Why An Inefficient Democracy Is Still Better Than ‘Good Dictatorship’

Posted by Zulfikar Manto in Society
December 7, 2016

When notes of ₹500 and ₹1000 were demonetised on November 8 this year, the first question everyone asked was whether or not this was a good step. People argued whether the decision was a practical and a potentially effective one. The opposition’s criticism included multiple reasons for its ineffectiveness and how the decision affected the common man. The proponents of the move have lauded the Prime Minister for making a bold and selfless move and also appreciated how this decision was kept a secret even from the top leaders of the BJP (people have expressed their suspicions about the same).

Amidst all the chaos, a crucial question was quietly brushed under the carpet, the question of whether the Prime Minister alone should be allowed to take such a major step.

The above question has been given more thought after the controversial Supreme Court judgement that mandates the playing of the national anthem before every movie in a cinema hall. After a short discussion on whether it took nationalism too far, or whether fundamental duties should be imposed on people, we did come to question whether the courts should be able to impose such a judgement, in the first place.

For a lot of people, it didn’t matter because they thought the decision was ‘correct’ and this is where the problem lies. This was the same problem I had when we voted a single party to power with a full majority also meant that after almost two decades, we no longer had a coalition government. What people saw as a sign of political stability, was probably the start of something terrible, which we might not see till it is too late.

Totalitarian regimes look good to people as long as they are benevolent, or in their favour. What they don’t realise is once a totalitarian regime is in power, there is no going back. It can go from being benevolent to oppressive the day it chooses to. Such regimes can be more efficient, can be better for the economy, can be better administrators and more importantly, more benevolent or even fair to you and the community, but democracy will always have the upper hand because it is, after all, a democracy.

Democracy might be inefficient at times, but it has the utmost regard for procedure, which ensures fair decisions in the longer run. Since power is not concentrated in a few hands, personal biases are hopefully eliminated, and people are elected to positions of power in a fair manner and this is how everyone gets to exercise their share of authority in the decision-making process.

In a totalitarian regime that is efficient and fair and has absolute power, how do you ensure that the ruler continues to remain so? How will you ensure that the rulers after them do not turn tyrannous?

After the Supreme Court judgement concerns have been raised on whether the courts should be able to mandate or forbid something that does not affect the fundamental rights of any individual.

Similarly for the decision to demonetise notes of higher denominations, one must ask if the government should be allowed to demonetise 86% of the total volume of currency in an economy, at its own will? Even if it can, should such a decision be allowed to be taken overnight? We should ask what lessons, if any, have we learnt from the painful experience of emergency during Indira Gandhi’s time? All of these questions should be asked whether or not you support the decisions, because a dictatorship, however good, cannot match a democracy.