Before coming to the topic, let’s first understand what ‘democracy’ means. Democracy, or democratic government, is “a system of government in which all the people of a state or polity … are involved in making decisions about its affairs, typically by voting to elect representatives to a parliament or similar assembly,” as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary. Democracy is further defined as (a:) “government by the people; especially : rule of the majority (b:) ” a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”
Now, democracy has its own positives, such as, protection of people, accountability, promotion of feeling of duty and obligation towards the common good, sense of involvement, scope of policy change, imposition of equality, non-concentration of power, expected higher level of transparency, etc. But in a country like India, it fails to achieve its goals. Why? I am making fifteen points in bulleted-form below:
- Inefficiency– Economists like Milton Friedman have strongly criticized the efficiency of democracy. They base this on their premise of the irrational voter. Their argument is that voters are highly uninformed about many political issues, especially relating to economics, and have a strong bias about the few issues on which they are fairly knowledgeable. A common example often quoted to substantiate this point is the high economic development achieved by China (a non-democratic country) as compared to India (a democratic country).
- Poor Leadership– In a democracy, the ultimate power lies with the people. This becomes a problem whenever people are uneducated on major issues or do not take the time to investigate candidates and arguments thoroughly. Also, people are prone to making emotional decisions which may be the wrong one.
- Vested interest of voters– This can be understood by taking the recent example of OROP (One Rank One Pension). Although the previous governments never cared to implement it, no one made a fuss, but now that the Central Govt. has put it into action (with some short-comings that can only be studied properly and removed after a few years of implementation), a group of ex-soldiers are creating ruckus and returning their medals as a mark of protest. This has been taken as an opportunity by parties such as AAP and INC to malign the Modi govt. and I am sure that this will heavily affect the upcoming Punjab elections.
- Popular rule as a facade– The 20th-century Italian thinkers Vilfredo Pareto and Gaetano Mosca (independently) argued that democracy was illusory, and served only to mask the reality of elite rule. Indeed, they argued that elite oligarchy is the unbendable law of human nature, due largely to the apathy and division of the masses (as opposed to the drive, initiative and unity of the elites), and that democratic institutions would do no more than shift the exercise of power from oppression to manipulation. Take for example, the case of India since Independence, where most of the times, a single family ruled the country in the name of democracy. One can find politics being passed through generations in every political party. In fact, Indian democracy is more like a mix of oligarchy and monarchy.
- Mob rule– One big downside to democracy is the possibility that mobs will still have influence. Though the public is the one doing the voting, mobs can still influence the voters’ decisions. Here we can add the role of opinion leaders belonging to different sections of the society.
- Political instability– More recently, democracy is criticized for not offering enough political stability. As governments are frequently elected on and off there tends to be frequent changes in the policies of democratic countries both domestically and internationally. Even if a political party maintains power, vociferous, headline grabbing protests and harsh criticism from the mass media are often enough to force sudden, unexpected political change. Frequent policy changes with regard to business and immigration are likely to deter investment and so hinder economic growth. For this reason, many people have put forward the idea that democracy is undesirable for a developing country like India, in which economic growth and the reduction of poverty are top priorities. The opportunist alliance not only has the handicap of having to cater to too many ideologically opposing factions, but it is usually short lived since any perceived or actual imbalance in the treatment of coalition partners, or changes to leadership in the coalition partners themselves, can very easily result in the coalition partner withdrawing its support from the government. At this point, the statement made by ex-PM Dr. Manmohan Singh regarding the ‘coalition dharma’ and his inability to take action against his coalition parties indulged in scams comes to mind.
- Fraudulent election– In representative democracies, it may not benefit incumbents to conduct fair elections. A study showed that incumbents who rig elections stay in office 2.5 times as long as those who permit fair elections. Democracies in countries with high per -capita income have been found to be less prone to violence, but in countries with low incomes the tendency is the reverse. Election misconduct is more likely in countries with low per-capita incomes, small populations, rich in natural resources, and a lack of institutional checks and balances. India and Sub-Saharan countries, all tend to falls into that category.Governments that have frequent elections tend to have significantly more stable economic policies than those governments who have infrequent elections. However, this trend does not apply to governments where fraudulent elections are common. In India, one can easily notice how the model code of conduct is violated during the elections, mostly done deliberately, so as to gain unjustified advantage. Some examples being distribution of cash, goods, liquor, etc. During the elections, rigging of ballot machines, use of muscle power to create fear among voters, or even manipulation with the voters lists is quite common.
- Opposition– Democracy in modern times has almost always faced opposition from the previously existing government, and many times it has faced opposition from social elites. Case in point is the role of UPA, that is hampering the functioning of Indian Parliament and hence stalling the passing of important bills, for example, GST. Another example is the BJP opposing FDI in multi-brand retail when it was in opposition. This is directly affecting the development of the nation and the benefits of the proposed bill is yet to be passed to the public.
- Inefficient– In a large democracy, the process of voting becomes very unwieldy and inefficient. The larger the democracy becomes, the more prone this process becomes to mistakes or deliberate tampering. The time it takes to see that the voting process is carried out correctly makes it impossible to come to quick decisions. Also, during the long time during which the entire process happens, public may change its voting preference, either because of someone’s influence or due to change in circumstances.
- Minorities– In a democracy, minorities have no power. The vote always goes whichever way the majority decides. This often leads to an exploitation of minorities. Please note that here I am not referring to minorities based on a specific caste or religion, but in terms of their percentage of the total voters.
- Representatives might not serve their jurisdiction properly– Sometimes, the majority vote often ends up as not the favorable vote. This means that the person who ends up representing a particular jurisdiction can have different opinions than those they serve. There are many cases where representatives seem to serve their own needs and preferences rather than those of the people they are supposed to represent. For instance, if a wealthy representative ends up serving a jurisdiction that is mostly low income, they might not be able to relate to the problems and therefore can’t provide the necessary solutions. Even worse, they might not be aware of the plight of their constituents.
- Citizens don’t participate in a representative democracy– In the end, it’s the representative who has the final say on things, and most of the time, the opinion of constituents is not even considered.
- It is prone to the “free time rules” system– In democracy, people who have the most amount of free time would get to attend meetings frequently, influencing the government decisions that would be made. On the other hand, people with full and busy schedules would have no time to attend these meetings and could not have the same pull. In India, only a small percentage of voters are working people and even fewer are in organized sectors. Those who are unemployed look for quick benefits and often vote decisively.
- Casteism, regionalism, and communalism– In India, voters are heavily influenced by the caste system, the region they belong to, and the religion they follow. All these become vital deciding factors while voting and most often result in the selection of inappropriate candidate. A recent example can be the Bihar election of 2015, where a corrupt politician like Lalu Yadav again came to power with the help of Nitish Kumar and Sonia Gandhi.
- Role of media– Considered as the fourth pillar of democracy, Media acts as an interface between the common man and the Government. It is a very powerful tool with the ability to make and break the opinion of people. And when this pillar gets rusted, it leads to anomalies within democracy. Transparency and accountability are a must for proper functioning of media. The nexus between corrupt media-persons, criminals, businessmen and politicians seems to snatch the serenity and peace of our country. For their vested interest, they throw the whole society into an inferno. Who can forget the irresponsible coverage of Taj Attacks or the Radia Tapes Controversy? The silver lining is that with social media coming into a powerful position, the traditional media has lost its dominance to a certain extent and can’t hide the truth for long.
Lastly, I will quote Winston Churchill, who had a dismal view on voters’ ability to process information. He once said: “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter”.