told in Amartya Sen’s Argumentative Indian, it does not mean that we always fight with each other, but rather, our culture was always in thoughtful discussions of various things and politics.

Look at Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism, and in Hindu schools of philosophy like Ajivikas, Carvarkas, and Vedanta, and modern history we see that Indian Renaissance started to purge the evils in our society which were thought to be legitimized.

This is all reflective of our society’s constant discussion with each other for a better future. Why is centralization often attributed with ‘stability’ and ‘dictatorship’  whenever we hold a conversation on it and decentralization is often with ‘instability’ and ‘collapse of the state’ due to many renegade elements present? Particularly in India’s case, we are unsure about each other and often fear those who are different from us and may have opposite views from ours. It is fear of the unknown and insecurity that we tilt towards centralization and in aspects where we have decentralization we see the sheer competitiveness of our society.

In both cases, we lack cooperation with each other whenever we face difficulties and differences. The meritocratic element is a growing cancer in our democracy which is constantly trying to make it a ‘meritocracy’. Although it has led to greater efficiency in public administration and the economy it has hardly removed inequality, rather inequality has been legitimized on that basis now. Values like cooperation, mutual aid, welfare, and schemes for the poor are being attributed to the primary function of our welfare state.

We should ask ourselves, where in our individual life where we constantly compete with each other primarily in jobs, materialistic gains, etc does our welfare state also remains unaffected by it? We teach our children to share things but in adulthood, we became very competitive because of talents, skills, and opportunities present for those who pass the merit. Families are becoming more nuclear and joint family systems which are often represented in our culture as the basic foundation of learning cooperation and thoughtful arguments have now become less prevalent in modern times.

Although we are 1.4 billion people in this nation, the top 1% of people hold about 40% of total income as of 2021. That 1% isn’t all those who climb up the ladder in illegal ways but have that much knowledge to have that much income. It’s what meritocracy has led to and is constantly shaping our human psyche where the state naturally cannot interfere. In our pursuit of being a developed superpower, we are using all those things that other industrialized nations have used to reach that peak, but we forget to look at the serious ill effects it has done to them like climate change, aging population, alienation, and rising mental health issues.

It is up to us whether we consider the negative sides as necessary evils of any industrialized or developed nation, but we can all agree that such elements do not represent Indian values. It was Mahatma Gandhi who told us about the path of truth and love which India could take so that it may not follow the paths of the industrialized and western nations, but rather forge its destiny and walk a path that reflected only the truth and nothing else.

The Kingdom of  God is within you

Call it Begumpura, Ram-Rajya, Kingdom Of God, etc, or all those states which are seen to be too utopian and unrealistic for present times. Nonetheless, they hold aspirations for all the people who have lived and struggled hard in their life for a better tomorrow and future. To all those known and unknown men and women who have contributed to building this society and dreamt of a better tomorrow for our children.

A question arises whether the state will stay relevant or become very rudimentary in the far-far future if mankind survives for so long, or will it become totalitarian and the state itself becomes a religion? For our democracy, our constantly changing human nature ultimately will decide where the future lies. In this case, we consider a more anarchist thought about democracy which is considered a real possibility. Unfortunately, anarchists have been tagged as ‘Anti-State’ but a closer study tells us that they are not against the state but rather challenge the legitimacy and justification of state institutions and powers, if they are not justified, they demand it to be dismantled and a better system be put forward.

Anarcho-syndicalism is rather a more realistic practice of anarchist philosophy and is attributed to have some features of direct democracy. Mahatma Gandhi was also an anarchist if you understand his quote which I mention, why was it so?

Local-level village industries, class-co-operation, self-sufficiency, and self-reliance especially both at every level were equally important for him so that India as a nation be very different from other nations. A man should be self-reliant so he would always have alternative means of livelihood and never be dependent on others or only a single occupation for which his entire life may depend. Villages were to have been developed enough so that they can work as an autonomous unit and be not dependent on the state for their very survival.

All of this is much hard to comprehend considering our present situation where we are so dependent on each other and do not have sufficient skills to pursue other alternatives and gain the same level of satisfaction do tell us that greater work still lies ahead if we wish to attain a development where the state is very rudimentary (Not to confuse the state with nation, both are used as complimentary words to each other but a state is often a body or entity for a nation. India is a nation, democracy is a type of state.) and perhaps we shall see Ram-Rajya, Begumpura or Kingdom of God emerging one day when we remove fear from ourselves and co-operate with each other so much to such a level that the existence of state hardly matters.

“Competition is the law of the jungle, but cooperation is the law of civilization”-Peter Kropotkin”

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