Democracy in Practice

Ac. Krtashivananda Avt.
What is the democratic way of life? It includes faith in human relations, tolerance, respect for opinions even if contradictory, equal justice and rights for all, freedom of thought and expression, to act according to one’s conscience, to do one’s rightful duty without fear, to support a government which a person has a voice in making and dissolving, and to promote morality cause and advance proper reforms without fear of a repugnant reaction from the ruling class.

Democracy may mean either a form of society, or a form of government. Democracy as a form of social organization rests on the principle of social equality. It presupposes the absence of caste, race or class distinction. Democracy becomes meaningful, however, only when the members of the society have equal economic rights and when ultimate power rests with the people.

Democracy as a form of government means a government in which the people exercise indirect control over the government through their elected representatives. In modern times, democracy implies something more than a form of government – a type of society.

Today political thinkers are realizing that the democratic ideal will remain imperfect unless the entire field of economic activity is democratized.

The main features of modern democracy in its political aspect are:

  • Indirect popular rule in the form of universal franchise
  • Rule of government
  • Responsible government
  • Alternation of power
  • Decentralization of power through the institution of local government

Democratic principles today apply only to the government structure. There still exists an undemocratic social, economic and judicial order. In order to be real, democracy must be a combination of social, political and economic democracy, with the opportunity for all to get equal justice from its judicial system. The ideals of liberty and equality cannot be realized by giving voting rights only; they must be extended to social and economic life and especially to the sphere of dispensation of justice.

According to H.E. Burns,

“The greatest weakness of modern democracy is that it must work through representative government, which in turns requires a political party. This far this has proved fatally deficient as the main agency of democratic government. Parties create political confusion and instability by rigid adherence to outdated political theories. They encourage both political corruption and autocracy as a result of the inevitable development of party machines. When wither two-party or block systems break down, there is a tendency to resort to a one-party system, which is one of the main unscrupulous traits of political totalitarianism.” (H.E. Burnes, Cultural and Intellectual History of the Western World, Dover, NY 1965)

Essential factors

The factors essential for the success of democracy are as follows:

  1. People should be educated, in the sense that people should have sufficient political intelligence and general understanding
  2. Moral consciousness must be sufficient to protest against political corruption and selfish leadership
  3. Social consciousness should be high enough to counter the influence of casteism, racism and other narrow sentimental influences
  4. The minimum requirements of each individual must be guaranteed

Democratic rights

Democratic rights may be broadly classified under two headings – civil and political.

Rights enjoyed by citizenry constitute their civil liberties. The fundamental civil rights are:

a) Right to life, which implies protection of life
b) Right to personal freedom
c) Right to work
d) Right to property, limited but sufficient to provide the basic necessities of life (both consumer and capital properties)
e) Right to association
f) Right to religion and conscience
g) Right to contract
h) Right to speech and media
i) Right to family life
j) Right to education

Absolute personal freedom, which may the corollary of unbridled passion and selfish materialism, is detrimental to democracy.

Political rights are the content of political liberty, and include the following:

a) Right to vote
b) Right to be elected as a member of the legislature
c) Right to hold public office in any service of the government
d) Freedom of opinion, which implies the right to discuss and criticize government measures

Regarding the right to vote, Prout proposes that it be qualitative and not quantitative. This will be discussed below.

Duties of the citizen

Duty means obligation. There are legal and moral duties of citizens which include:

a) Obedience to the law
b) Allegiance to the state
c) Service to society
d) Support of public officials
e) Payment of taxes

Duties of the state

The duties of the state, in a nutshell, are to ensure political and economic freedom and to create a congenial social environment for all-round progress in all spheres of life.

Modified direct democracy

People today in many countries have lost their confidence in the efficiency of the representative form of government, and consequently there is growing distrust in it. Not only underdeveloped countries, but countries like Italy, France and Japan have recently faced turmoil due to inefficiency and corruption in high office.

To extend the authority of the people over the legislature some direct democratic methods ought to be introduced. These include:

  • Referendum
  • Initiative
  • Plebiscite
  • Recall

Referendum – The referendum is a method of legislation by which legislative proposals or constitutional questions are submitted to popular vote for reconsideration after they have been passed by the legislature.

Initiative – The initiative is a method that affords an opportunity to the electorate to make independent proposals for legislations.

Plebiscite – The plebiscite provides a means of submitting certain questions of great public importance and highly controversial character to vote of the people. The verdict of the people may or may not be binding on the government, but it influences formation of future policy.

Recall – The system of recall provides for compelling an elected office to resign or to submit to re-election. Thus, elected officers are made responsible to the electorate.

The above methods can be used successfully in matters of vital importance and in provinces and smaller nations.

Voting rights

In the 19th century it was believed that, “Universal suffrage could once change the character of society from a state of watchfulness, doubt and suspicion to that of brotherly love, reciprocal interest and universal confidence.” (Sivnath Chakravarty, An Introduction to Politics, Modern Book Agency, Calcutta 1977)

But what is the condition of democracy today? Does the system of franchise reflect the will of the people? Does it create a world of mutual trust, confidence and unity?

What are the shortcomings of the present system of election in democratic countries? According to Erich Fromm, “The problem of democracy today is not any more the restriction of franchise but the manner in which the franchise is exercised. How can people express ‘their’ will if they do not have any will or conviction of their own, if they are alienated automatons, whose tastes, opinions and preferences are manipulated by the big conditioning machines? Under these circumstances universal suffrage becomes a fetish. If a government can prove that everybody has a right to vote, and that the votes are counted honestly, it is democratic. If everybody votes, but the votes are not counted honestly, or if the voters are afraid of voting against the governing party, the country is undemocratic.

“It is true indeed that there is a considerable and important difference between free and manipulated elections, but noting this difference must not lead to forgetting the fact that even free elections do not necessarily express ‘the will of the people’. If a highly advertised brand of toothpaste is used by the majority of the people because of some fantastic claims it makes in the propaganda, nobody with any sense would say that the people have ‘made a decision’ in favor of it. All that could be claimed is that the propaganda was sufficiently effective to coax millions of people into believing its claims.

“In the alienated society the mode in which people express their will is not very different from that of their choice in buying commodities. They are listening to the drums of propaganda, and facts mean little in comparison with the suggestive noise, which hammers at them. In recent years, we have seen more and more how the guidance of public relations counsels determines the political propaganda. Accustomed to make the public buy anything for the build-up of which there is enough money, they think of political ideas and political leaders in the same terms. They use television to build up political personalities as they use it to sell a soap product; what matters is the effect, in sales or votes, not the rationality or usefulness of what is presented. This phenomenon found a remarkably frank expression in recent statements about the future of the Republican Party [USA]. They are to the effect that since one cannot hope the majority of voters will vote for the Republican Party, one must find a personality who wants to represent the Party – then he will get the votes. In principle this is not different from the endorsement of a cigarette by a famous sportsman or movie actor.” (Erich Fromm, The Sane Society, Holt Rhinehard and Winston, New York 1973)

Although the above was written in the year 1962, it was a prophetic expression about subsequent presidential elections in the United States.

According to PROUT, the right of people to vote only upon acquiring a certain age is fundamentally defective. The qualities of a candidate cannot be judged by the majority unless the majority itself has acquired a fair level of consciousness. Common people remain engrossed in satisfying their common needs. They are reluctant and uninterested in finding a true leader. Some argue that fair education for the masses is an answer to that. But it has proved futile even in developed countries. Much energy and resources are being spent on literacy in these countries. But people are not satisfied with the order or values thriving under their elected democrats. In this regard PROUT suggests that voting rights be resorted according to moral integrity and social awareness.

“The human society is continually striving to arrive at a synthesis through analysis, some sort of unity through diversity. The natural obstructions of small clans, narrow communal interests, geographical distances and intractable customs and usages – none of these obstacles could hinder the steady and silent movement towards a supreme goal. That is why the policy of apartheid , the vanity of racial superiority, national chauvinism or regionalism – these relative doctrines or social philosophies-could not thwart the progress of human society. The outdated ideals of nationalism are crumbling to pieces today. the newly awakened humanity of today is anxious to herald the advent of one universal society under the vast blue sky. The noble and righteous persons of all countries, bound by fraternal ties, are eager to assert in one voice, wit one mind, and in the same tune that human society is one and indivisible. In this voice of total unity and magnanimity lies the value and message of eternal humanism.” Shrii Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar

From World Government, a Reality of the 21st Century
Published by PROUT Research Institute, Copenhagen

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