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A ‘NEW’ DEMOCRACY?

Focus: GS-II Governance

Introduction

  • The ‘democracy’ that a major part of our world swears by comprises free and fair, multi-party, fixed-term elections based on universal adult franchise in its ideal state.
  • A contestant party winning the majority of votes represents the will of the electorate and gets to form the government; others sit in the opposition until the next election.

Complexity beyond simplicity

  • The ‘majority of votes’ actually boils down to the majority of seats in the legislature which, most of the time, comes riding a minority of votes. Rarely is a government formed backed by a majority of votes won in a free and fair election.
  • Besides the fact that this democracy is far from becoming universal even well into the 21st century, its own life history is just a tiny dot on the canvas of time: short of a hundred years.
  • Democracy did not come alone; its accoutrements included guaranteed individual rights and freedoms, free market economy, equality of all citizens, freedom of life and property, etc. — inviolable constituents of capitalism.
  • Elections created space for change of governments even as they guaranteed security against challenge to the regime; the challenge could arise only outside of it, through ‘revolutions’, which in turn had much contracted the space even for a change of government and none for a change of regime.
  • In the end, most ‘revolutions’ could not escape the dragnet of ‘democracy’, their existential as well as conceptual adversary.
  • One of democracy’s primary premises, free market, which ‘revolutions’ had sought to eradicate, is now under threat not from its adversary but from its own internal dynamics.
  • The unprecedented concentration of wealth at the top 1% around the world knocks the bottom out of competition in the market, so integral to its freedom.

The principle and the form

  • High concentration of wealth is getting to impact the system’s political functioning by replicating the process.
  • The hollowing out of this foundational principle of capitalism while retaining its form is also running parallel in the other freedoms, other constituents of ‘democracy’ by hollowing out the substance of even free and fair elections and individual freedoms while retaining the form.

Distortions Injected into the Electoral Process

  • Control and misuse of the institutions responsible for carrying out the process;
  • The creation of an atmosphere of delegitimisation of dissent or protest vis-à-vis the government by counter-posing the demands of unquestioning patriotism or nationalism to it;
  • Using the sentiment of patriotism to circumscribe the dispensation of fair justice;
  • The control of the flow of information through the ‘independent’ media;
  • Setting up of professionally organised mechanisms for creating and propagating fake news;
  • Creating and promoting hatred between communities of people through patronising identity politics and using frenzy in lieu of reason as a mobiliser of votes;
  • Meting out the harshest treatment to the most prominent dissenting voices by lodging them in prison on fake charges.

A global scenario

  • If this concentration of wealth and political power was the case with one country or society, it could easily be attributed to specific local conditions; but this looks like a more generalised, global scenario: in the U.S., China, Russia, India, Brazil, Hungary, Turkey and elsewhere.
  • Clearly then, we are witnessing the transformation of the regime of democracy, a systemic transformation from within, from one that had brought us the promise of liberté, egalité, fraternité political, social and economic, to its very opposite: the highest concentration of economic, political and therefore social powers ever in history.

-Source: The Hindu

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October 2022
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