Democracy Or Mobocracy? India Faces More Than a Crisis of Governance

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Members of Muslim community and family members of mob lynching victims gathered during the protest in New Delhi recently.

Plato’s description of a democracy is rather thought provoking. Shouldn’t we pause and examine our own governmental set up? Though we may not have reached to situations like this but aren’t we moving close?

Dr Mehnaz Najmi | Caravan Daily

The word ‘democracy’ is derived from the Greek term dēmokratiā, which was coined from dēmos (“people”) and kratos (“rule”) in the middle of the 5th century BC to denote the political systems that existed in some Greek city-states, notably Athens. Political philosopher Plato had serious reservations and concerns about democracy as it allows the immature to participate in the sanctimonious affairs of the state.

He didn’t support the idea of mass participation in formation of governments; for him, democracy is the impure and degraded form of polity (the rule of virtuous multitude). When this ruling multitude gets corrupted the system is known as democracy.

In book VIII of The RepublicPlato describes several stages of government that are intolerable, yet unavoidable. He predicted that democracy would lead to nations being governed by bullies and brutes. He also predicts a society with an enormous socio-economic gap, where the poor remain poor and the rich become richer off the blood and sweat of others.

In this backdrop if we look at democracy today, his predictions and analysis seem quite close to the Indian reality!

Democracy is the most cherished, fashionable and favored form of government these days. It is based on the cardinal principle of ‘inclusiveness and participation’ of masses in electing and selecting the representatives. ‘Government by the people, of the people and for the people’ being its underlying idea.

In the last 70 years, we Indians have witnessed both negative and positive impacts of democracy on our lives. Initially democracy was not just a form of government but a promise that each and every Indian shall participate in making of the government and elected representatives will act in a responsible manner for the well-being of citizens. It ensured popular control; popular responsibility and the elected representatives were made accountable to the public. Democracy based on the idea of inclusiveness also promised that it will respect the ideas and views of the dissenters and antagonists. Right to speech and expression Article 19 (1) (a) enshrined by our Constitution is an evidence of such promise which allows people to express themselves within the limits prescribed by the Constitution. Our founding fathers of the Constitution tried to give us a nation which has beautifully been described in Rabindra Nath Tagore’s words:

Where the mind is without fear 

and the head is held high.

Where knowledge is free.
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments.
By narrow domestic walls.

USING PEOPLE AS VOTE BANK

On the one hand democratic set up provided the right to masses to participate in elections as voters as well as the contenders, irrespective of their gender, caste, creed or religion and on the other hand, it changed the masses into vote banks! In the course of time, instead of being a uniting force it has created fragments among the masses by dividing them on petty issues. Every party has their loyal vote banks who vote en-mass on hyperbolic issues created during elections. For them these politicians are their only saviors.

Mostly the unemployed and semi-employed youth gets lured by these parties, who do not shy away from indulging in riots or creating havoc to scare the innocent. For instance, the terror created by gau-rakshaks (the protectors of cow) these days is nothing but scary. They are on rampage and masquerading on streets as they have the authority to lynch and beat innocents.

The political parties they have affiliation with are quiet, as stopping them might harm their chances to win the next election. They play the role of vote banks for these parties who in return protect them from punishments. Union minister visits and puts tri-color on the dead body of a man, arrested for murdering an innocent on the rumors that he had beef in his fridge. These petty goons have suddenly become the contractors of patriotism and nationalism. They are trying to teach the nation that there is only way of life accepted and possible here in order to survive.

Follow the dictates or face the music. A large number of unemployed youth, especially from the rural areas, have increasingly started to participate in such activities. The leaders, whom we selected to lead us ahead towards the path of progress and enlightenment, have turned their eyes blind towards the people who are not their voters.

NO RESPECT FOR TAX-PAYER

Politicians have been overtly behaving in a non-democratic manner everywhere. Real sovereigns are treated as subjects and politicians expect only reverence and obedience from them. Last week Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Chandra Babu Naidu threatened the people of a village by saying that, ‘Why should they take benefits, if they don’t like my rule’? You are taking the pension I am giving, using the roads we have built, and taking rations that we give, benefitting from our schemes, then why should you not support us? As if services provided by the state are financed by him and not by the tax payer’s money.

Political masters can play with the dignity of women in the name of Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan but people are required to remain silent. They are free and can opt not to respond to the people for being the rulers despite the fact that democracy gave us the right to criticize the even President, the Prime Minister, and the Constitution if need be, but these days questioning the authority is considered a sacrilege. The status of Indian politician these days is larger than God and prophets, who are criticized and have been throughout history!

The great German philosopher Immanuel Kant–one of the key figures of Modernity and Enlightenment–laid down a cardinal principle called ‘the public use of reason’ by which he meant that every citizen should possess the freedom to call into question any institution or practice including theological matters if it is done with the intent of fostering greater public good. Dissent and free thinking is being murdered in the name of nationalism.

Huge socio-economic gaps are visible among the masses, the poor is getting poorer, farmers are committing suicides, unemployment is all time high and the government is busy introducing taxes! Farmers from Tamil Nadu sat on a strike in New Delhi for 39 days but nobody bothered to meet them or listen to their demands. Everyday there is news of farmer suicide in India but the silence from the government is deafening.

The Union minister visits and puts tri-color on the dead body of a man, arrested for murdering an innocent on the rumors that he had beef in his fridge. These petty goons have suddenly become the contractors of patriotism and nationalism. They are trying to teach the nation that there is only way of life accepted and possible here in order to survive. Follow the dictates or face the music.

Slum dwellers too are living a languishing life, not even having the basic amenities of life but again they make the best vote banks for the politicians. This is how poor of this country is treated and this poor on his part without thinking twice votes again for the same party during the elections! Who should be held responsible here for the chaos – the poor or the democratic system which gave them the right to participate in elections as voters? Shouldn’t they be politically educated before handing over such huge responsibility of making the government?

Plato further writes that these democratic leaders know that they are only easily supported en-mass when there is a war and then the people can rally behind. And so the democratic leaders will unnecessarily become involved in violent affairs, creating wars to distract the people. To ensure their power, the leaders will create laws to bolster their position. The rulers will impose heavy taxes against the commoners to ensure they are unable or unwilling to fight back against this. And any who do oppose the leaders will be labeled as an enemy and persecuted as a spy. It is for this reason that there must always be some enemy combatant that the leader can cast blamed upon.

How rightly he has studied and analyzed the flaws of a democracy. Almost whole day the paid media is showing us the inevitable war between India and Pakistan, instilling fear in the masses. Emotional speeches by the so-called television anchors against neighboring countries are a common feature on television these days. Due to this fear people are forced to see the leadership and Army as their saviors from external and internal dangers.

Army has been made into something which has to be revered. Undoubtedly, the sacrifices they make are incomparable but attacking people on questioning the Army is as bad as insulting the institution! Fear has penetrated so deep in our psyche that we live under perpetual threat and distrust our relatives and neighbours. We are scared of authority, we are scared of trolls, we are scared of police, we are scared of politicians and we are scared of our own selves now!

Plato then predicts that these leaders will eventually become unpopular, which will be an unavoidable result of their high headedness. Those who once supported this ruling class will begin to rebel against him, which would turn him into a tyrant. At this point the citizens will try to get rid of whatever man is currently in office.

The ruler on his part will also try to strike down the political opposition he may have! Hated by the people, this leader will request the presence of a body guard. Elected by the people, yet now he is protected from them. Plato predicts that this tyrant will appeal to the lowest form of citizen. He will make soldiers of the slaves and the degenerates. The tyrant will pay them to protect him from the ordinary citizens.

Plato’s description of a democracy is rather thought provoking. Shouldn’t we pause and examine our own governmental set up? Though we may not have reached to situations like this but aren’t we moving close?


Dr Mehnaz Najm is Program Chair, Dept. of Political Science, School of Humanities & Social Sciences, Galgotias University

 

1 COMMENT

  1. Quite analytical and nice comparison between the two different times. One thing I want to add in that the imperial and colonial interferences in the course of modern history had made political participation an essential thing rather the participation of expertise people of the matter.

    Good article, Indeed.

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