Saturday, 6 December 2014

Outcomes of democracy and challenges to democracy

Chapter VII

Outcomes of Democracy

Is democracy a better form of government when compared with dictatorship or any other alternative?

1.      Democracy is better because it promotes equality among citizens.
2.      Democracy is better because it enhances the dignity of the individual
3.      Democracy is better because it improves the quality of decision making
4.      Democracy is better because it provides a method to resolve conflicts
5.      Democracy is better because it allows room to correct mistakes.

Is the democratic government efficient? Is it effective?

1.      Imagine that other form of government may take decisions very fast. But it may take decisions which are not accepted by the people and may therefore face problems.
2.      Democracy is based on the idea of deliberation and negotiation. So, some delay is bound to take place.
3.      In contrast, the democratic government will take more time to follow procedures before arriving at a decision.
4.      But because it has followed procedures, its decisions may be both more acceptable to the people and more effective.
5.      So, the cost of time that democracy pays is perhaps worth it.

Democracy is Accountable, responsive and legitimate government

1.      Democracy ensures that decision making will be based on norms and procedures. So, a citizen has the right and the means to examine the process of decision making. This is known as transparency. Democracy follows procedures and is accountable to the people.
2.      Democratic governments have a very good record when it comes to sharing information with citizens and much better than any non-democratic regime in this respect. Democracy is attentive to the needs and demands of the people and is largely free of corruption.
3.    There is one respect in which democratic government is certainly better than its alternatives: democratic government is legitimate government. It may be slow, less efficient, not always very responsive or clean. But a democratic government is people’s own government.

Economic growth and development

1.       Economic development depends on several factors: country’s population size, global situation, cooperation from other countries, economic priorities adopted by the country, etc.
2.      However, the difference in the rates of economic development between less developed countries with dictatorships and democracies is negligible.
3.      Overall, we cannot say that democracy is a guarantee of economic development. But we can expect democracy not to lag behind dictatorships in economic development.

Democracy reduces economic inequality and poverty

1.      Democracies have growing economic inequalities. A small number of ultra-rich enjoy a lion share of wealth and those at the bottom of the society have very little to depend upon and find very difficult to meet their basic needs of life, such as food, clothing, house, education and health.
2.      Democratically elected governments address the question of poverty by making various welfare schemes to remove poverty.
3.      Democracies not only making welfare schemes but also give reservations for socially and economically backward people in jobs, election and educational institutions.

Democracy Accommodates of social diversity

1.      Democracies usually develop a procedure to accommodate various social groups. This reduces the possibility of social tensions becoming explosive or violent.
2.      No society can fully and permanently resolve conflicts among different groups. But democracy is best to handle social differences, divisions and conflicts.  
3.      But the example of Sri Lanka reminds us that a democracy must fulfill two conditions in order to achieve accommodation of social divisions,
a.       It is necessary to understand that democracy is not simply rule by majority opinion. The majority always needs to work with the minority so that governments function to represent the general view.
b.      It is also necessary that rule by majority does not become rule by majority community in terms of religion or race or linguistic group, etc. Rule by majority means rule by majority’s choice.

Democracy promotes Dignity and freedom of the citizens

1.      Democracy stands much superior to any other form of government in promoting dignity and freedom of the individual by providing Fundamental Rights. Every individual wants to receive respect from fellow beings.
2.      The passion for respect and freedom are the basis of democracy. Democracies throughout the world have recognised this, at least in principle. This has been achieved in various degrees in various democracies.
3.      Take the case of dignity of women. Most societies across the world were historically male dominated societies.
4.      Long struggles by women have created some sensitivity today that respect to and equal treatment of women are necessary ingredients of a democratic society.
5.      Democracy in India has strengthened the claims of the disadvantaged and discriminated castes for equal status and equal opportunity.
Expectation from democracy never gets over.

1.      As people get some benefits of democracy, they ask for more and want to make democracy even better.
2.      That is why, when we ask people about the way democracy functions, they will always come up with more expectations, and many complaints.
3.      The fact that people are complaining is itself a testimony to the success of democracy: it shows that people have developed awareness and the ability to expect and to look critically at power holders and the high and the mighty.


Challenges to Democracy

What is a challenge?

A challenge is not just any problem. We usually call only those difficulties a ‘challenge’ which are significant and which can be overcome.
A challenge is a difficulty that carries within it an opportunity for progress. Once we overcome a challenge we go up to a higher level than before.

Different countries face different kinds of challenges.

1.       Foundational challenge -This involves bringing down the existing non-democratic regime, keeping military away from controlling government and establishing a sovereign and functional state.
2.      Challenge of expansion-This involves applying the basic principle of democratic government across all the regions, different social groups and various institutions. Ensuring greater power to local governments, extension of federal principle to all the units of the federation, inclusion of women and minority groups, etc., falls under this challenge.
3.      Deepening of democracy –This is faced by every democracy in one form or another. This involves strengthening of the institutions and practices of democracy by more people’s participation and control.

Some broad guidelines that can be kept in mind while devising ways and means for political reforms in India:

1.    It is legal ways of reforming politics- law has an important role to play in political reform. Carefully devised changes in law can help to discourage wrong political practices and encourage good ones. (But legal-constitutional changes by themselves cannot overcome challenges to democracy. Democratic reforms are to be carried out mainly by political activists, parties, movements and politically conscious citizens.)
2.    Any legal change must carefully look at what results it will have on politics. Laws that give political actors incentives to do good things have more chances of working. The best laws are those which empower people to carry out democratic reforms. (The Right to Information Act is a good example of a law that empowers the people to find out what is happening in government and act as watchdogs of democracy)
3.    Democratic reforms are to be brought about principally through political practice. Therefore, the main focus of political reforms should be to increase and improve the quality of political participation by ordinary citizens.
4.    Any proposal for political reforms should think not only about what is a good solution but also about who will implement it and how. Measures that rely on democratic movements, citizens’ organizations and the media are likely to succeed.
5.    Let us keep these general guidelines in mind and look at some specific instances of challenges to democracy that require some measure of reform.

Old Definition of Democracy

1.      The rulers elected by the people must take all the major decisions
2.      Elections must offer a choice and fair opportunity to the people to change the current rulers
3.      This choice and opportunity should be available to all the people on an equal basis
4.      The exercise of this choice must lead to a government limited by basic rules of the constitution and citizens’ rights.

New and modern definition of democracy

1.    Democracy not only should provide political rights but also some social and economic rights that a democracy should offer to its citizens.
2.    Power sharing between governments and social groups is necessary in a democracy.
3.    Respect for minority voice is necessary for democracy.
4.    Eliminating discrimination based on caste, religion and gender is important in a democracy.
5.    Democracy must bring all positive outcomes like accountability, responsive, reducing poverty etc.

Political parties

Political Parties
A political party

A political party is a group of people who come together to contest elections and hold power in the government. They agree on some policies and programs for the society with a view to promote the collective good.

Partisan (Active member)

A person, who is strongly committed to a political party

Partisanship ( Follower)

Partisanship is marked by a tendency to take a side and inability to take a balanced view on an issue.

Components of a political Party

 A political party has three components:
1.      The leaders
2.      The active members and
3.      The followers

What does a political party do?  OR What are the functions of political parties? OR Why do we need political parties?

1.      Political Parties contest elections. In most democracies, elections are fought mainly among the candidates put up by political parties. In India, top party leaders choose candidates for contesting elections.
2.      Parties put forward different policies and programs and the voters choose from them. In a democracy, a large number of similar opinions have to be grouped together to provide a direction in which policies can be formulated by the governments.
3.       Parties play a decisive role in making laws for a country. Formally, laws are debated and passed in the legislature. But since most of the members belong to a party, they go by the direction of the party leadership.
4.      Parties form and run governments. Parties recruit leaders, train them and then make them ministers to run the government in the way they want.
5.      Those parties that lose in the elections play the role of opposition to the ruling parties, by voicing different views and criticising government for its failures or wrong policies. Opposition parties also mobilise opposition to the government.
6.      Parties shape public opinion. They raise and highlight issues. Parties sometimes also launch movements for the resolution of problems faced by people.
7.      Parties provide people access to government machinery and welfare schemes implemented by governments. For an ordinary citizen it is easy to approach a local party leader than a government officer.

Why modern democracies cannot exist without political parties?

We can understand the necessity of political parties by imagining a situation without parties.
1.      Every candidate in the elections will be independent. So no one will be able to make any promises to the people about any (National level Policies) major policy changes.
2.      The government may be formed, but its utility will remain ever uncertain.
3.      Elected representatives will be accountable to their constituency for what they do in the locality. But no one will be responsible for how the country will be run.
4.      The rise of political parties is directly linked to the emergence of representative democracies. As societies became large and complex, they also needed some agency to gather different views on various issues and to present these to the government.
5.       They needed Political party to bring various representatives together so that a responsible government could be formed. They needed a mechanism to support or restrain the government, make policies, justify or oppose them.

Political Parties and Party System

1.      Single Party System

In some countries, only one party is allowed to control and run the government. These are called one-party systems. In China, only the Communist Party is allowed to rule.

2.      Two Party System

In some countries, power usually changes between two main parties. Several other parties may exist but only the two main parties have a serious chance of winning majority of seats to form government. Such a party system is called two-party system.

3.      Multi-Party System

If several parties compete for power, and more than two parties have a reasonable chance of coming to power either on their own strength or in alliance with others, we call it a multi-party system.
4.      In India there were three such major alliances in 2004 parliamentary elections
National Democratic Alliance
United Progressive Alliance
Left Front.

How many parties should we have in a democracy? OR How many major or effective parties are good for a democracy?

1.       Party system is not something any country can choose. It evolves over a long time, depending on the nature of society, its social and regional divisions, its history of politics and its system of elections.
2.      Each country develops a party system that is conditioned by its special circumstances.
3.      For example, if India has evolved a multi-party system, it is because the social and geographical diversity in such a large country is not easily absorbed by two or even three parties.
4.      No system is ideal for all countries and all situations. (We cannot consider one party system as a good option because this is not a democratic option. Any democratic system must allow at least two parties to compete in elections and provide a fair chance for the competing parties to come to power.)
5.      (The multi-party system often appears very messy and leads to political instability)

Political parties in India

1.      Recognised Political Parties

Election Commission offers some special facilities to large and established parties. These parties are given a unique symbol, privileges and some other special facilities. That is why these parties are called, ‘recognised political parties’.

2.      National Parties

A party that secures at least six per cent of the total votes in Lok Sabha elections or six per cent of the total votes in Assembly elections in four States and wins at least four seats in the Lok Sabha or two seats in four states is recognized as a national party.

3.      State Parties

A party that secures at least six per cent of the total votes in an election to the Legislative Assembly of a State and wins at least two seats is recognised as a State party.

National Political Parties

1.      Indian National Congress(INC)

a.       Congress Party is one of the oldest parties of the world. It was founded in 1885 and has experienced many splits.
b.      Under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, the party sought to build a modern secular democratic republic in India.
c.       Ruling party at the centre from 1947 to 1977 and then from 1980 to 1989. After 1989, its support declined, but it continues to be present throughout the country, cutting across social divisions.
d.      A centrist party (neither rightist nor leftist) in its ideological orientation, the party espouses secularism and welfare of weaker sections and minorities.
e.       Currently leads the ruling United Progressive Alliance coalition government at the Centre.

2.      Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP)

a.       It was founded in 1980 by reviving the erstwhile Bharatiya Jana Sangh.
b.      It wants to build a strong and modern India by drawing inspiration from India’s ancient culture and values. Cultural nationalism (or ‘Hindutva’) is an important element in its conception of Indian nationhood and politics.
c.       It wants full territorial and political integration of Jammu and Kashmir with India, a uniform civil code for all people living in the country irrespective of religion and ban on religious conversions.
d.      Earlier its popularity was limited to north and west and to urban areas but the party expanded its support in the south, east and north-east and to rural areas.
e.       Came to power in 1998 as the leader of the National Democratic Alliance including several state and regional parties.

3.      Bahujan Samaj Party( BSP)

a.       It was formed in 1984 under the leadership of Kanshi Ram.It seeks to represent and secure power for the bahujan samaj which includes the dalits, adivasis, OBCs and religious minorities.
b.      It draws inspiration from the ideas and teachings of Sahu Maharaj, Mahatma Phule, Periyar Ramaswami Naicker and Babasaheb Ambedkar.
c.       It stands for the cause of securing the interests and welfare of the dalits and oppressed people.
d.      It has its main base in the state of Uttar Pradesh and substantial presence in neighbouring states like Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Delhi and Punjab.
e.       It formed government in Uttar Pradesh several times by taking the support of different parties at different times.
f.       In the Lok Sabha elections held in 2004, it polled about 5 per cent votes and secured 19 seats in the Lok Sabha.

4.      Communist Party of India - Marxist (CPI-M):

a.       It was founded in 1964. It believes in Marxism- Leninism.
b.      It supports socialism, secularism and democracy and opposes imperialism and communalism.
c.       It accepts democratic elections as a useful and helpful means for securing the objective of socioeconomic justice in India.
d.      It enjoys strong support in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, especially among the poor, factory workers, farmers, agricultural labourers and the intelligentsia.
e.       Has been in power in West Bengal without a break for 30 years. In 2004 elections, it won about 6 per cent of votes and 43 seats in the Lok Sabha.

5.      Communist Party of India (CPI)

a.       It was formed in 1925. It believes in Marxism-Leninism, secularism and democracy.
b.      It opposes to the forces of secessionism and communalism.
c.       It accepts parliamentary democracy as a means of promoting the interests of the working class, farmers and the poor.
d.      It became weak after the split in the party in 1964. Significant presence in the states of Kerala, West Bengal, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
e.       Its support base had gradually declined over the years. It secured about 1.4 per cent votes and 10 seats in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections.

6.      Nationalist Congress Party (NCP):

a.       It was formed in 1999 following a split in the Congress party.
b.      It espouses democracy, Gandhian secularism, equity, social justice and federalism.
c.       It wants that high offices in government be confined to natural born citizens of the country.
d.      A major party in Maharashtra and has a significant presence in Meghalaya, Manipur and Assam.
e.       A coalition partner in the state of Maharashtra in alliance with the Congress. Since 2004, a member of the United Progressive Alliance.

State political parties

1.      Regional parties need not be regional in their ideology or outlook. Some of these parties are all India parties that happen to have succeeded only in some states.
2.      Parties like the Samajwadi Party, Samata Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal have national level political organisation with units in several states.
3.      Some of these parties like Biju Janata Dal, Sikkim Democratic Front and Mizo National Front are conscious about their State identity.
4.      Over the last three decades, the number and strength of these parties has expanded. This made the Parliament of India politically more and more diverse.
5.      No one national party is able to secure on its own a majority in Lok Sabha. As a result, the national parties are compelled to form alliances with State parties from1996

Challenges to political parties

1.      The first challenge is lack of internal democracy within parties. All over the world there is a tendency in political parties towards the concentration of power in one or few leaders at the top. Parties do not keep membership registers, do not hold organizational meetings, and do not conduct internal elections regularly.
2.      The second challenge is dynastic succession. In many parties, the top positions are always controlled by members of one family. This is unfair to other members of that party. This is also bad for democracy.
3.      The third challenge is about the growing role of money and muscle power in parties, especially during elections. They tend to nominate rich candidates and in some cases, parties support criminals who can win elections.
4.      The fourth challenge is that very often parties do not seem to offer a meaningful choice to the voters. In recent years there has been a decline in the ideological differences among parties in most parts of the world.
5.      Since political parties are the most visible face of democracy, it is natural that people blame parties for whatever is wrong with the working of democracy. Popular dissatisfaction and criticism has focused on four problem areas in the working of political parties.

How can political parties be reformed? (Some of the recent efforts made to reform parties)

1.      The Constitution was amended to prevent elected MLAs and MPs from changing parties. Because some elected representatives indulge in DEFECTION in order to become ministers or for cash rewards. Now the law says that if any MLA or MP changes parties, he or she will lose the seat in the legislature.
2.      The Supreme Court passed an order to reduce the influence of money and criminals. Now, it is mandatory for every candidate who contests elections to file an AFFIDAVIT giving details of his property and criminal cases pending against him.
3.      The Election Commission passed an order making it necessary for political parties to hold their organizational elections and file their income tax returns.

Some suggestions made to reform political parties and its leaders:

1.      A law should be made to regulate the internal affairs of political parties. It should be made compulsory for political parties to maintain a register of its members, follow its own constitution and hold open elections to the highest posts.
2.      It should be made mandatory for political parties to give a minimum number of tickets, about one-third, to women candidates.
3.      There should be state funding of elections. The government should give parties money, petrol, paper, telephone etc. to support their election expenses.
4.      There are two other ways in which political parties can be reformed. A) People can put pressure on political parties. This can be done through petitions, publicity and agitations. Ordinary citizens, pressure groups and movements and the media can play an important role in this.
5.       B) Political parties can improve if many join political parties. The quality of democracy depends on the degree of public participation. It is difficult to reform politics if ordinary citizens do not take part in it and simply criticize it from the outside.