When does democracy transition into dictatorship?
Many intellectual papers have been written about it and debated upon, but still, large swathes of the populace get charmed by a stalwart leader, who breaks through all the barriers and gives them hope and pleads absolute loyalty.
As American playwright, Sam Shepard has rightfully said, “Democracy is a very fragile thing. You have to take care of democracy. As soon as you stop being responsible for it and allow it to turn into scare tactics, it’s no longer democracy, is it? It’s something else. It may be an inch away from totalitarianism.”
The world has been relatively peaceful after World War II, barring few wars and insurgencies. But the peace seems to have eroded values and morals that hold up a democracy, in essence, a republic. Stalwart leaders, in the guise of politicians, have emerged in various parts of the world rallying thousands and thousands behind them. If anyone looks carefully, all these demagogues have certain similar traits.
First is a fashion to associate themselves with superlatives. A powerful image is only justified in the eyes of the masses if the projected image is “all-powerful”. They promise to build the biggest, tallest and broadest of everything. But is it required? In the past, when kings invaded a new territory, they often built a new town or temple. This is their foot-mark in history, which is revered upon by generations to come (only to be reminded of the glorious past). Can a single action of superlative signify a person’s rule, or is it the many small contributions that they have made for the prosperity of generations to come?
The second association is with religion—just like the kings of the past who ruled mortal lands as vassals of God. As they cannot promise a better present or future, socially and economically, they rekindle the past and often flame them with controversial statements and conservative mentality.
Conservative mentality in itself is not a menace, but arming yourself and suppressing aspirations of many so as to give precedence to your own interests is a grave sin. The great Chanakya in his book Arthashastra has described the true qualities of a king, but it has been buried deep in forgotten pages of history.
The third characteristic is the blatant violation of free speech. Media freedom and freedom of speech will be silenced, first covertly but then overtly. This can be done in various ways and can be seen today in many parts of the world. Jailing dissident journalists, raiding media houses, bureaucratic hurdles, these are some of the many tools utilized.
Why is it so? Kings often are not tolerant of any views that oppose their own line of thought. But today, most countries are not living under a monarchy. In a republic, a leader is elected by the people, for the people and the media is often called the 4th pillar of democracy.
A divisive politician will always target the media, and if he succeeds in doing so, it will be the first sign of deterioration of democracy. It’s time for us all to introspect and realise that only peace and harmony can bring about “a glorious future”.
Whatever be the case, the future is something that we should invest in. Only the seeds of a hopeful future can be the fertilizer for a democracy. But in the pursuit of future, past should not be disregarded but viewed as a lesson to avoid any similar mistakes.
But it’s not something that should have precedence. We need to realise that we can utilize all the resources fully, disregarding caste, creed, religion or ethnicity—only the spirit of brotherhood fosters in everyone’s mind. To attain such a future, the present we live in should be harmonious and realistic, rational and democratic leaders in their true spirit should come forward.