Recent Summit for Democracy and Its Implications

A Summit for Democracy  was held on December 9-10,2021, with nearly a hundred government delegations, 50 world leaders on the screen, many civil society actors, many members of various Parliaments, and the private sector. The President of the oldest democracy in the world, Mr Biden said in this context: ” Democracy doesn’t happen by accident. We have to renew it with each generation”. One of the organising officials also said: “And our hope is that through the entirety of this process, we can really have a dialogue between participating governments and civil society, and that the civil society will hold all of us accountable.” It is meant to call countries to take concrete commitments to reaffirm their democratic values by combating authoritarianism, fighting corruption and promoting human rights. Therein, the Indian Prime minister, Mr. Modi appeals to the companies to help preserve open and democratic societies; he fears that the emerging technologies are making the social media and crypto-currencies e escape the control of the state. He calls upon other governments to respect democracy in the global governance as well. But within India, the politicians in general and the bureaucracy in particular do not recognise any role for the civil societies in the governance; nor for the private sector. But, if you learn more closely about this Summit for Democracy, just held, you will realise that it is a few individuals and civil society organisations that have strongly persuaded Mr. Biden to hold this Summit. In Western liberal democracies, not only political people, the civil society actors also strongly influence the public affairs. The Indian intellectuals settled in the USA, the UK, Canada, etc. are freely and decisively influencing the policy-making, decision-making and their implementation.

The clear message of this Summit is that democracy ultimately means democratic behaviour and attitudes of all the members in the society, not only democratic measures by the political representatives of the government. Democracy is a process of social evolution for a better society and not a defined objective or a goal to be achieved by the political authority. Good Governance is more than a good and benevolent government.  

During 19th and 20th centuries, more social justice and social development took place in Western Europe but it cannot be attributed directly to the Representative system of democracy. It was largely due to the strong influence of socialist and Communist theories that prevailed at that time in the society. However, in general, democracy in all the countries meant only government by the peoples’ representatives. In application, this democratisation has not been a smooth historical process. In most of the countries, these representatives became in course time, once again kings or emperors or aristocrats or dictators or dynastic dictators or life-long presidents or prime ministers for the personal enjoyment of power and wealth. They are in politics to succeed in their personal power ambitions resulting in tremendous wastage of human energies and public funds for group rivalries, divisions, groupism, domination, violence and wars. The origin of most of the wars that are taking place among the states can be traced to the personal ambitions of a single or a few individuals in control of the government. There emerged a new class forming political parties, trying to dominate the society and to be superior to other members in the society. The Communist Party of China is at present the most successful example of this form of human domination and, yet, China calls itself the biggest people’s democracy in the world. In all states where the society is not democratic, the governance by the government cannot be democratic in a sustainable manner. They would become in practice majoritarian, irresponsible, unaccountable and would violate fundamental human rights with impunity. Absolute power has always been abused. During the past 60 years, 20% of the these sovereign states have been classified by the UN Agencies as ‘failed’ states; it means they are not functioning and the people are in anarchy.

We are facing many difficulties with modern state and its executive arm, the government which declares itself as sovereign and does accept any outside intervention in its socalled ‘internal affairs’. This is so particularly with the countries that have liberated themselves from colonisation, as they are very jealous about their total independence. But, the state sovereignty is failing morally and legally in its pretensions to be absolute. All the states, even after joining the United Nations Organisation have been freely exercising violence inside their country and are waging wars at their discretion against other states. The states are inter- dependent economically and militarily upon each other. They have to abide by international treaties. Many groups and individuals inside the country are able to successfully defy the state, thanks to modern technologies. During any man-made or natural disasters, like fire, floods, famine, or civil wars or conflicts, the states are not able to protect their citizens adequately. Thus, the states are not able to deliver upon what they promise.

In India, however, we have managed so far to continue to remain a formal and stable political democracy without periodic violent revolutions. This process is irreversible, though some are fearing a recent emergence of ‘majoritarian ethnic democracy’ in the place of the prevailing secular liberal democracy. It is largely due to the ethos of the vast masses of Indian people who by force of historical circumstances have been a society of physical, material and cultural diversity who have been living together in pacific co-existence for ages. Unlike our neighbour, we have never entertained any ambition of becoming One India, One Race, One Language and One Ideology or even One Religion. It is a regime of representatives and a liberal democracy, no doubt, but still not a peoples’ democracy.

At this juncture, in the absence of any global democratic power, who can control the governments, if not the people themselves ? Hence, the most important thing is that the entire society has to become democratic and thereupon its government will automatically become more democratic. But the political history of the world obliged us to start from the other end. Having done that, now, we have to imperatively proceed from a democratic state to a democratic society. To be a democratic society, we have to educate ourselves by trying to directly put into practice some values, such as, rule of law, equitable equality, free speech, free assembly, right to form associations, free social media, freedom to believe or not to believe, respect for fundamental human rights, universal social security system, access to Justice and, above all, a culture of peace for all. We have to see the world as one family. Only with individual commitment and responsibility of all citizens to face directly their conflict of interests and to resolve them peacefully by dialogue, one can become more democratic. It would be illogical to expect our representatives to make us democratic. Nor a democratic constitution alone cannot solve our problems. The balancing or separation of powers planned in many democratic constitutions is being tilted ultimately in favour of the politicians and the bureaucrats are claiming and retaining the power to do everything for the citizens.

Therefore, it is our top most priority to directly participate in all matters that concern us and to promote democratic values in every association and social institution. The active and productive forces in the society like the civil, social and professional associations should participate in the governance, even without being invited. They are often intertwined with economic actors in small, medium, national and multi-national enterprises. All residents should be able to participate directly and indirectly in the decision making, so that they would acquire democratic temperament and behaviour. Representatives of these actors should participate in decentralised governing mechanisms at all levels, from ward, municipal, state and Central governments, leading upto the UNO.

Rao VBJ Chelikani

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