Promoting a Culture of Democracy

Uploaded on June 2, 2023


Promoting a Culture of Democracy

Dr. Mohammad Manzoor Alam

We take pride in the fact that India is the world’s largest democracy. We feel fully justified in celebrating our democracy as we have independent institutions such as judiciary and election commission, for checks and balances. If a peaceful transition of power is a mark of a mature democracy, we can claim that we are a mature one. Above all, we have a wonderful constitution that promises us liberty, equality, fraternity and justice. This remarkable document intends for our country to be governed by the rule of law. It is based on the principles of “inalienable rights of citizens, independence of judiciary, free and fair elections and freedom of the press”.

However, in the recent past we have seen democratic institutions to be floundering. The election commission and the judiciary are considered a powerful check on executive power, but the citizen’s trust in them seem to be eroding.

In a democracy, we all know, the media plays a crucial role in good governance by representing the interests of the citizens and holding the executive to account. However, it seems that a large section of the media has abdicated its responsibility and instead of highlighting the record unemployment rate, spiralling inflation, and law and order situation. Instead, it is promoting religious polarisation and hatred against a section of the society.

This reminds me of a recent book release event organised by the Institute of Objective Studies (IOS) in which Tushar Gandhi, the great grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, said: “India cannot become a responsible nation until it thrives on the politics of hate.” He was inaugurating Piyush Babele’s Gandhi: Siyasat aur Sampardayekta (Gandhi: Politics and Communalism).

One more thing I would like to add in this regard. If the judiciary is reluctant to defend human rights and the citizen’s right to dissent, it does not bode well for a democracy. We feel that the judiciary should be pro-active in defending human rights and people’s right to dissent. It should stand by the poor and the marginalised. In a lecture organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association on Feb. 24, 2020, Justice Deepak Gupta observed: “Dissent is essential in a democracy. If a country has to grow in a holistic manner where not only the economic rights but also the civil rights of the citizen are to be protected, dissent and disagreement have to be permitted, and in fact, should be encouraged. It is only if there is discussion, disagreement and dialogue that we can arrive at better ways to run the country.”

There is also an economic angle to it. Socio-political instability is not good for such a huge economy like India. Last year, when right-wing outfits had given a call to ban Muslim traders from temple festivals in Karnataka, Biocon chief Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw had asked the then chief minister Shri Basavaraj Bommai to “resolve this growing religious divide,” because, she warned, if the technology sector becomes communal “it would destroy our global leadership”. I also believe that conflict and violence have the potential to jeopardize not only our peace but also our economic growth.

Though I have raised all these concerns with regard to our polity, what is more worrying for me is that some of us haven’t learned—or, more appropriately, unlearned—how to live together as equals in a multicultural society. One may ask me why I say some of us have unlearned as to how to live together in peace. I say this because despite having belonged to different religions, regions, castes and colours, we have lived together peacefully for centuries. And, above all, we fought for our independence together and won freedom for our country. It was no mean feat.

What we did next was even more extraordinary. We built a democracy when we became free. And we gave ourselves a secular constitution that is one of the most progressive documents the world has ever produced to govern a country. Our constitution seeks to secure to all its citizens: social, economic and political justice; liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; and equality of status and opportunity. And it seeks to promote fraternity among its citizens.

Therefore, we should not deviate from our usual path. We should shun hatred and prejudice against each other. Instead, we should start practising the art of living together in peace by accepting differences and respecting others.

I totally agree with human rights organisation Council of Europe when it says: “Democracy is, of course, built on institutions and laws, but it lives through the actions and behaviour of its citizens.”

Now the question remains: what needs to be done so the democratic principles or the morality enshrined in our constitution informs our social behaviour? To put it differently, what measures could be taken so that we—despite professing different religions, belonging to different castes and regions, and speaking various languages—could stand united as citizens of this country? In this regard, Professor (Dr.) Rajeev Bhargava, who teaches at CSDS (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies), underscores the importance of democratic education. He says “Literacy and education by themselves do not create good citizens or yield mature democracies.” Now, the question is—what is democratic education? According to Professor Bhargava, it is the ability to imagine and conceive a common good. However, he says, the idea of common good cannot be developed without some sense of justice. Democratic education involves “a basic understanding of our society and its history, of its multiple cultural, intellectual and religious traditions, which set the terms of specific debates.”

Reading constitution and constituent assembly debates and, of course, a good liberal arts education can go a long way in inculcating people with democratic values. We can also provide people with opportunities to interact with citizens professing different religions and hailing from various regions. If we become successful in inculcating people with democratic values, we can create good citizens and become a mature democracy, which in turn will result in human happiness and social cohesion.

Let me share with you what I often tell my colleagues—We have had enough talk about India being the largest democracy. Now is the time to talk about promoting a culture of democracy. And we have had enough talk about India having a wonderful constitution. Now is the time to promote a culture of constitutionalism.

Let’s teach our children to respect other religions, cultures, and languages. Let’s teach them to cultivate a democratic attitude. They should embrace diversity.

Being an eternal optimist, I’m sure our efforts will increase the nation’s happiness and bring peace and prosperity. 

(The writer is General Secretary of All India Milli Council)


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