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Developing dimensions of Indian democracy
3/25/2020 11:12:34 PM

Dr. Rajkumar Singh

On 26 January 1950 the Constitution of independent India declared it to be a Republic who’s Head of the State – single or collective is always elected for a prescribed period. Now our Republic is not only sovereign and democratic but socialist and secular too. It ensures all the citizens of India-justice, liberty, equality and fraternity in the entire social, economic and political spheres of human activity. Meaningfully it has been made a democratic republic whose democracy is not direct but through the Parliament of India. The parliamentary democracy, is of course, a representative democracy and the people of India are to exercise their sovereignty in electing their representatives for Central and State legislatures. Democracy cannot function without the system of representation, and elections cannot be contested without the political parties and their leaders. It is based on the active and intelligent interest of the people in their national affairs and in the elections that result in the formation of governments. Heavily relying on governments of political parties the national state was made an instrument of development and social transformation. The Indian Republic had showed the courage to two major innovations of historical significance in nation building and social engineering : first, to build a democratic and civil libertarian society among an illiterate people and second, to undertake economic development within a democratic political structure.
Socio-political bases of Indian democracy
Historians consider India’s modern age to have begun sometime between 1848 and 1885. The appointment in 1884 of Lord Dalhousie as Governor General of the East India Company rule in India set the stage for changes essential to a modern state. These included the consideration and demarcation of sovereignty, the surveillance of the population and the education of citizens. Technological changes among them, railways, canals, and the telegraph were introduced not long after their introduction in Europe. The victor of India was a modern nation which had abolished feudalism in its own country and created, in its place, modern bourgeois society. It was the rule by a people who had already overcome feudal disunity of their country based on feudal economy and integrated themselves into a modern nation through the rise and expansion of capitalism. A capitalist nation is socially, politically, economically and culturally stronger than a feudal people. Since capitalism is based on higher technique of production than feudalism, a capitalist nation is economically more powerful than a feudal people. A capitalist nation has a high sense of patriotism and nationalism since, unlike the feudal people, who are physically separated, socially disunited and politically unamalgamated, it is socially, economically and politically highly integrated, living under one political regime and a single economic system. But on the other disaffection with the Company also grew during this time, and set off the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Fed by diverse resentments and perceptions, including invasive British style, social reforms, harsh land taxes, and summary treatment of some rich landowners and princes, the rebellion rocked many regions of northern and central India and shook the foundations of the Company. Although the rebellion was suppressed, it led to the dissolution to the East India Company and to the direct administration of India by the British government. Proclaiming a unitary state and a gradual but limited British–style Parliamentary system, the new rulers also protected princes and landed gentry as a future safeguard against future unrest. After World War 1, in which some I million Indians served, a new period began. It was marked by British reforms but also repressive legislation, by more strident Indian calls for self rule, and by the beginnings of a non–violent movement of non–cooperation, of which Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was the leader and enduring symbol. During the 1930s, slow legislative reform was enacted by the British; the Indian National Congress (INC) won victories in the resulting elections.
Democracy around Independence
At independence India felt that the national progress can neither lie in a repetition of the past nor in its denial. New patterns must inevitably be adopted but they must be integrated with the old. Of the two views–traditional and modern, the Indian modernist occupied an intermediate but quite half-way position between the modernists and the critical traditionalists. For all practical purposes they accepted the modernist assessment of traditional India and stressed the need for comprehensive modernisation. The political change that took place in 1947 began to move with the existing social structure on the basis of give and take. The new institutions and the new leadership offered economic opportunity, administrative patronage, and positions of power which drew the articulate sections of society into the modernist network. In return, the political elite were provided with a basis of support that was already structured and endowed with, symbols of identification and experiential meaning. It was felt that as India is a multicultural country its society needs to find ways and means to accommodate diversity without losing its cohesiveness and unity. In the process they avoided the approach of assimilation and unbounded multiculturalism. Assimilation requires minorities to abandon their own distinctive institutions, cultures and values to merge into the prevailing culture. This way is sociologically unlikely to succeed and is morally untenable in view of the people’s deep adherence to normative values such as religion. Likewise, the unbounded multiculturalism which entails giving up the concept of shared values and identity in order to privilege ethnic and religious differences presuming that a nation can be replaced by a number of diverse minorities is also unacceptable. Such a course of action usually results in an undemocratic backlash, support for extremist parties and anti–minority policies. It is morally unjustified as it does not accept the values and institutions upheld by society at large. In this background the Constitution of India ensures that all citizens have equal rights and should have an equal opportunity.
Ever increasing democracy
For the positive change of socio-political milieu, also affected by the ongoing economy of the nation, basics of the Indian Constitution and world environment of the day should be given a large part of credit.
The political rights of citizens as enshrined in the Constitution played a vital role in increasing awareness of the meaning of franchise and the efficacy of the vote. Although democracy in India has not solved the problems of the poor, it has not provided them food and shelter, but it has given them a space to fight for their dignity, rights and entitlement. Their participation in electoral process is growing and assertively reaffirms their faith in democracy. Unlike the decades of 1950s and 1960s when the Congress was an umbrella organisation representing a bloc of classes and interests, the decade 1990s onwards revealed the formation and rise of post-Mandal and post-Hindutva forces and as a result democracy in India is no longer dependent on the guardianship of the elite. Today a large group of “common people” has emerged to protect, with necessary reforms, the established political system of the Indian republic. Now it has enabled the unprivileged to transcend their social location; gave them a sense of power that they never experienced in social life.
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