Concept of Democracy, then and now

  • IASbaba
  • January 9, 2020
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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TOPIC: General Studies 2:

  • Indian Democracy and related issues
  • Governance issues
  • Indian Polity 

Concept of Democracy, then and now


  • We are all familiar with the idea that democracy is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
  • Today, the most common form of democracy is representative democracy, in which citizens elect officials to make political decisions, formulate laws, and administer programmes for the public good.

Different definitions of Democracy –

  • “Democracy is a government of the people, for the people, and by the people.”
  • – Abraham Lincoln
  • “Democracy really means nothing more or less than the rule of the whole people, expressing their sovereign will by their votes.”
  • – Bryce
  • “Democracy is not a way of governing, whether by majority or otherwise, but primarily a way of determining, who shall govern, and broadly to what ends.”
  • – Maclver

Idea of Democracy during British India and Post-independence

Mahatma Gandhi on Democracy

  • “Democracy must mean the art of science of mobilizing the entire physical, economic and spiritual resources of all the various sections of people in the service of the common good for all.”
  • “To safeguard democracy the people must have a keen sense of independence, self-respect and their oneness, and should insist upon choosing as their representatives only such persons as are good and true.”

Gandhian concept of Self Rule means Swaraj is real democracy, where people’s power rests in the individuals and each one realizes that he or she is the real master of one’s self.

Nehru on Democracy

  • “Democracy, if it means anything, means equality; not merely the equality of possessing a vote but economic and social equality.”

Karachi resolution

  • In 1931, the resolution at the Karachi session reflected the vision of democracy that meant not just formal holding of elections but a substantive reworking of the Indian social structure in order to have a genuine democratic society.

The framers of the Indian Constitution were inspired by principles of social equality and political justice to introduce adult suffrage immediately–a big step forward to protect our Indian Democracy.

After independence, India decided to have democratic political sys­tem. This system is characterised by three elements: one, there is a high degree of autonomy; two, economic agents and religious organisations are free from political interference; and three, competition between various orders does not endanger integration but helps it.

The first generation of Indian leaders wanted their country to be a liberal democracy, in which a person’s faith—or language, or caste, or gender—didn’t earn her better or worse treatment by the state.

Positive aspects of Democracy

Positively, democracy seeks to maintain and assert the below rights:

  • the right to free expression of opinion and of opposition and criticism of the Government of the day;
  • the right to change the Governments of which the people disapprove through constitutional means;
  • protection from arbitrary interference on the part of the authorities, primary safeguards against arbitrary arrest and prosecution;
  • fundamental rights of citizens, subject to their duties to the state;
  • the right of minorities to be protected with equal justice under law;
  • equal treatment and fair play for the poor as well as the rich, for private persons as well as Government officials;
  • The right to hold unpopular or dissident beliefs.

Modern day democracy on decline

Since independence, India has managed to stay on the democratic path in a way unprecedented among states freed from colonialism during the last century.

The makers of our Constitution designed the institutions of our democracy with great care and attention to detail. They were designed to endure and it was expected that these institutions will strengthen the democracy in India.

Recently, however, the dominance of the Hindu nationalists and the manner in which they have ruled – has given rise to claims that India’s democracy and its minorities are in grave danger.

Freedom of expression has been curtailed; institutions of democracy are weakened and diminished; democratic deliberation has been bypassed; attacks on religious minorities have been carried out.

At a time when politics almost everywhere is leaning dangerously towards a centralised, authoritarian, national security state with a strong leader committed to the ideology of cultural nationalism, the values and ideas of democracy provided by early leaders becomes important.

The values and democratic principles embraced by them are relevant not yesterday or today but forever!!

Connecting the dots:

  • Examine the democratic principles that took a concrete shape post British India rule.
  • Is the future of Indian democracy secure? Critically analyze.

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