That these dead shall not have died in vain— that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address (Nov. 19, 1863).
Aforesaid line by the US President Abraham Lincoln went on to become perhaps the most axiomatic definition of the term “democracy”. John Stuart Mill popularly used a Walter Bagehot coined phrase ‘government by discussion’ to describe democracy. With due respect, however, to Lincoln, Bagehot and Mill, whenever I come across the said term, my brain is automatically redirected to the Patti Smith classic- People have the power. The title to this song serves as the most succinct and to the point description for democracy. Put in another manner, a democratic State is one that, in substance, is governed by the people. It may further be categorised into Direct and Indirect democracies. Direct or Pure democracy is a system of government in which the people directly participate in the process of governance by launching an initiative or a referendum. The Appenzell Innerrhoden and Glarus cantons of Switzerland are a great few instances that still practice this system. It contrasts with the Representative or Indirect democracy in which the people indirectly participate in the process of governance through their elected representatives. Founding fathers of the Constitution while characterising India as a Democratic Republic in the preamble meant it to be an indirect democracy since direct democracy mechanism would have been dilatory and ineffective in a large and diverse nation like India. So the power of governance, here, is exercised by the government with the consent of the governed i.e. the people. Moreover, the aforementioned term has much wider implications, practically, than mere governance with consent.
Firstly, that the majority is under the obligation to accommodate the interests and sensitivities of the minorities to the utmost degree possible. This offers them a sense of security and also assures government’s allegiance towards them. For instance, Article 29 and 30 of the Constitution manifest such accommodations by safeguarding the rights and interests of the Cultural, Religious and Linguistic minorities in India. BJP government’s stance towards muslims, however, has been in stark contrast to the aforesaid obligations. Over past 6 years, hate-mongering towards muslims has intensified. Be it opposing the religious minority status of Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia, be it the issue of CAA and NRC, or, be it the distasteful speeches of bigot hindutva politicians that has intensified the communal disharmony and tension in our country. In my humble submission, inasmuch BJP Government’s move to outlaw Triple Talaq deserves plaudits, the proportion of bad has outweighed the proportion of good it has done for the muslim community. In wake of these problems, one must think as to how far our government has accomodated the interests and sensitivities of the muslim minority? Secondly, that the minority has the right to dissent in a reasoned manner if they believe that the government’s decision is opposed to the minority and national interests. They should not have the apprehension of victimisation for protesting peacefully. Today, by contrast, university scholars, activists and opposition leaders are being detained and charged with sedition for opposing the government. Self proclaimed ‘nationalist’ media and politicians have been labeling them as Anti-Nationals. Recently, the Madras High Court quashed the criminal complaints filed against a group of journalists in Thiru N. Ram vs Union of India and anr in which Quddhose J. observed that “a very important aspect of democracy is that citizens should have no fear of the government. They should not be scared of expressing views which may not be liked by those in power”. It is well founded that dissent serves as a catalyst for development of a society. Adherence to the illogical dogmas would only cause impediment to the human progress. Remember how Galileo Galilei propounded that the planets revolve around the sun disapproving the catholic church theory, consequence of which was an indefinite house arrest. In 1947, Dr. Ambedkar voiced for the draft of Right to privacy in the Constitution, which was negatived in the Constituent Assembly debates on ground that it would affect the investigation by police. 70 years later, that right to privacy was declared as a fundamental right by the Supreme Court in Puttaswamy v. Union of India. Our independence too, indeed, was a fruit from the seeds of dissent. Thus, the question remains as to why do we wish the people to rather remain silent than voicing their concerns regarding an executive or legislative actions? Thirdly, that the occupants of the power of governance must be altered uniformly to ensure the sustenance of democracy. Representative elected by the people might as well be altered by them for a better alternative and, remember, its the people who create those alternatives. Certain BJP politicians and sycophants like Rangoli Chandel, have expressed their wish for suspension of general elections of 2024. I am not wasting much words on these people and would rather say- You wish fools. In present context, quoting Thomas Jefferson becomes indispensable:
That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness], it is the right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness… it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, 1776.
Lastly, the matter as to what should be the socio-economic alignment of the society must be left on the people to decide, according to time and circumstances, as suggested by Dr. Ambedkar repeatedly during the Constituent Assembly debates. That being the reason why he was opposed to the verbal inclusion, in the Constitution, of terms “socialist” and “secular” as laying down the socio-economic organisation of the society would destroy democracy altogether. The People should not be forced to live in a particular form and they must have the liberty to decide as to what social organisation they wish to live in.
Thus, one has to understand, assimilate and practice the aforesaid implications of democracy. Democracy is not a spectator sport and people need to realise the significance of active citizenry. It is important to participate in a democracy and not merely gravitate towards it so as to ensure that a democratic ship keeps sailing through the violent non-democratic waves successfully. Meanwhile I am redirecting myself to grandma patti again:
That the people have the power
To redeem the work of fools
Upon the meek the graces shower
It’s decreed the people rulePeople have the power by Patti Smith
1. Uday Raj Rai, Constitutional Law-I, Chap. 3.
2. Constituent Assembly Debates, Volume 7, November 15th, 1948.