The world order crippling every passing day during the COVID-19 pandemic has raised several questions. Nothing can indeed withstand the eternity of time. Everything that has glory today will fade tomorrow in the face of the earth. Even though democracy has been considered the best form of government in modern times but the dilemmas of democracy have troubled the masses ever since its inception.
Jean-Jacques Rosseau wrote in ‘The Social Contract’, “If there were a nation of Gods, it would govern itself democratically. A government so perfect is not suited to men”.
In the current situation, the world is not only fighting a deathly disease and climate change but also fighting their incompetent and inefficient governments. U.S.A, Lebanon, Belarus and Brazil are the glaring paradigms of the breakdown of democracy during COVID 19.
On 26th May 2020, hundreds of protestors in Minneapolis took to the streets in the response of George Floyd’s death. George Floyd’s death sparked the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement all over the world. The anti-racism movement in the USA has got a rallying cry of support from around the world. The pandemic has been changing people’s perspectives with every passing day. The U.S. protest was further fueled by President Donald Trump’s lack of empathy towards the incident.
Moreover, he had tweeted “LAW AND ORDER” dozen times when the anti-racism protest was going on which showed his sympathies with the police over protestors. The U.S. protest has led to the removal of statues of slave traders in the U.K. too.
LAW & ORDER!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2020
Police brutality has always existed but COVID-19 has awakened a demand from the masses for police reforms. The faults of democracy came to limelight once again during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the Beirut blast which killed 178 people and an estimated 300,000 people were left homeless by the blast. The reason for the blast was 2750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored unsafely at a warehouse in the port.
The Lebanese people took to the streets to demand proper investigation of the callous behaviour higher authorities. As a result of this, the government led by Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned. The government came to power on January after replacing previous government amid nationwide protests when Lebanon’s currency fell. However, the people were demanding proper investigation instead of the government’s resignation.
The thread continues with Belarus. Belarus saw the largest pro-democracy protest in its history one week after President Alexander Lukashenko was re-elected which extended his 26-year rule. Around 6700 people were detained ever since the protest erupted. The protest is not just limited to citizens; at least a dozen Belarussian Police Officers have resigned and strikes have been held in the state-owned enterprises where thousands have refused to return to their work.
Parallelly, there have been protests against Brazil’s far-right President. Hundreds of indigenous women occupied a building of Brazil’s health ministry in Brasilia to demand better healthcare facilities for indigenous people, especially women. Members of the Kayapo tribe wearing their traditional attire blocked a main highway through the Amazon to demand help against coronavirus and an end to the deforestation of the rainforest.
According to Brazil’s National State Research Institute, deforestation in the Amazon forest soared more than 88% in June compared to one year ago. Protests against President Jair Bolsonaro has been going on for a long time. In June, there was a protest against him because the government stopped publishing death tolls of COVID 19 patients.
The major threat that democracy possesses is the establishment of a totalitarian government under fascist leaders such as Hitler and Mussolini. The direction of the country’s affair is based on the leader and their ideology in a fascist government. Hitler’s Nazism and Mussolini’s fascism were based on irrationalism and glorification of the past. The dictator often uses majoritarianism to dominate the minority groups.
Anthony Downs’ ‘An Economic Theory of Democracy’ (1957) explained the electoral process with the help of the economic process. He thought in the democratic election process, politicians act as entrepreneurs and voters act like consumers whose preference is based on which party’s policies will benefit them. Due to this, the political parties often frame their policies to appeal to the majority of the voters and as a result, minority communities’ issues are often unaddressed. However, Down’s theory has its criticisms too.
The breakdown of democracy during COVID-19 reflects the vices of democracy. The COVID-19 pandemic has awakened the masses to some extent to demand a fairer and inclusive society for the minority. The absolute authority of the leader and neglect of minority rights is reflected in the above examples.
Impartial journalism, constructive criticism, representation of minority groups, independent judiciary and avoiding idol worshipping of leaders are very necessary for the maintenance of democracy. Idol worshipping or hero-worshipping of leaders can bring destruction to any healthy democracy.
I would like to quote Dr B.R. Ambedkar from the Constitutional Assembly debates to explain it more vividly, “The second thing we must do is to observe the caution which John Stuart Mill has given to all who are interested in the maintenance of democracy, namely, not ‘to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with the power which enables him to subvert their institutions’.
There is nothing wrong in being grateful to great men who have rendered life-long services to the country. But there are limits to gratefulness.
For in India, bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world. Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship….”
Democracy is a very fragile form of government. If people following democracy don’t uphold the measures to curb its dilemmas, then it will soon fall prey to the villainy of democracy. Mass participation of people and far-sighted and reasonable leaders is very important to make a country’s democracy successful.
Most important of all, the representatives of the people should be made accountable through constructive criticism and proper political analysis of their policies; however, to make these possible countries following democratic form of government should undertake the herculean task of educating its citizens on voting rights, the constitution of the country, their rights which fall under the purview of law and laws which violate their fundamental rights.