A democracy must have political parties, fair elections, and a government for a fixed tenure. Well, with all honesty, our country has all of that. In fact, the Election Commission of India has seen some of the most efficient and brave officers like TN Seshan. But what about the ‘rule of law’? The arbitrary use of power in India has, in real life, no restrictions. If a leader or a bureaucrat decides to turn authoritative or play truant someday, Indian citizens have very limited means to hold him accountable for his actions.
Laws such as UAPA and sedition are used to crush any dissent in Indian ‘democracy’.
So, is India a true democracy? Let us search for an answer.
‘Democracy’ is one of those words of our times that are often used but seldom talked about. The word came into being during ancient times in Greece, especially the city of Athens. It denotes a particular type of political system at the heart of which lie, the citizens. The citizens choose a group of people who take all the decisions on their behalf. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Democracy is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people“, no definition can be more straightforward.
‘true’ democracy has space for dissent, protests, and disagreements. It gives everyone a fair chance to fight for justice in the courts. Very well. Indian constitution gives freedom to its citizens to do that under Article 19 and protects their life and liberty under Article 21. But in reality, the protests get stifled by the application of Section 144 of the IPC and when that is not enough, individuals are charged under draconian provisions like UAPA and Sedition. A recent example of climate-activist Disha Ravi is a case in point. The encounter of gangster Vikas Dubey and the cloud of suspicion over its execution, also brought the faith of people in the Indian administrative and judicial framework, to a new low.
In a ‘true’ democracy, the citizens must have control over the money they have given out in the form of taxes. On papers, it is indirectly true in India. But in reality, not many people will be astonished to hear that a common man does not have any control over how the government spends its funds. The annual statement or the budget as we call it has as little participation of a common man as Shakespeare had in writing Great Expectations. Funds like PM CARES are conveniently put behind the dark curtains of anonymity. Is there anything substantial that we can do about it? You know the answer.
After all this, where should a citizen go to find justice and some solace? Judiciary? Well yes, theoretically judiciary is the ‘protector’ of our constitution. But when a former Chief Justice is given a seat in the Upper House of the parliament, fading the lines of ‘separation of powers between the three pillars of Executive, Legislature and Judiciary.‘ The theory goes back to being just that, theory. An incident was made famous by the AITMC MP Mahua Moitra recently, where the former Chief Justice of India, himself passed the judgment in a case where he was the accused. It violated the fundamental principle of ‘Nemo judex in causa sua’ meaning ‘no-one is a judge in his own cause’. So much for a ‘true’ democracy.
Of course, we console ourselves by saying that we have our ‘duties’ and responsibilities too. And maybe, in an Orwellian world, the fault is in the citizens and not the ruling class. Perhaps at some point in time, we all will believe that we have ‘too much democracy’. But right now, the answer to the question, ‘Is India a True Democracy today?’ eludes me. If you find the answer somewhere, please post it to my address. I will not mind an email too.