We are living in times of churn these days. Humans passed through such times during the great American, French, Industrial and Russian revolutions and in the enlightenment era. We as a specie went through radical transformation in our thinking, world views and our ways of life. Thinkers, philosophers, economists and other intellectuals went about devising new theories to explain the changes in human behavior, political-economic structure and society at large. Ever since, the society remained more or less stagnant with the established norms with little variation here and there. In those centuries of human churning, “democracy” as a principle came into being as an established concept of political correctness and way of life.
It is to worth noting here that although the concept of democracy did exist in some form in ancient Greece and even in the Sabhas of ancient India, democracy as we know it in the present form was the result of the Enlightenment era and the great revolutions mentioned earlier. Although developed in the west, they had been living with great contradictions as pertaining to democracy during the era of colonial imperialism. However, they did try to justify their colonial rule in the name of democracy. They considered civilizing the orient people as the “white man’s burden”. These contradictions couldn’t be shouldered forever and after the Second World War, with alliances formed around the world for freedom and human rights, gradually the Western powers left their colonies. We finally reached the stage of post colonialism. But then, the newly freed countries got entangled with the alignments of the Cold War with the exception of the “Non Aligned” countries, of which India was a leader. The small, newly freed, poor and powerless countries were subsumed either into the Socialist Camp or the Capitalist Camp, both claiming to be the cardholders of people’s rights and democracies.
However, both the camps only had features of democracy within themselves, but were not democratic in the truest sense of the word. The degree of democracy, although varied, with the capitalist camp having the upper hand. Liberty, freedom of choice and non-state interference was propagated by the capitalist camp and redistribution and equality in the ownership of assets was propagated by the socialist camp.
With the end of the Cold War after the collapse of the Soviet Union and bringing down the Berlin Wall in 1989-90, the world at large believed in the triumph of the liberal values of free thinking and democracy, so much so, that pre-eminent political scientist Francis Fukuyama called it the end of history.
Ever since the famous Lincoln quotation “By the people, of the people, for the people”, we tend to think of democracy within the realm of politics and government. Therefore, we tend to think of voting in an election as an end in itself of our democratic responsibilities. Unfortunately, it is not so. Democracy is a way of life. In life, we are firstly individuals, then we are a part of a family, then of the society and finally we are political beings. So as individuals we must have a democratic mind, like not prejudging anybody, not closing the doors of our mind for a new thinking, preventing conservative thinking etc. As a member of a family, we should encourage democratic way of life within the family, like, everybody should have a say in the family budget, everybody should be allowed to pursue a career of one’s choice within the economic means, everybody should be allowed one’s privacy, everybody should be allowed their way of life, the bread earners should be non dictatorial, everybody should be allowed to make their own life decisions like marriage, divorce, family planning etc. As members of the society, we shouldn’t be biased against or for any particular community, linguistic, regional or ethnic group, cultural and religious festivals of every community shall be celebrated with equal zeal, nobody shall be bullied or threatened to speak his or her mind and values like multiculturalism, liberalism and universalism shall be encouraged.
Only when we as individuals, as members of family and society encourage the democratic ways of life in the spaces that we occupy, can we become democratic political beings. As political democrats, we then have to fulfill our responsibilities of an active citizenry of voting in elections and then questioning our representatives to fulfill their election promises. This will built a vibrant political culture and the forces of democracy thus unleashed will make human lives better.
Finally, I would like to conclude by saying that democracy is not a panacea of all evils, but it is better than any system devised thus far in human history. Also, any problem that is not being cured by democracy can only be cured by enthusing even greater degrees of democracy.