June 26, 2023
“There is no human institution but has its dangers. The greater the institution, the greater the chances of abuse. Democracy is a great institution and, therefore, it is liable to be greatly abused. The remedy therefore is not avoidance of democracy, but reduction of possibility of abuse to a minimum.”
– MK Gandhi, Young India, May 7, 1931
Democracies are in peril. Whether in the West, which prides itself as the cradle of democracy, or India, which proclaims itself to be the mother of democracy and a vishwaguru, the ideal of democracy is in decline.
India is rapidly sinking into chaos. Every institution our founders created to safeguard democracy is being systematically eroded and weakened. Many intentionally.
The Fourth Estate, often called the watchdog of democracy and its conscience keeper, is completely compromised by and largely sold out to the government. The situation is so grim that alarms are being sounded the world over.
Social media too is compromised. We have reached a state where the news media cannot be relied on to provide honest and impartial reportage. Manipur is burning, crashing into anarchy, but the national media is unconcerned. The tragedy is that although it is apparent that the state government is playing a blatantly partisan role and the Central Government is shirking its responsibility, the media does not dare speak out.
Wrestlers who have won international laurels for the nation have been agitating for the removal of their sports association chief and have levelled serious allegations of sexual abuse against him, but the government protects him because he is a political heavyweight. In other words, a political thug who can twist the arm of the government. The national media bends over backwards to malign the champion athletes instead of championing their cause. Unfortunately, the Indian media is a stooge of the government, rightly called godi media. This puts Indian democracy in unprecedented peril.
The judiciary was considered to be one of the most important watchdogs of democracy. Today, apart from a few judges and a few justices of the higher courts, the judiciary by and large acts as an executioner of the government, not as an impartial dispenser of justice.
The executive was supposed to provide a balanced democracy. Today, the executive and people’s representatives have formed an unholy nexus to concentrate power in their hands and negate the very essence of the principle of ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’. This partnership is turning India into an autocracy.
Our Constitution was supposed to be the strongest safeguard of our democracy, but every ideal enshrined in it is being subverted and compromised. The tragedy is we are meekly accepting this.
Unfortunately, the police were never independent. Members of the newly-formed government of independent India had faced great brutality at the hands of the police during the Freedom Struggle and the distrust and animus carried into post-independent India. The tendency was to clip the police’s wings. This has become an addiction; 75 years later, the police have become habituated to acting like slaves of those in power rather than protectors of the nation and its citizens.
Post-Independence India prided itself in being an inclusive, respectful democracy. Today, that characteristic has been successfully corrupted and, after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the state has become increasingly radicalised, polarised and intolerant. The prevalence and success of the politics of hate is a glaring example of this new character of India.
“If we want to cultivate a true spirit of democracy, we cannot afford to be intolerant. Intolerance is a lack of faith in one’s cause… Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.”
MK Gandhi, The Art of Living
Over the past nine years the fabric of democracy has been weakened by a self-serving leader who is an autocrat at heart. The current prime minister has subverted and compromised the parliamentary form of our democracy and discredited it in the eyes of the electorate to such an extent that a large majority of citizens are willing to give up on the system altogether. If the current dispensation wins the next general election in 2024, and forms a government under the current prime minister, it will be the last nail in the coffin of Indian democracy.
But it is not as if democracy is at peril only in India. It is in decline all over the world, even in states that fancy themselves as bastions of democracy. The US, under Donald Trump, saw an alarming decline in belief in democracy and a dangerous trend towards autocracy that manifested itself in the brutal attack on the Capitol. It was egged on by a venal Trump because he had lost the election and wasn’t courageous enough to accept it.
“Democracy is an impossible thing until the power is shared by all; but let not democracy degenerate into mobocracy.”
MK Gandhi, Young India, December 1, 1927.
Trump successfully cleaved American society into two – a minority that clings to its democratic soul and a brute majority susceptible to manipulation and lies. For long the US prided itself as the protector of the ideal of democracy the world over; today the US itself requires a protector.
“Evolution of democracy is not possible if we are not prepared to hear the other side. We shut the doors of reason when we refuse to listen to our opponents or, having listened, make fun of them. If intolerance becomes a habit, we run the risk of missing the truth.”
MK Gandhi, Harijan, May 31, 1942.
In the UK, the unique experiment of a constitutional monarchy model functioned admirably for long. Even in a nation strongly entrenched in democratic ideology and its practice, Boris Johnson was able to manipulate it and subvert rules and principles of governance to practise an indulgent, self-serving corruption of democracy. He nearly got away with it.
“The very essence of democracy is that every person represents all the varied interests which compose the nation. It is true that it does not exclude, and should not exclude, special representation of special interests, but such representation is not its test. It is a sign of its imperfection.”
MK Gandhi, Harijan, April 22, 1939.
France is still a democracy but is too enamoured by the notion of a strong leader. It has been proven that in the long run ‘strong’ individualistic leaders weaken democracies. All over Europe we see the rise of extreme right-wing political parties who are ideologically fascist.
Soviet Russia was never a democracy but Mikhail Gorbachev ushered in Perestroika and steered Russia towards it. Vladimir Putin mercilessly subverted the fragile fabric of Russian democracy to proclaim himself the supreme and sole leader. Russia’s shortlived experiment with democracy was finished off by Putin and it is once again an autocracy.
China was never a Democracy and Xi Jinping, by crowning himself ‘Supreme Leader’, has put paid to the notion of collective leadership too.
The world over, democracies, especially liberal democracies, are hurtling towards extinction. Humanity needs to wake up and protect the ideal in its own interest.
Tushar Gandhi, great grandson of the Mahatma, is an activist, author and president of the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation. Reach him here: firstname.lastname@example.org.