While penning this blog, I am frequently reminded of my school days, when in one of the chapters of my social science textbooks, I came across a description of the different forms of government in a country, which, quite succinctly referred to democracy as a form of governance, that is ‘of the people, by the people and for the people’. That was almost three decades ago. A lot of things on the global socio-political landscape have transpired since then, making the above definition obsolete, by making it synonymous with a form of government that is only ‘of and by the people’, and definitely not ‘for the people’. In between, the world has witnessed the World Trade Center attacks of 2001, the Gujarat massacre of 2002, the Iraq War of 2003, the global financial meltdown of 2008-2009, the frequently happening Israel-Palestine face-offs and the recent social unrest in Libya and Syria. Even though, out of all the countries involved in these world transforming developments, only a few of them are pure democracies, still, the concerned incidents have been triggered by eminent policy and decision-makers occupying responsible positions as part of the new world order in these economies. This state of affairs persuades us to question the safety and appropriateness of democracy, or ‘peoples’ rule’ in countries where it prevails for the benefit of the society at large, The current blog tries arguing, why democracy may not be the most suitable form of government, by throwing light upon some of its deep-rooted ills and vices.
One of the most self-damaging and inseparable features of modern day democracy is ‘populism’, which is derived from the Latin term ‘populus’, that means ‘people’. Hence, it is strongly connected to democracy which, as mentioned earlier is all about peoples’ rule. Though, present in all democratic systems worldwide, it wields its most profound influence on those political systems which undergo an institutional transition, with some of its anti-democratic and salient features being, “hostility to representative democracy, lack of core values, chameleonic tendencies, reactive rather than a proactive approach towards extreme crisis, and a self-limiting quality” (Populism – a threat 2009). The viciousness of this political ideology is visible as a “wavelike diffusion of political-regime contention across European and Latin American countries” (Weyland, 2013), where the populist leaders like Carlos Saul Menem, Alberto Fujimori and the late Venezualan President Hugo Chavez, smitten by the desire to win by establishing direct face-to-face contact with the public - a populist modus operandi of displaying “personalistic charismatic leadership that thrives on quasi-direct links to a loosely organized mass of heterogenous followers” (Weyland, 2013) often exerted state power through the propagation of “pluralism, open debate and fair competition” (Weyland 2013, 20), and in the process bypassed intermediate institutions like firmly organised parties. Consequently, their unsatiated political ambitions ended up weakening constitutional checks, while undermining the institutional protections against the misuse of power and led to political hegemony.
Another weakness of the contemporary democratic setup lies in its inability to combat the deep and inerasable racial, ethnic, religious and linguistic social divisions examined by Glazer (2010) in a comparative study of India, United States and Canada. These fractions take different forms in all these countries, with India jaundiced by grave levels of casteism, and communal frenzy rife with language differences, the United States often globally criticised for not being able to guarantee equal rights for Blacks and Whites, and Canada popular for its “Francophonic and Anglophonic divisions” (Glazer, 2010). The results of the investigation reveal that out of all the three nations only Canadian democracy has been mostly successful in dealing with its great social divide given an improved socio-economic equality attained by the French-speaking Quebec population and a decline in violence between the Francophines and Anglophones. On the other hand, despite being the world’s two largest democracies, both India and United States have failed miserably in attaining the desired democratic success. While the United States still bears the deep scars of the history’s biggest traumatic event it underwent in the form of a Civil War that, after a great deal of bloodshed could only achieve institutional and not economic equality for African-Americans, India, on the other hand, is still reeling under the age-old casteism, especially in remote rural areas, despite an official constitutional ban on it. Finally, the country continues struggling with low education, high unemployment and low income rates among Muslims, “along with a constantly looming threat of mass assualt on their communities” (Glazer, 2010), as already proved in the recent past by the infamous Godhra riots of Gujarat in 2002.
The above discussion reveals the over-ambitious nature of man, and the havoc it can play when combined with unlimited power and authority, in the form of selfish behavior and actions purely driven by his fancies and whims. It also portrays how a democratic setup, though, initially conceptualised as a form of government to put the interests of people - the building blocks of any nation over everything else, can add fuel to the fire, if it falls into the wrong hands. Thus, putting a big question mark on the overall effectiveness of democracy as a form of government.