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Letting Democracy Breathe!

Indian democracy is a reflection of diversity. What, after all is India’s democracy without a myriad of religions, languages, ethnicities and ideologies? However, with these differences there are multifarious tensions that democracy encounters in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual land like India. Does democracy experience suffocation at some point of time? Have we burdened it with too many expectations? Have we, as citizens, failed to live up to democratic ideals? We now have a stable government at the centre that according to electoral results enjoys support from majority. Does this mean that now democracy will function well? For a long time now, our democracy has been hostage to appeasement politics. It has been hostage to the politics of polarization, which is the hallmark of all political outfits that dominate the democratic scene. If for all these years, one party tried to woo the minority sections of the country, there were others who claimed to safeguard the interests of the majority. Was this the kind of democratic order that political stalwarts and champions of the freedom struggle envisioned for this country?

A democracy cannot succeed if it thrives on sectarian agendas, religious intolerance and an unjust socio-economic order. Why should democracy be required to favour any particular section of the society if it is a system of government that is meant for all? Such a democracy leads to a divisive society and thwarts the development of a nation. The moment democracy fails to serve the interests of a particular section; we immediately pronounce it a failure. We have not allowed it enough room to flourish; rather we have enslaved it in chains of caste, class, language, religion and countless other barriers.

Democracy may not be the best form of governance, but with all its flaws, it is still our best bet. We are gradually descending into a space where people are increasingly disillusioned with democracy. Their faith in the accommodative, justful and inclusive character of democracy is shaken. It reinforces a belief in an authoritarian order which they believe though not free, provides effective solutions to common problems. It is this dwindling faith that needs to be restored and it is only we the citizens who can accomplish this.

Recent debates on ‘Ghar Wapsi’, anti-conversion bill, politics of secularism show that Indian democracy is reeling under tensions. Groups are involved in a constant struggle to reclaim democracy as ‘theirs’. This involves incessant conflict over power and resources. Everyone is out to claim that democracy must work for ‘their’ interest. True democracy, however, should work for national interest, a common vision to spearhead the nation on the path towards equitable and sustainable development. Today, democracy is handicapped as it remains engulfed in clutches of religion, power, money and ideology.

Today, our democracy is hostage to majority and minority politics. We have exploited democratic institutions to serve community interests instead of employing it to serve the country. India faces many internal conflicts, rising demands of secession and lopsided development. Democracy was meant to confront these challenges, today, it is caught up in the same. After more than six decades of independence, we still ask what good has democracy achieved for the people of this country. These may be discounted as simplistic assumptions and frustrations experience by people with the system, however, it is true that we stand alienated from our democracy.

It is people who make a democracy fruitful, a democratic vision is difficult to fulfil in the absence of citizen consciousness and their owing up responsibility. Be it religious tolerance, harmony, equitable development, peaceful resolution of conflicts – democracy may not have all the answers. It is we on whom lies the onus of building mechanisms within democracy to counter challenges faced. For this, we have to let democracy be. First release it from parochial perceptions that we hold on to and let it flourish, let there be mistakes, course corrections and evolution. Indian democracy is dynamism and evolution. As citizens, our democratic endeavours should not be limited to procedural aspects of voting but extend to living democracy and being democratic each day.

Democracy does not come with a single, perfect, made for all, fit for all formula and hence miraculous expectations from it are unrealistic. There are instances of democratic success as well as of failures. It has to be accepted with its flaws. Democracy was meant to be diverse and accepting of differences both in success and failure. India is a unique democracy that comes with a mixture of caste, class, religion, ethnicity and language. Our democratic fabric is different from that of the west and we ought to preserve it with utmost care. We ought to celebrate the uniqueness in our democracy instead of striving to ape western norms. For each country, democracy adapts and functions uniquely.

For now we should celebrate the spirit of democracy and all that our nation has achieved through it, let it take its desired course to shape the country’s destiny. We should let democracy breathe! 


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