Democracies of Different Kinds

May 11, 2012

The Hindu BusinessLine

Representative democracy, unlike the Greek direct version from which it has evolved, has drifted far from its essential moorings. It is now largely a power of attorney for unknown actions.

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4 thoughts on “Democracies of Different Kinds

  1. Representative democracy has its shortcomings. We elect representatives that supposedly represent us. Even if they were to do so, the challenge is that in a situation where a significant minority of the population has not voted for the party in power, the representatives do not appear to relate to their concerns.

    Even if a party were to secure an overwhelming mandate and thus claim to be truly representative, we have seen that in a pluralistic country like India, it is almost impossible for all issues to be presented well and debated in a thorough enough manner to arrive at reasoned decisions.

    Very often the elected representatives behave more like rulers rather than representatives of the people.

    Lastly, there is the issue of defining democracy itself. While Abraham Lincoln defined as rule of, by and for the people, it is increasingly seen as rule by majority. It is possible that majoritarianism leads to suboptimal outcomes for minorities that feel excluded, but also for all in a diverse society such as ours.

    What then is the best solution for a system of governance? One way to answer this is to say that democracy is better than all the other systems that have been tried in the past. While not arguing against democracy and for competitive electoral politics, the systems of checks and balances with separation of powers, I think we need to reform the idea of democracy. We need to achieve the pristine purity that was envisaged – of serving a mechanism for exercise of informed judgement and enlightened self-interest.

    It would be nice to get some views on this.


    • I think Democracy will evolve and very soon. The internet and the social media had not had its impact as yet. Soon we will have mechanisms to cast out votes issue by issue through our smart phones and the role of parliaments will be just framing the language. My guess is that we will see it our lifetime … may be even in India. Then most negatives will get diminished. Kumar


      • I too am hopeful of this change. Social media can transform participation no doubt as you say.

        However, while technology can enable assessment of opinions, we also need to have the general population educated on the consequences of each policy decision. This will need communication of a high order and for citizenry also to be ‘informed’ participants in the dialogue.

        This remains a challenge. Even a seemingly advanced nation like the US that is arguably the first modern nation-state based on democratic values, has challenges in this regard. Powerful lobbies and interests are better able to articulate their point of view and frame the dialogue in a manner that is compelling. They control the media, dissemination of facts (even if incorrect) and propagate causes that are seemingly right. I believe we will still have the challenge of addressing this disproportionate power of some groups. How we evolve a system of governance that is insulated from such pressures will be critical to success.


      • Power and vested interests have been there since the days of Rama, Krishna and Genghis Khan. You simply cannot get rid of it completely. It may reduce with social media. Re the capacity of people to make ‘right’ decisions, one has to shrug one’s shoulder and say that there is nothing right or wrong in an absolute sense, so long as I have the freedom to make the choice and throw mud on myself rather than someone else do it on me.


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