The rapid expansion of democracy through the better part of the world has initially been because of efforts on the part of the western governments. Yet, democracy is mostly in transition. To uphold and upgrade it is a task for the higher learning institutes, middle class intelligentsia and the media, writes G Palanithurai
Aspiration to be in democratic governance is increasing exponentially in geometric proportion among the people in the world.
It is evident from the report published by the Freedom House that one-fourth of the world politics were democratic in 1950 and most of them were from the west. But in the year 2005, out of 192 countries, 123 countries had come to the fold of democracy in their polity and governance. For the first time democracy has acquired majority status on a world scale after the year 2000. Just it became a wave in the world. It started from Portugal and moved fast through the better part of the world. The speed of expansion of democracy in the world is unprecedented which causes the problem of quality. Democracy expansion in the west was slow, steady and phenomenal through a process of hard struggle. Further, it is to be understood that democracy promotion and democratisation activities of the western societies were evolved though a process struggle. But the present day democracy promotion activities are engineered by external forces. The moot question is whether people who are involved in democracy promotion and democratisation are aware of the meaning of democracy as it varies across the world.
The expansion of democracy took place in the world through democracy promotion policy adopted by many of the western governments. Human collectivities who are in the authoritarian regimes are struggling to establish democratic political regimes. They do it with a broader understanding and notion that democracy is nothing but changing political regimes with the electoral participation of ordinary citizens. Changing political regimes is being perceived by the people as the most excited transformation they cherish in the nature of democracy. While seeing the countries’ practices, procedures and processes of the institutions of governance which are in democracy in the recent years because of democracy promotion and democratisation, one would come to a conclusion that democracies are in different forms and at different levels. The nature of democracy and its typology are basically the outcome of the nature of interaction between government and the people over the process of governance and development. At present the changes are fast in the society because of globalisation. Hence, all democracies are in transition and they move from one level to another. The basic question here is that whether democracy gets strengthened in the process and its quality gets improvement in the fast changing world.
How to comprehend democracy is yet another question as it is defined broadly that it is a set of institutions and organisations with a set of processes and procedures to involve the people in electing a regime to govern the society. The whole functioning of the institutions and organisations are based on attitude and behavior of the people who are involved in politics. Democracy is not a mechanical process of merely electing a regime. People’s participation in all the activities will reflect the belief, attitude, values, norms and behaviour of the people. Though it ultimately reflects in political regime and its governance activities, the essence of democracy lies in values, norms, attitudes, beliefs, behavior of the people in relation to formation of political regimes and the conduct of the same. Thus democracy is an inclusive concept covering the socio economic aspects of the human society. That is the reason why we see varieties of democracies in the world based on the socio-economic and cultural moorings of the human societies.
The essence of democracy lies in practicing equality, fairness, justice, equity in socio-economic and political life of the society. Empirically, the behavioural social scientists conceptualise democracy from the core values and norms of democracy and their practices both in the society, economy and polity through their institutional mechanisms. They evaluate the democracies in the world and classify the societies and countries in the ranges from minimal democracy to progressive democracy in terms of democratic processes, procedures and practices. Societies are in progressive and regressive forms in terms of democratic practices in the world. Societies come to democracy out of excitement but while practicing the core values, they found extreme difficulties and as a result they may retreat also. But regression and progression are well within the democratic framework. On most the socio-cultural and economic conditions of the societies have strongly contributed for the regressive trend in democratic governance. Democracy by its core strength has to bring change in the socio-economic cultural moorings of the society. Many of the occasions and in many of the societies, it does not have such a strength and hence world has witnessed that more number of countries are in minimal democracy. Wherever democracy promotion and democratisation is strong, democracy moves progressively and moves to different levels by overcoming the obstacles. One set of nations in the world are working for reforming democracy. Yet, another group of nations are in democratisation process. Countries which are advocating reform in democracy have reached certain state in democracy and hence they want to move further. There are countries which are struggling to establish minimum practices, and processes in democracy and hence they are in democratisation processes.
All basically depends on democracy promotion activities. People tend to move towards democracy not for the sake of democracy alone. Societies move towards democratic regimes with the hope that they can improve their socio-economic conditions of their life. Their life would be transformed through the democratic process. If such a transformation is not taking place, people tend to look for alternative regimes. But in the world, it has been seen that democracy takes different shapes, forms and modes. Even in India, still our democracy is in minimal level and basic in form and it has not used its full potential to transform the poor. As a result, many argue that we have to redefine and rethink our democracy. In this context alone decentralisation was thought of as a powerful tool to deepen our democracy and to transform the life of the poor, excluded and marginalised by involving them in the process of development and governance. We have seen the onset of stagnation in decentralisation also. Hence, India has to work for democracy promotion and decentralisation of powers to make our democracy vibrant and decentralisation active in transforming the life of the poor. When the political class is reluctant to do the above, who will do this work is a major question. It is the responsibility of higher learning institutions, middle class and intellectuals to do democracy promotion work and decentralisation work through our educational institutions and media.
– G Palanithurai is an academic activist besides being Professor and Dean Gandhigram Rural Institute, a Deemed University in South India.