Crises of Democracy and in Democracies: Time for a Rethink?

Crises of Democracy and in Democracies: Time for a Rethink?
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Sana Shah

The grand songs and tales of democracy will start circulating as the election year approaches, as is the usual custom vis a vis elections and democracies. However, if we revisit the facets of democracy, the question that arises is: is the electoral process the only aspect democracy? And if it is, what does it come down to? Numbers and how craftily the political parties are able to engineer the number game?
The USA was obsessed with the giant project it undertook- exporting democracies. However, for a satisfactory working of democracy as a political system, there are certain pre-requisite conditions, devoid of which democracy is insubstantive. The background conditions with regards to the socio-political spectrum entail a detailed discussion.
We have come a long way traversing through human history of political systems and pinned up democracy as the most workable and amiable option for governance, or in other words, the least problematic of all the available options. However, that does absolve democracy of the crimes it has the potential to commit. Let us not turn a blind eye to the history as it unfolds for democracy inherently can slip into majoritarianism on account of populist regimes. Who can forget Hitler in Germany(he rose to power through a democratically elected procedure, but within no time that democratic rule slipped into a dictatorial regime).
And, thus arises the significant question of resistance. In such a case, where a democracy slips into tyranny, what are the modes of resistance available, if any? Historically speaking, I cannot think of any. To resist an imperial power, we have had a legacy of experimented methods all round the world, with the likes of Gandhi and Mandela showing the way. But what do you do to resist a democracy from tipping into tyranny- is resistance an option here, when the government installed is of your own choosing?
Of course, we have elections as the way of ousting a government, but what if it is too late by then. In the long run we all are dead, said Keynes famously. However, political transformations, no matter how impending for years, can happen overnight. And democracies have the propensities to throw up surprises ( look at the election of Trump, the Brexit, and so on).
If democracies are about winning elections and voting a party to power- well, with such an end, what about the means? What about the essence of democracy? In the pursuance of democratic processes, the essence of democracy is at stake and can well be lost. After all, that is what rhetorical speeches can do as well, incite collective sentiments of hate, fear or anxiety or construct a fear where there is none. And there, you win elections, if that is what democracy is all about. It is then suicidal as well, in the sense of it being susceptible to the elements of hate. Liberal democracy is amenable to make itself a vehicle of fraught group relations that can be put to use to catapult people to positions of power.
Increasingly, another interesting tendency is how liberal democracies working in a parliamentary system, driven by representative institutions are turning into personalized electoral-driven politics. In liberal democracies, where we have elections, it is worth remembering the people do not elect the prime-minister of the nation: they are not supposed to do that. People vote in to elect a government and parliament elects the head of the government who becomes the prime minister. Highly personalized competition which has the propensity to by-pass institutions only pave way for the erosion of the institutions
You can defend irregularities in a totalitarian system, in imperial systems, but to rectify the errors, the idea of democracy was envisaged. The social immediacy prompted envisaging such a system of governance and politics. However, today we witness the evisceration of the essence of democracy, it gives a sense of crisis. But , moments of crisis can also be moments of understanding, clarity and innovations. The times of crisis have produced the best of minds and works. And it is one such moment today wherein we should pose this question to ourselves: why democracy? For want of a better alternative? So is it time to look for a better alternative or is the human mind capable of envisioning only a democratic polity? The crisis of democracy suggests that it is either time to go beyond it or to think of the means of its refinement.

The Author is pursuing Masters in Political Science at Jawahar lal Nehru University New Delhi and can be reached at: syedhanan1545@gmail.com

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