Relevance and challenges to Democracy in the present scenario
Polity & Governance
21st Dec, 2021
Recently, India participated in the first stage of the ‘Summit for democracy’ which was virtually hosted by the President of USA. In the light of recent challenges faced by countries, this summit holds much significance for India and world.
Democracies across the world—rich and established, developing and newly established ones—are grappling with serious crises on many key parameters. These include:
- Fall of the democratic governments in states like Myanmar and Afghanistan, weak state capacity, tenuous rule of law, high inequality, and corruption continue to erode democracy.
- Public distrust and the failure of governments to deliver equitable and sustainable economic and political progress have fueled political polarization and the rise of leaders who are undermining democratic norms and institutions.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has created a conflict in the state about ensuring right to life by imposing lockdown or right to work by opening economies.
In this background, Summit for Democracy was hosted by the President of USA as a platform for leaders to announce both individual and collective commitments, reforms, and initiatives to defend democracy and human rights at home and abroad.
What is the ‘Summit for Democracy’?
- It is a flagship initiative by the President of USA to put democracy and human rights at the heart of?U.S.?foreign policy. Summit for Democracy will take place in two stages-
- The first stage of the Summit was leader level event held virtually on?December 9-10, 2021. The second will be held approximately one year later.
- Focus areas of the summit :
- Strengthening democracy and countering authoritarianism
- Fighting corruption
- Promoting respect for human rights.
- Aims of the summit-
- It aims to show how democracies can deliver on the issues that matter most to people: strengthening accountable governance, expanding economic opportunities, protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, and enabling lives of dignity.
- It also aims at showing how open, rights-respecting societies can work together to effectively tackle the great challenges of our time, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and growing inequality.
- Participating members include-
- Members of the private sector
- Human rights defenders, advocates, and civil society organizations
- Members of the media
- Influential individuals in politics, arts, culture, and sports, including?emerging leaders from the next generation, and
- Multilateral institutions charged with democracy and human rights advancement.
“D” for Democracy
- Democracy is a system of government in which laws, policies, leadership, and major undertakings of a state or other polity are directly or indirectly decided by the “people.
- USA is the world’s oldest and India is world’s largest democracies. Many other democracies include Australia and South Africa.
- According to the Indian constitution, India is a democratic state. In a democracy, people are the sovereign authorities and this is reflected in our Preamble
- According to USA President Joseph R Biden, Jr –
- “Democracy doesn’t happen by accident. We have to defend it, fight for it, strengthen it, renew it”
- Abraham Lincoln defined democratic government as
“a government of, for and by the people”
Importance of the summit
- Mutual learning- It has led to sharing of views on democracy and democratic institutions by various participants. It’s an opportunity to listen, learn, and speak about the challenges faced by democracies across the world.
- Bolstering democracy- Participating governments have pledged to support domestic and international commitments in the shared?push to bolster democracy from local to global levels.
- Human at the center of policy making- It will also lead to promotion of human rights, reduction of corruption in the public policy and strengthening of global democratic institutions for the greater good of citizens.
- Sense of safety: The summit was in recognition of the fact that democracy is on the defensive around the world.
Need of preservation of democracies across the globe
- Inclusive and relevant- It is experienced that societies that respect and defend democratic institutions, the rule of law, human rights?and?fundamental freedoms, and?gender equality are more stable, prosperous, secure, and better equipped to confront global challenges.
- Sense of responsibility: Individually and collectively, democracies must continually demonstrate that they can deliver for their people.
- Role of citizens- While citizens are the key beneficiaries of the democracy, they are also the key participants in a democracy; therefore their empowerment is a crucial aspect of democracy.
Status of India’s democracy
- India is the world’s largest democracy, with 1.4 billion people.
What does the data say?
- Various democracy indices have placed India on a declining trajectory, including
- Freedom House’s Freedom in the World
- Reporters Without Borders
- World Press Freedom Index
- The US-based Freedom House’s “Freedoms of the World” index categorizes India as only “partly free” and the Swedish V-Dem calls India an “electoral autocracy.
- India was ranked 53rd in Global democracy Index 2020, and has been classified as a 'flawed democracy' along with countries such as the US and France.
Why India is getting criticized?
- India has been criticized for the use of sedition, defamationand counter-terrorism laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act to silence critics, and control over citizens privacy including with invasive high-tech surveillance.
- The country is also getting criticized for:
- crackdown on the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act(CAA)
- handling of lockdown due to COVID-19 pandemic
Success of India’s democracy-
However, Indian democracy has been successful in a variety of ways that can serve as an example for the world. These include-
- People’s participation: The essence of democracy is the participation of the people in the day to day affairs of the state.
- Elections: India has been successful in carrying out regular elections from local to national level, despite the cultural diversity and vast size of the country.
- Reservation: Affirmative actions like reservation for SC and ST at all levels and for women at local level election has made policy making inclusive and participative.
- Just Judiciary: Constitutional values are protected and defended by the judiciary time and again in her various.
- Right assertion: Legislations such as RTI and Lokpal have shown political commitment to give voice to common man to assert their rights.
- Social Security: Various initiatives by the central government like RTE (right to education) and PDS (public distribution system) have been beneficial in providing physical as well as social security to disadvantaged people.
What measures are essentially required for improved democracy?
As the benefit of people is the key desired outcome of a political state, the following steps can help in bolstering it:
- Access to basic human rights: For participation in governance, the citizen has to be equipped at least with basic human rights such as the right to live without fear or insecurity, right to employment and adequate standard of living, right to enough free education, right to free health services and right to clean and decent environment.
- Effective economic order: The country must have a rational, planned and scientific economic order which will ensure first and foremost the empowerment of every citizen by providing them with basic human rights.
- Inclusive development: Broadening the scope of democratic institutions to include civil society, private agencies and local government to ensure policy making and policy implementation is inclusive.
- Equality (in every sense): The next requisite for a democracy is to have social and economic equality and in any case, the least possible inequality.
- Focusing more on values: There is a need to focus more on democratic values than as a political institution. The values include respect for human rights, freedom of speech and expression and making citizen at the center of democracy.
- Collaborative approach at global level: At global level, the presence of diverse political institutions (like monarchy, communism) needs to be accepted with a broad consensus on minimum rules and rights for the citizens.
As there is no best form of government, there is a need to learn the positive aspects of each form of government and create a society which works for people’s wellbeing and growth.