Meaning of Democracy
Democracy is a system of government in which power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or through freely elected representatives. Democracy is system of government whose legitimacy is based on the participation of the people. It is a government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Types of Democracy
Three basic categories of democracy are:
(i) Direct Democracy : It is a democratic system in which all citizens can participate in making of public decisions directly without any intermediaries of elected or appointed officials. It does not delegate its powers to any other person or representatives. In this type of democracy all decisions are voted by the people. Such a system can be found only at places where there is a small population in a country, community or organisation, e.g. a local unit of trade union.
(ii) Representative Democracy : In a representative democracy, citizens elect leaders to make political decisions, formulate laws and administer programmes for the public good. This is the most common form of democracy which is found in India too. People of India elect their representatives at all levels including Panchayats, Municipal Boards, State Assemblies and Parliament.
(iii) Participatory Democracy : It is a system of democracy in which the members of a group or community participate collectively in taking major decisions. However, it is not a direct democracy. The citizens have the power to decide directly regarding a policy and politicians are responsible for implementing those policy decisions.
Panchayati Raj System is needed to ensure a functioning and vibrant democracy at the village or grassroot level. It enables the village to have self-governance or Gram Swaraj and is entrusted with the task of rural development in the country.
The Indian Constitution
The Constitution of India is the framework for political principles, procedures and powers of the government. The Indian Constitution incorporated the best features of several existing Constitutions.
The Constitution of any country serves several purposes. It lays down certain ideals that form the basis of the kind of country that its citizens aspire to live in. The Indian Constitution has certain core values that constitute its spirit and are expressed in various articles and provisions. The Indian Constitution contains all such values that are universal, human and democratic.
Core Values of Indian Democracy
Democracy is not a modern term, it has been there for a long time. Examples of democratic behaviour has been shown in traditional plays and stories and in the epics, folklores etc. It is a combination as well as reinterpretation of modern traditional ideas. Modern ideas taken from the colonial rule and traditional ideas taken from folklore and epics.
The British introduced Western education to create educated Indian middle class that would help colonial rulers to continue their undemocratic and discriminatory rule. A section of Western educated Indians did emerge. But instead of helping British rule, they used Western liberal ideas of democracy, social justice and nationalism to challenge colonial rule.
The democratic values and democratic institutions are not purely Western. Our ancient epics, our diverse folk tales from one corner of the country to another are full of dialogues, discussions and contrasting positions. For example, in epic Mahabharata. When Rishi Bhrigu tells Bharadvaja that caste division relates to differences in physical attributes of different human beings, reflected in skin colour, Bharadvaja responds not only by pointing to the considerable variations in skin colour within every caste but also by more profound questions, “We all seem to be affected by desire, anger, fear, sorrow, worry, hunger and labour, how do we have caste differences then?”
The core values have become an integral part of Indian democracy. All the three values, associated with French Revolution – liberty, equality and fraternity are considered important in Indian society and polity.
Also, India is a land with high scale poverty and social discrimination. There are many divides in the society that classify the Indian people. The impact of culture, religion and caste on the urban rural divide, rich poor divide and the literate-illiterate divide is varied.
There are groupings and sub-groupings among the rural poor which are arranged by caste and poverty. The inequality and intensity of social discrimination in the country leads to the question of true meaning or value of democracy. It raises questions like, is democracy only related to political freedom or is it only related to economic freedom and social justice?
Basis of Indian Constitution
Many of the issues concerning the problems of India existed since pre-independent India. Hence, even before its independence, a vision of what independent India should look like emerged. As a result, Motilal Nehru and eight other Congress leaders met and drafted a basic idea of the Constitution for India in 1928.
Karachi Resolution, 1931
The Karachi Resolution was passed by the Indian National Congress at its 1931 Karachi Session, that dwelt on how independent India’s Constitution should be like. The Karachi Resolution reflected a vision of democracy that meant not just formal holding of elections but a substance reworking of Indian social structure in order to have a genuine democratic society.
The Karachi Resolution clearly spells out the vision of democracy that the nationalist movement in India had. It articulates values that were further given full expression in the Indian Constitution.
Preamble of the Indian Constitution
The Preamble to any Constitution is a brief introductory statement that conveys the guiding principles of the document. The Preamble reflects democracy as a value. It explains the document’s purpose and underlying philosophy. The Preamble of India states that the Constitution derives its authority from the people of India. The Preamble presents the intention of the frames, the history behind its creation and the core values.
Preamble of the Indian Constitution seeks to ensure not only political justice but also social and economic justice. Similarly, it also declares that equality is not just about equal political rights but also of status and opportunity.
Constituent Assembly Debates : A History
Gandhiji in 1939, wrote an article in the journal ‘Harijan’ called The Only Way in which he said, “The Constituent Assembly alone can produce a Constitution indigenous to the country and truly and fully representing the will of the people”, one based on “unadulterated adult franchise of both men and women.”
The demand in 1939 for a Constituent Assembly was accepted by the British in 1945 and the elections for the Constituent Assembly were held in July 1946. In August 1946, the Indian National Congress Expert Committee moved a resolution in the Constituent Assembly. It contained the declaration that India shall be a Republic where social, economic and political justice will be guaranteed to all the people of India.
Competing Interest : The Constitution and Social Change
The multi-religious and multicultural constitution of the Indian population creates a problem of competing interests. The divides present in the Indian society be it urban-rural, rich-poor and literate, illiterate operate on the Indian social scene and clamour for control of the state resources.
Keeping these classifications in mind, the Constitution laid some basic objectives that were considered to be just. These were:
- Empowerment of poor and marginalised
- Poverty alleviation
- Ending of caste
- Group equality
However, in many cases competing interests do not show a class divide e.g. the issue of closing down of a factory on the basis of toxic waste and its affects on health. This act is a matter of life. At the same time, such an act renders many people, jobless, which is also a matter of life.
It is interesting to note here that the Constituent Assembly was fully aware of such complexity and plurality during the drawing up of the Constitution. However, for them social justice was a guarantee within the Constitution.
Constitution Norms and Social Justice : Interpretation to Aid Social Justice
The Constitution and Social Justice
The Constitution is not just a ready reference of do’s and don’ts for social justice. It has the potential for meaning of social justice to be extended.
Social movements have also aided the courts and authorities to interpret the content of rights and principles in keeping with the contemporary understanding on social justice.
Law and courts are site where views are debated. The Constitution remains a means to channelise and civilise political power towards social welfare.
The Constitution has the capacity to help people because it is based on basic norms of social justice. For instance, Directive Principles on Village Panchayats was moved as an amendment in the Constituent Assembly by K Santhanam.
Law and Justice
The essence of law is its force. Law is law because it carries the means to coerce or force obedience. The power of the state is behind it. The essence of justice is fairness. Any system functions through a hierarchy of authorities. The norm from which all other rules and authorities flow is called Constitution. It is the basic document the constitutes nations tenets.
The Indian Constitution is India’s norm. All other laws are made as per the procedures that the Constitution prescribes. These laws made and implemented by the authorities specified by the Constitution.
A hierarchy of courts interpret the laws when there is a dispute. Supreme Court is the highest court and the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court has enhanced the substance of Fundamental Rights in many ways, such as:
(a) Right to Life and Liberty under Article 21 have been interpreted to include livelihood, health, shelter, education, dignity, etc. Life does not mean a mere animal existence. The wider definition of Article 21 has been used to provide social justice to tortured prisoners, and bonded labourers. It has helped to provide primary health care and primary education to people of India.
(b) Right to Information has been accepted as part of Right to Expression under Article 19(1)(a).
(c) Directive Principle of ‘equal pay for equal work’ has been added into the Fundamental Right to Equality under Article 14. It has provided relief to many plantation and agricultural labourers.
The Panchayati Raj and the Challenges of Rural Social Transformation
Ideals of Panchayati Raj
The literal meaning of Panchayati Raj is Governance by five individuals. The idea behind Panchayati Raj System was to ensure a functioning and vibrant democracy at the village or grassroot level.
When the Constitution was being drafted Panchayats did not find a mention in it. At this juncture, a number of members were dissatisfied over the issue.
Dr Ambedkar was against the institution of Panchayati Raj in rural areas of India. He argued that local elites and upper castes were very dominant in rural India. Local self-government would meant a continuation of exploitation of the downtrodden masses of Indian society. The upper caste would silence this segment of the population further.
Gandhiji on the other hand supported the Panchayati Raj. He saw gram swarajya to be an ideal model to be continued after independence. He envisaged each village as a Self-sufficient unit conducting its own affairs.
73rd and 74th Amendments of Panchayati Raj
(a) It was the 73rd Amendment of 1992 that the grassroot democracy or decentralised governance were provided constitutional status as the Panchayati Raj Institution (PRIS). It made the re-election of local self government bodies in rural and municipal areas in every five years compulsory. Moreover, it gave the control of local resources to the elected local bodies.
(b) According to the 73rd and 74th Amendment of one-third of total seats were reserved for women in all the elected offices of local bodies in both rural and urban areas. Out of this 17 per cent seats are reserved for women belonging to the scheduled castes and tribes.
(c) This amendment is significant as for the first time it brought women into elected bodies which also bestowed on them decision-making powers. One-third of the seats in local bodies, gram panchayats, village panchayats, municipalities city corporations are reversed for women.
(d) The 1993-94 elections, soon after the 73rd Amendment brought 80,000 women into the political process in a single election. A constitutional amendment prescribed a three-tier system of local-self governance for the entire country effective since 1992-93.
Powers and Responsibilities of Panchayat
According to the Constitution, Panchayats should be given powers and an authority to function as an institution of self government. The following powers and responsibilities were delegated to the Panchayats:
(a) It prepares plans and schemes for economic development.
(b) It promotes schemes that will enhance social justice.
(c) It can levy, collect and appropriate taxes, duties, tolls and fees.
(d) It helps in the devolution of government responsibilities, especially that of finances to local authorities.
Social Welfare Responsibilities
It performs the functions of maintenance of burning and burial grounds (graveyards), record of statistics of births, deaths, establishment of child welfare and maternity centres and control of cattle. It promotes family planning and agricultural activities.
It undertakes development activities of construction of roads, public buildings, wells, tanks and schools. It promotes small cottage industries and takes care of minor irrigation works. The government schemes like IRDP (Integrated Rural Development Programme) and ICDS (Integrated Child Development Schemes) are also monitored by the members of Panchayat.
Income of the Panchayat
The main income of Panchayats is received form the tax levied on property, profession, animals, vehicles, on land revenue and rentals. The grants received from the Zila Panchayat is also added to the resources of the Panchayats.
It is compulsory for Panchayats to show the record of received funds and utilisation of the financial resources in boards put up outside their offices. It ensures the ‘Right to Information’ at the grassroot level i.e. opening all functioning to the public eye. People had the right to scrutinise allocation of money and the people can ask reasons for decisions that were taken for the welfare and development activities of the village.
Constituted in some states Nyaya Panchayats have the authority to hear petty, civil and criminal cases. They can impose fines but cannot award a sentence. They have been successful in punishing men for harassing women for dowry. They have also brought agreements among the conflicting parties.
Tradition of Grassroots Democratic Functioning in Tribal Areas
Many tribal areas have a rich tradition of self-government at various tiers such as village clan and state levels. The Khasis, Jaintias and Garos of Meghalayas are the examples of such tribes. Khasis have Durbar Kaur as its own clan council which is presided by a clan headman.
Although there is a long tradition of grassroot political institutions in Meghalaya, many of the tribal areas are outside the limits of 73rd Panchyati Raj Amendment Act. This many be because the policy makers do not want to interfere in their traditional tribal institutions.
Sociologist Tiplut Nonbti remarks that tribal institutions are not necessarily democratic in its structure and functioning. He pointed on the Bhuria Committee Report which failed to understand the complexity of the situation. With the strong principle of equality that characterised tribal societies, the element of stratification is not altogether absent.
Tribal political institutions are not only marked by open intolerance to women but the process of social change has also introduced sharp distortions (manipulation) in the system, making it difficult to identity which is traditional and which is not.
Democratisation and Inequality
Democratisation is not easy in a society with a long history of inequality based on caste, community and gender. Under this unequal and undemocratic social structure, it is not surprising that in many cases certain members belonging to particular groups, communities, castes of the village are not included of informed about meetings and activities of the village.
Gram Sabha members are often controlled by a small group of rich landlords usually belonging to upper castes of landed peasantry. They make decisions on development activities, allocate funds leaving the majority who has no voice or silent:
Some examples of the above given statements are:
(a) Rathi Khap panchayat in Asanda villages of Jhajjar district wherein caste panchayats became the guardians of village morality. They ordered a girl to dissolve her marriage, abort her child and accept her husband as her brother because they belonged to the same gotra.
(b) Jaati Panchayat of Ansari in Muzafarnagar decided that a girl’s rape by her father in law made her, her husband’s mother.
(c) Another example belongs to Meerut wherein a lady pregnant with the child of her second husband was asked to return to her first husband who reappeared after five years.
Political Parties, Pressure Groups and Democratic Politics
Pressure groups are organised to pursue specific interests in the political arena. In a vast democracy such as India, it is difficult for an illiterate peasant or literate worker to make his individual case to the government systematically and convincingly as an individual.
Therefore, industrialists form associations such as Federation of Indian Chambers and Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and Association of Chambers and Commerce (ASSOCHAM), workers form trade unions such as the Indian Trade Union Congress (INTUC) or the Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU). Farmers form agricultural unions such as Shetkari Sangathan and agricultural labourers have their own unions.
All pressure groups do not have the same ability to pressurise the government. Dominant class (such as rich), dominant caste (high caste) and dominant gender (males) will exert greater power in society . But still all pressure groups play an important role in a democracy.
Political parties are key factors in a democratic form of government. A political party may be defined as an organisation which is oriented towards achieving legitimate control of government through an electoral process. It aims at achieving government power and using that power to pursue a specific programme.
Political parties represent the interest of different groups. Interest groups also influence the working of a political party . The political organisation which seek to achieve power and denied the opportunity to do so are regarded as movements.
According to Max Weber, party actions are always directed towards a goal which is undertaken in a planned manner. The goal may be cause (a program for ideal, or material purpose) or the goal may be personal ( power and honour of the leaders and followers of party).