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The Health of Democracy

Many of us may opine that politics is largely associated with the democracy. But it always depends primarily on the relationship between people and politics. It cannot be separated from politics. According to Gerry Stoker, “You can have politics without democracy, but you can’t have democracy without politics”

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the health of a democracy indicates ‘electoral processes, political processes and pluralism, functioning of government, freedom of expression and belief, association and organisational rights, rule of law, personal autonomy and individual rights.’ It depends primarily on the relationship between people and politics. Many of us may opine that politics is largely associated with the democracy. But it always depends primarily on the relationship between people and politics. It cannot be separated from politics. According to Gerry Stoker, “You can have politics without democracy … but you can’t have democracy without politics”.

Healthy democracy ensures – ‘(1) Citizens need good information to make good democratic decisions (2) Democratic progress is part of the meaning of social progress. (3) Healthy democracy improves progress and well-being in other areas. (4) Social progress indicators are a tool for better, more accountable governance. (5) Engaging citizens in progress measurement strengthens their democratic capacity.’But ‘the health of a democracy can neither be measured by the size of its voter base, nor simply by the peaceful transition of power.’

In India, it cannot be measured by the size and success of its elections, its efficacy because here ‘news of candidates bribing voters, using the threat of force to sway voting behaviour, and finding ways to ignore or circumvent the principles safeguard by the Election Commission.’ In this mature democracy of India, democracy’s health is variously affected when the key political institutions responsible for executing the functions of democracy and protecting its founding principles of liberty, equality, and justice constitute the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government fail to fulfil its goals.

Even we see that  ‘the conduct of parliamentarians, who are keen to employ feuds, foul language, and hysteria on the floor of the chamber, has become an entertaining soap opera, but has eroded the public’s trust in this keystone institution.’ Ultimately, the failure of India’s political institutions is also causing collateral damage upon India’s social institutions i.e. its civil society and free and vibrant media. Then, opposition parties in Parliament are not getting priority as an indication of unhealthy democracy.  At present, ‘authoritarian leaders are often tempted to curtail the freedom of press,’ etc.

Today, the elected representatives fail to ‘respond to the wishes of the electorate, and the widespread public perception that politicians are corrupt and focused primarily on their personal gain, has led to retaliatory responses that will further undermine the legitimacy of Parliament and weaken its ability to correct the underlying problems.’

‘A report on the “health” of democracies across the world has criticised India for “discriminatory actions” against minorities in the world’s largest democracy. India’s overall score dropped to 71 in 2020, compared to 75 in 2019.’ The reasons behinds are the abrogation of article 370 and internet shutdown in Kashmir, suppression of protests, controversial citizen register in Assam, threat to freedom of expression and the citizenship amendment act (CAA), etc. These are the “alarming setbacks to Indian democracy.”            The West Bengal Assembly Poll, 2021 reminds the poor health condition of democracy. Different political parties and their so-called heavyweight leaders are using different vocabularies which are enough to involve voters in conflict and to spread violence across the state. All parties use different provocative tactics including the buying of voters and so forth.  They are variously trying to play their minority trump card. Religious emotion might be badly affecting the common mass.   All of them are trying to capture the power at any cost.

Would the leaders think about the health of this largest democracy? Otherwise, its impact would  badly affect the future.

The views and opinions expressed by the writer are personal and do not necessarily reflect the official position of VOM.
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Written by Harasankar

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