Is true democracy on a death row?
Sample this: A democratically elected president imposes martial law in parts of the country and then publicly dares the country’s Supreme Court, “It's not dependent on the whim of the Supreme Court. Should I believe them?” He then threatens anyone who dares challenge his decision. "… you ask me to lift it? I will arrest you and put you behind bars."
All these for his "love" for the country. He says, “We can talk of anything else and make compromises maybe, but not when the interest of my country is at stake.”
Sure, that sounds fair. But, aggressive defence of "the interest of the country" as one man perceives, without any tolerance for others’ views, sounds far from democratic.
Haven’t we heard such historical rhetoric before, with devastating after-effects? Let’s, for a moment, consider these as off-the-cuff remarks by an overzealous, no-nonsense, result-oriented and well-meaning chief executive.
What about, then, this president’s remarks, “Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now, there is three million drug addicts. I'd be happy to slaughter them.” He thunders yet again, in a bizarre effort to inspire his troops, “You can arrest any person, search any house… If you happen to have raped three women, I will own up to it.”
For now, our cherished democratic values, if not democracy itself, are indeed on a death row, with appeal pending. (AP photo for representational purpose)
Elsewhere, look at the self-appointed captain of the democratic world. The new president’s relentless "press-bashing" has been spectacular and ominous. A free and fearless press, the good, bad and the ugly, is one of the fundamental pillars of democracy.
An elected president, the protector of all democratic values, proudly tweets his own act of bashing up a news channel that has been openly critical of him and his actions, using a doctored video clip. One would have searched for traces of humour had it not been from a man who has unleashed ceaseless attacks on the free press ever since taking up the presidency. He throws regular insults at judges, custodians of yet another key pillar of democracy. He does not mince his words in dispensing with his know-it-all wisdom even if they are in gross violation of the fundamental democratic rights of the people, particularly the ethnic and religious minorities.
Check out another: a powerful "democratic" country: the president orders arrests of over 50,000 citizens, from across the spectrum of the society, intelligentsia, politicians, government officials, teachers, police, defence personnel and more. On top of it, over 150,000 people are either sacked or suspended from their jobs; all in the name of protecting the state from destabilising bad elements post a failed, and shabby, coup attempt.
The president goes on to seek more power for his office and convinces the electorate to give him. Further arrests follow.
The world’s largest democracy: equality for all citizens remain a constitutional jargon. Reservation policies, regularly widened under vote-bank compulsions, continue to deprive large chunks of the populace a fair deal. One gets killed for allegedly carrying or eating certain kind of food, jailed for caricaturing politicians, beaten up for criticising certain beliefs, and threatened for performing on a stage.
Elected parliamentarians intimidate toll booth agents, slap airlines officials, beat up canteen helpers, and ease up on the wall of a school when everyone lands up paying a cleanliness tax on most of their purchases.
When such things happen in these citadels of democracy, if the supposed rulers, the people, get perpetually ignored, if the elected representatives behave more and more like autocrats with scant respect for institutions, and then the same people get re-elected, it sure rings a bell loud for the future.
It is possible that the common people, frustrated with repeated failure of the elected representatives to deliver promises, are starting to lose faith in classic democracy. They want action. They want progress. They want security.
In the process, they probably do not mind if their leaders cross the traditional lines of political correctness and fairness, if they trample on fundamental democratic principles, and if they wrestle with revered institutions that protect democratic values.
One can see this striking shift in people’s rendering of their ideal leader. The good old days are slowly fading away to distant memory. Some of today’s leaders would have never been elected in the past, given their divisive remarks, policies and melodramas.
But, here we are. This may continue till we find ourselves in the grips of authoritarian rules, a new avatar of authoritarians with electoral mandates. Initially, better days may come under this new indulgence. But, they will degenerate slowly into oppressive dictatorial rules as "absolute power corrupts". The common men would, once again, realise the cost they had paid for the progress, start a struggle for freedom… and a new cycle all over again.
For now, our cherished democratic values, if not democracy itself, are indeed on a death row, with appeal pending!