Democracy in the East
Democracy is regarded as the best existing political systems. The reason is that it empowers the governed to decide how and by whom they will be governed. If they do not like the nature of governance and persons who govern the country, they can change them and give the reigns of power to others.
Democracy is regarded as the best existing political systems. The reason is that it empowers the governed to decide how and by whom they will be governed. If they do not like the nature of governance and persons who govern the country, they can change them and give the reigns of power to others. In a nutshell, the decision making process is based on the will of the masses and the power of governance rests in their hands. Academically, it sounds good because, according to social and political theories of the principles of human rights the governed should have a say in governance.
Democracy, in one or the other way, fulfils this criterion, involves the masses in the political system, and enables them to decide their future and the direction of their lives. It is, perhaps by this view, said that ‘democracy is the government of the people, for the people and by the people’. It is, of course, very soothing, satisfies the egos of the people and places them in a unique euphoric condition and enables them to see charming dreams of their better future as well as of the betterment of humanity as a whole. It is the bright side of democracy but it also has another side which is, of course, very dark. The naked truth is that it is a two-edged sword; if left in the hands of a mature, responsible and wise person, he will protect himself as well as his brethren, fight for just causes and eliminate those who are the enemies of humanity. If it is left in the hands of an immature, irresponsible, ignorant and self-interested person, he will cut his own throat and endanger the lives of other fellow beings. We witness this situation in Eastern and third-world societies.
Democracy, in fact, requires discipline, political acumen and a distinct cult by which people may understand the value and worth of their right of choice and its exercise in an adequate way. They should think of the interests of the nation, of the masses and of the system as a whole. They should not be moved by the temptation of money and privileges given to them or by the sentiment of primordial loyalty or group affiliation aroused in them in order to win their support. If they succeed in manifesting this attitude and restraining their desires and ambitions for some kind of material gain, they can deliver the goods.
Moreover, the masses must have social, political and economic freedom so that they can exercise their franchise according to their conscience without any fear or threat. If people in an area live under the domination of a person or group, they cannot exercise their right independently rather than act on the dictates of others. Similarly, if the subsistence of people depends upon others they will abide by the will and order of those who control their subsistence. It is also necessary that people should feel secure; they should be under tight security so that nobody could harm and damage their lives and property. These are the few conditions which facilitate the operation of democracy in the true sense. Democracy is meaningless in a society which is devoid of these conditions.
Notwithstanding, democracy is the costliest political system. The representatives whom people send to different political bodies to safeguard their interests get lucrative salaries, perks and privileges. Further, they pressurise the administration to get different kinds of benefits and privileges and to give them to their group and supporters. Sometimes they use illegal means to acquire property and extend their influence and domination over the area which they represent. They are often actively engaged in political maneuvering to get the key position in the governance. In this context, they do not even hesitate to cross the floor and change political parties. In fact, they safeguard their own interests and the interests of their group. The welfare of the masses and the nation lags far behind. The democratic government gives a handsome amount of money to the public representatives apart from their salaries and perks for the development of their areas. A major part of that money goes into their pockets. They give contracts to their kith and kin or their supporters who give the lion’s share to them and spend very meagre amounts on development work. At the end of the day, their pockets are full to bursting. In a poor country where a considerable number of people are below the poverty line, and their standard of living is poor, the democratic system is just an extravagance. It is a heavy burden on the exchequer. It can be tolerated if the political elite works within democratic limits, maintains political ethics and gives priority to the national interests and welfare of the masses, but we seldom find such instances. The devastating impact of the democratic scenario in the East is that people think that the only easiest way to earn money and enjoy social and economic privileges is to get access to the political structure. As a matter of fact, they organise people on the basis of tribal, caste, regional and religious loyalties rather than on any ideology or political mandate. The result is that various groups, subgroups, cliques, and factions emerge, and present various demands to the establishment. They fan the flames of communal, tribal and religious sentiments to polarise the masses along these lines. They misuse religion and exploit the sentiments of the people to win over their support. Society, at the end of the day, is divided into columns and rows which sling mud at, and often come into conflict, with each other. This trend creates hatred among the people and ultimately hampers national unity.
In the electioneering process large numbers of candidates contest the election among whom the number of independent candidates is quite high. The result is that votes are divided and with only 30 per cent of the votes, or even less than that, a candidate wins the election but does not enjoy the confidence of the majority of the people who are dissatisfied and express their dissatisfaction in different ways, sometimes mildly and sometimes wildly. This creates unnecessary disruptions in society.
The ruling group adopts different strategies and tactics not in tune with political ethics and the democratic spirit to win the favour of the masses. Sometimes it distributes money and privileges, sometimes hires musclemen, and sometimes influences the election machinery to tilt the voting in its favour. The ruling group has resources and has also a hold over the mass media which always project a convincing image of the group and give the impression that this is the only group that can deliver the goods to the masses. Once a president of a country won the election by ninety-nine per cent of votes; even then, he was not satisfied and complained that he could not secure one hundred per cent of votes. It is possible in such democracies. Furthermore, the people of the East are emotional; they are easily influenced by emotional appeals. Political men are fully aware of this weakness and they often exploit it by arousing up primordial sentiments among the masses.
The role of the opposition is not constructive either. It thinks its duty is to oppose all the acts, good or bad, of the ruling group. It does not come to terms with the victory of the ruling group and always creates problems in the smooth functioning of the legislature. Sometimes it does not maintain decorum, exhibits ungraceful behaviour and creates a fuss in the legislative bodies. It often organizes agitation, demonstrations, strikes and hunger strikes to remain in the limelight. It motivates and incites the public, particularly students, youngsters and women, to take part in agitation and disruptive activities, highlights the weaknesses and shortcomings of the administration and the ruling group, and mobilizes public opinion. Sometimes it confronts the administrative machinery particularly, the police and forces it to use force. When this happens, the opposition makes a great hue and cry and gives the impression that the ruling group is curbing the popular voice of the people, is terrorizing the public and, thus, has no sympathy with them. This is against public interest. Thus, as Robert A. Dahl views “the problem of democratic pluralism is serious, however, precisely because independent organizations are highly desirable and at the same time their independence allows them to do harm”.
In the West, democracy emerged due to the political consciousness of the people. They experienced the highhandedness of the ruling group and its disinterest in public needs and aspirations. The social thinkers and intellectuals highlighted the miserable social condition and pointed out how the suffering masses could get rid of the ailing system as well as of the ruling elite. Their efforts bore fruit and developed a new awakening among the masses who realised the need for a transformation of the system of domination into that of mutual controls. They understood that the only way out was to make the political system more efficacious. Besides, the West took a considerable time to practise democracy and develop democratic traits among the masses. In societies which are highly segmented and where tribal and primordial loyalties are very strong without political awareness, political socialization, and a sense of commitment to the welfare of the masses, how will democracy operate?
The West lays great stress on introducing democracy in the third world societies without creating the conditions conducive to it. Most of the people there live in villages which are characterized by the landlord system, the bounded system and strong tribal ties. In these societies, tribal groups have their own judiciary, own administrative machinery and even have their own army equipped with weapons. They often confront the national government and use force. They want to retain their supremacy and do not tolerate any interference in their social lives. The extreme is that they punish a woman by mass-rape because she has married a man outside the tribe. People of the villages are under their control because their subsistence depends upon landlords and tribal heads. In such societies, how democracy will work, I do not understand. If one wants their votes, one should contact the landlords and tribal heads, give them some kind of privilege and benefit and one will get the votes of all the villagers. It is difficult, even for educated persons, to rise above their tribal and regional ties and think in broad terms, in terms of nation, in terms of the welfare of the masses.
However, if democracy is to be introduced in these societies, some drastic reform is necessary in the social and political systems. Here, I suggest some reforms which should be considered by intellectuals and reformers.
There is a need for drastic change in the land holding system. There should be a limit in land holding and nobody will be allowed to have more than that limit. The rest of the land should be distributed among landless workers. All lands should be under the control of the government and the landholders should pay revenue directly to the government. There should not be any intermediary. Landlords and the bounded system should be abolished. A worker should have the freedom to work any where according to his choice.
Tribal ascendancy must be abolished. They should not be allowed to operate their own judicial, administrative and army set up. All must be governed by the law of the country. All persons, irrespective of their position and status, who violate the law of the country, take law and order into their own hands, interfere in governmental work and use force against the law enforcing machinery, must be severely dealt with.
3. In schools and colleges there should be a course relating to political awakening, the importance of the nation, political participation and human values as well as the true spirit of religion.
In electioneering, political parties directly contest the election. They should directly seek the will of the people according to their manifestos. They should not nominate individuals to contest the election on their behalf. Thus, people should cast their votes in favour of political parties rather than individuals. On the basis of the percentage of votes, political parties can nominate candidates whom they think are competent to carry out the party’s work.
5. There should be a code of conduct which should be strictly followed by all parties. No one should be allowed to sling mud at others, spread hatred among people, and arouse communal and tribal sentiments. They can criticise others on the basis of manifesto.
A party which gets at least sixty percent of votes should form the government. It should concentrate on the developmental work and the welfare of the masses irrespective of party or group affiliation. It should also invite members of the opposition to participate in crucial bodies and forums and take their advice on crucial matters.
Public representatives should not influence the administrative machinery to get undue privilege and advantage. The government should develop a special mechanism or set up a special committee to preserve and maintain the sanctity of the administration. The administrative officers must work within the parameters of the administration and according to the policies of the government. There must be transparency in administrative decisions. Corrupt officers must be eliminated.
8. The public representatives should not be given any amount for development.
They can identify the types of work which should be undertaken in order to develop a particular region or area. The work should be carried out by the department concerned which should be accountable to respective bodies formed for this purpose.
In case a developmental amount is given to the public representatives, they should prepare the account verified by a Chartered Accountant and distribute it to public so that they should know how genuine the work was.
10. Public representatives who are found guilty of corruption, unlawful and immoral acts should be dismissed by the party concerned and should not be allowed to take part in political activities.