DEMOCRACY AND ITS STRUCTURAL SLIPPAGES

  • The democracy that is functional around the world today — even as it has a long history of evolution — was essentially a 19th century to 20th century western creation.
  • Every civilisation, of course, claims to have had some form of democratic origin. But the institution of universal adult franchise and governance through regular and multi-party elections (the universal norm today) has at the most a 100 years or less of practice behind it.
  • Even in the most “advanced” democracies such as the United States, “universal franchise” of the 1920s did not include African-American citizens.
  • In Britain, women obtained the right to vote in the 1930s, in France in 1944, and in Switzerland as late as 1971, over two decades after their Indian sisters.

Devolution and capitalism

  • Basic to democracy is the devolution of power, and with it, welfare from the elite echelons to the ground level.
  • Devolution occurs on the premise of the individual and equality. In practice, is there a good record for these principles
  • If one is to go by the long view of history, the answer is ‘yes, most effectively’. The near-universal abolition of autocratic monarchies and hereditary aristocracies and their replacement by governance through popular mandate (with exceptions) and the spread of economic resources, infrastructure, education, health, etc.
  • to the masses, with all their shortcomings and lacunae, call for acknowledgment even as the demand for these grows every day, constantly, and legitimately.
  • Yet, there is an unbreakable link between the wide spread of this devolution and capitalism.
  • In capitalism’s basic requirement to seek freedom for resources such as land, labour, and movement from the autocratic restraints of medieval monarchies, the notions of the individual’s rights and equality evolved, culminating in the notion of a free market for every kind of resource mobilisation, including labour.
  • It also implied a great deal of uniformity.
  • It is important to note that human history has been witness to several experiences of equality, mostly in its religious form: non-theistic Buddhism and monotheistic religions such as Christianity, Islam and Sikhism were proponents of social equality.
  • However, equality here demanded the subjugation of the individual to the community or society.
  • Clearly, humanity’s urge for equality has erupted over and over again in different parts of the world at different times; it was the same urge that had led to the most recent experiment of Marxian socialism in about a third of the globe and a large chunk of the population.
  • However, it is equally important to note that no egalitarian ideology has ever been able to create an egalitarian society.
  • What it does is to reshuffle existing social hierarchies and create some space for the upward movement of the lower rungs.
  • But the urge for equality has found diverse ways to seek utterance. Its current urge seeks to establish uniformity through the same or similar institutions and practices.
  • The uniformity takes the form of periodic multi-party “free and fair” elections and guarantees of various kinds of freedoms, especially of the market.
  • The elections are a means of self-correction of government policies and actions.

SOURCE: THE HINDU, THE ECONOMIC TIMES, PIB

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