Different Truths’ columnist, Ashoka, highlights the sharp differences between democracy and the republic. Eamonn De Valera, the great Irish statesman had correspondence with the Founding Fathers of our Constitution, when it was being framed. But an essential advice that De Valera had proffered was ignored. We are in an absurd situation, where, because of the divided votes, a candidate enjoying the confidence of as little as 12% of his mandated electorate is deemed elected. The author cautions about the degeneration of the Indian democracy into kakistocracy.
Democracy and Republic: which of these terms best reflect the system that we live in and which we aspire to uphold!
By popular consensus, both the terms are considered virtually synonymous in colloquial usage but there is a vast difference which, despite the passionate exhortations of the premier political scientists of our times, we have tended to overlook.
It was the great Spinoza who, I believe first drew a distinction between the two terms and encouraged a debate as to which of these two systems was superior. The few important distinctions according to him that have to be borne in mind are:
- Democracy is perceived as rule by the omnipotent majority. In a democracy, an individual, and any group of individuals composing any minority, have no protection against the unlimited power of the majority. It is a case of Majority-over- Man. Republic, on the other hand, is similar to a representative democracy, except it has a written constitution of basic rights that protect the minority from being completely unrepresented or overridden by the majority.
- In a democracy, the majority can impose its will on the minority, while in a republic, the majority cannot take away certain inalienable rights.
- In a democracy, freedom of religion is permitted, although a majority faction may limit religious freedom for a minority faction, while in a republic, freedom of religion is permitted, especially insofar as there is a constitutional prohibition on interfering with freedom of religion.
There are other distinctions as well, many of a historical nature. Early democracies such as Rome, Athens and Venice have floundered because of the majoritarian instincts. Technically, therefore, although the terms are used interchangeably, India is a republic more than a democracy just like the United States.
But have we lived upto the aspirations that have been imposed upon each of us through the republican ideals. If we have to cross our hearts, the answer would have to be negative.
A democratic or a republican system obligates us to put in place certain system which permit the development of most fundamental human aspirations with least hindrance which would need to be periodically reviewed and modified to fulfil this basic aim.
One of the pre-requisites is an effective system is an effective system of representative selection. I am often reminded of the correspondence that Eamonn De Valera, the great Irish statesman had with the Founding Fathers of our Constitution, when it was being framed. De Valera was very friendly with Indian leaders like Bose, Nehru and Dr. Rajendra Prasad and, therefore, it is hardly surprising that the Indian Constitution resembles the Irish Constitution more than any other.
I have written elsewhere on the similarities between the two documents. But one essential advice that De Valera had proffered was ignored. He believed that given the diversity of the Indian population, a first past the post Westminster system would be singularly inappropriate and suggested the Irish system of preferences for electing the representatives.
A great pity we did not heed to this advice! We now find ourselves in an absurd situation where because of the divided votes, a candidate enjoying the confidence of as little as 12% of his mandated electorate is deemed elected and enjoys unbridled powers for five years. Little wonder that this has led to intense vote bank politics, which has eroded the very edifice of our democratic republic.
For the first past the post system to be effective, every participant in the fray has to accept that notwithstanding the final outcome, the winner would be expected to represent each and every constituent irrespective of how they vote. During my time in the UK, my MP was Sir George Young, a minister in the Thatcher government. Despite my known antipathy to the regime, I never found him wanting whenever I approached him for assistance. That clearly does not happen in India, hence the failure of the system. And when we have someone as eminent as former CEC viz., Krishnamurthy drawing attention to this anomaly, he is ridiculed by the politicians, who have a vested interest in the preservation of status quo no matter how inimical it may prove to the democratic and republican aspirations. Electoral reform is never even discussed seriously by all who clamour and swear by democratic ideals and the Constitution.
Ruefully we seem to be headed for another system i.e., kakistocracy. My antiquated and well-thumbed volume of Concise Oxford Dictionary describes it as: government by the worst persons; a form of government in which the worst persons are in power.
We must all bear collective failure for this degeneration from democracy to kakistocracy. Our generation owes an apology to the one that is on its way and I sincerely hope, it not only arrests this trend, but does a better job that we have thus far.
©Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad
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