India is a democratic country. But do we all know what democracy actually is?What it is all about?
Democracy is the most significant topic in political science as well as political philosophy, and a generally accepted view. Democracy, or rule by the people, is an unrestricted form of government in which all the inhabitants of a nation determine public policy, the laws, and the actions of their state together. Democracy requires that all citizens have an equal opportunity to express their opinion. Practically, democracy is the extent to which a given system approximates this ideal, and a given political system is referred to as a democracy if it allows a certain approximation to ideal democracy. Although no country has ever granted all its citizens the right to vote, most countries today hold regular elections based on egalitarian principles, at least in theory.
Features of Democracy:
- Citizen Rule
A democratic government grants adult citizens the right to elect their representatives. It also establishes clear guidelines for election cycles and term limits so that key positions are contested at regular intervals. Through this process of voting, citizens are regularly given the ability to hire or fire their representatives.
- Majority Rule and Minority Rights
The principle of majority rule is an important part of the democratic system. The majority rules in the election process, but individual rights are protected by the maintenance of decentralized, local government bodies. In a democracy, all levels of government should be accessible to, and representative of, the people.
- Individual Rights
Democracies value the protection of individual rights. The word freedom is used synonymously with democracy to describe individual liberties afforded in this type of government. In the U.S., the Bill of Rights serves as a summary of individual liberties. Freedom of speech and religion, protection from unlawful search and seizure and the right to bear arms are examples of individual liberties, afforded in a democracy. Equal treatment, under the law, is assured for everyone in a democratic society.
- Free and Fair Elections
The key to the exercise of democracy is the election process. Free and fair elections are held at regular intervals for the election of representatives at all levels of government. In a free, democratic election, all adult citizens are given the right to cast votes which, in theory, ensures that the will of the people will be expressed.
- Citizen Participation
Citizens of a democracy not only have the right to vote, but also the responsibility to participate. Informed participation is key in a democracy. When the people elect their representatives, they are ensuring the preservation of the democratic process Engaged citizenship is essential in a healthy democracy.
- Cooperation and Compromise
Democracies also value cooperation and compromise to protect individual rights. To adequately safeguard diversity, and accurately represent all communities, a democracy must protect the right to be different. Anti-discrimination is at the heart of a true democracy. The freedom to assemble and voice opinion drives government accountability to ensure that underrepresented people have the same rights as the majority.
Types of Democracy
A direct democracy is when citizens get to vote for a policy directly, without any intermediate representatives or houses of parliament. If the government has to pass a certain law or policy, it goes to the people. They vote on the issue and decide the fate of their own countries. The people can even bring up issues themselves, as long as they have a substantial consensus on the issue. Even taxes cannot be raised without the public support!
When the population is small, educated and mostly homogeneous (at least politically), a direct democracy doesn’t seem like a bad idea. Switzerland, for example, has had a long history of a successful direct democracy.
Representative democracy is type of democracy founded on the norm of elected people representing a group of people, as opposed to direct democracy. In modern democratic states, representatives are voted for by, and are ultimately accountable to the electorate. Different methods of selecting representatives are described in the article on electoral systems, but often a number of representatives are elected by, and responsible to, a particular subset of the total electorate: this is called his or her constituency. The representatives form an independent ruling body charged with the responsibility of acting in the people’s interest, with enough authority to exercise swift and resolute initiative in the face of changing circumstances.
Representative Democracy is typically associated with Liberal Democracy which describes the political system which originated in the USA and Western Europe and has subsequently been adopted in numerous Third World countries and may gradually be well established in the former USSR and its former satellites in Eastern Europe. Liberal Democratic regimes may be classified as either Presidential or Parliamentary systems and there are also important variations within these broad categories.
The exact opposite of an authoritarian democracy is the participatory form of democracy. There are different types of participatory democracy, but all of them yearn to create opportunities for all members of a population to make meaningful contributions to the decision-making process. It empowers the dis-empowered by breaking up the state into small networks and prefers to empower community-based grassroots politics. It values deliberation and discussion, rather than merely voting.
Today, no country actively practices this form of democracy. Although the theories behind it are sound, the real-life application of this approach is fraught with complications. However, many social movements, like the international Occupy movement, the Bolivarian movement in Venezuela and the Narmada Bachao Andolan in India organize themselves around a participatory model of democracy.
Social Democracy arose as a reaction to neoliberal policies in international economics. Under neoliberalism, profit-making entities like multinational corporations can easily infiltrate other political states. They maintain a level of sovereignty and mobility that no government can counter. The power of the political state seems flimsy in comparison.
Social Democracy aims at empowering the state over the mere whims of the neoliberal market. The state can increase its expenditure by providing free alternatives to overpriced private ventures. It may focus on providing free education or free healthcare, so that people don’t have to depend on profit-making corporations.
Differences between Democracy and Dictatorship:
- In a democracy the leaders of the party control most of their votes, but they still have to answer to their political party and the voters. In a dictatorship there is just one leader who has total control over the party and the country. Often propaganda, as well as genuine support, may paint them as the people’s hero.
- In a democracy political parties represent different points of view and compete for the votes of the electorate. In a democracy political power is secured by winning a fair election. In a dictatorship the government strictly control all the aspects of the state.
- In a democracy newspapers are free to print the truth and can criticise the government when mistakes are made or if there is disagreement. A dictatorship completely disregards the rights of individual citizens. The government and state will try to control all citizens through laws, police, spying and force. The government and state is the most important thing to a dictatorship.
- In a democracy there is usually less control over the films and books people can enjoy. In a dictatorship there is only one party, all opposition is destroyed and banned. Totalitarian states don’t allow opposition or elections.
- In a democracy the government has less control over people’s choice and belief. People are free to join clubs, political parties and other groups. The government in a dictatorship controls every element of people’s lives, including radio, cinema and newspapers.