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Dwindling Democracy in South Asia

04 June, 2007

By Tanveer Jafri


Undoubtedly, the parliamentary democracy setup is accepted as the best setup to run the government. Democracy is not only a system to govern but it is a philosophy of life that gives message of equality, liberty, tolerance, peace, love & harmony. Under this system, the people elect their rule & ruler themselves. That's why the democracy is defined as the rule of the people, by the people & for the people. The word democracy is used for both, the democratic setup & democratic reign.

Generally, the word democracy is used for political reference but its principles also apply on other groups & organizations. It is true that generally the democracy is formed by the mixture of different principles. But casting the vote is considered the main feature of most of the democracies. Democracy can be seen in three different forms. First is Representative Democracy, second is Liberal Democracy & third is Direct Democracy.

Representative Democracy is a setup in which government officials are directly chosen by the public. Representatives of the public are chosen from a district or parliamentary constituency or they represent many proportionate setups. Mixed setup is used in many countries when there is Representative Democracy. The representatives in such Democracy are elected by the people. But the policies for the welfare of the public are determined by the elected representatives themselves.

Liberal Democracy is also a good setup for such a government. Liberal Democracy is a representative Democracy in which there is a provision for clean & unbiased election. Its main characteristics are security for power, freedom of expression & freedom of language, religion, to hold meetings & to have property whereas the Direct Democracy is a setup where all the citizens of the state take part in the votes for the important policy decisions. It is called direct elections because in principle, there is no representative or middle person. Generally such Direct Democracies are in small communities & small states.

Whenever there is discussion about the democratic setup, first of all the Democracy in South Asia is talked about. Main reason behind it is that India is seen as the largest democratic country situated in the South Asia, in the world. Obviously when the Indian Democracy is being talked about, there is need to look at the government setup of neighbour countries of India i.e. Pakistan & Bangladesh etc. During the six decades of independence, India has passed through many phases of parliamentary Democracy whereas the impartial elections, freedom of expression & religious freedom were seen as the real characteristics of democracy. At the same time there were many unfortunate incidents during these six decades that were not good for the good of the Democracy. The spreading communalism in the country, casteism, regionalism, the communal riots in Gujarat, the incident in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, act of escaping from Kashmir, many a time dissolution of the elected assemblies & the implementation of President Rule there, the nepotism in politics, the increasing hold of criminals & muscle power in politics, the increasing corruption are the dark blots on Indian democratic setup. Seeing all these stigmas, some analysts have started to think if the democratic setup is applicable to the South Asian countries or not.

In the last days, there was a debate on this issue by Radio, Voice of America. I also participated in it .The former Vice Chairperson of Rajya Sabha, Najma Heptulla, who was taking part in this debate also, said that nepotism in India has decreased. As a proof of it, she stated the present election results in Uttar Pradesh. She also stated that communalism & casteism have decreased in India. But in reality I don't think so. In Indian politics, not only at national level, but at regional level too, the nepotism is at its peak. The leaders who are responsible for spreading communalism & casteism are in the offices & are misusing the powers in the unwanted mission. At some places, there is news of suppression of expression. Even it is said that Najma Heptulla herself have spent her life in the praise of a particular political family & by the way she also, represents a high political family. Besides, a large number of the voters of the country are illiterate so their votes can be easily purchased or & can be had in favour in the name of caste or religion. At many places, votes are taken in favour with the help of the musclemen. At some occasion, the Fatwas or the religious orders are issued for getting the votes & so the votes are misused. These religious instructors entrap the simple & illiterate voters. Can such a democratic setup be called an impartial & successful democratic setup?

The other important country of South Asia, Pakistan is also in the same gloomy situation. The army in Pakistan has right to oust the democratically elected representative government. It is said that since Pakistan came into existence as an independent state, the rules of the democratic setup & the military rule have controlled the country almost equally. Here too, the nepotism, communalism, casteism, riots, terrorism in groups, administrative protection, storage of military equipment even at the time of food shortage, extremism & even suppression of expression can be easily seen.

Bangladesh that has passed 38 years of independence is also passing through the same phase. It is also known as a country with a democratic setup. And as in Pakistan, in Bangladesh too, its democracy has been under the shadow of the military rule since Bangladesh came into existence. Nepotism in politics is clearly visible here. As in India & Pakistan, the communalism & casteism in constantly increasing, the communal organizations & terrorism base on communalism is gathering strength. Once again the military is looking at the power in Bangladesh. Prof. Mohammad Yunus, who is the Noble Prize Winner in the poverty stricken & starving Bangladesh, wanted to join the politics. But within a few days, he was so much frustrated that he withdrew himself from being active in politics. What is the reason that made that great economist to draw himself back form the politics within a period of three months only? Today emergency is there. The elected members are not running the government in Bangladesh. Instead these public representatives have been directed to quit the country or to remain out of the country. Is it a characteristic of a clean Democracy?

In fact any part of the democracy shouldn't try to prove it the best. The setup must be visible as it is a government of the people, for the people & by the people. It should also be visible that all are getting justice in this setup. The use of religion & expression should be constructive & positive. It should never be negative & destructive. The blots of casteism & communalism shouldn't leave their ill effects. If these things are considered carefully in a true Democracy, only then such a setup can be called a real Democracy. Otherwise not only in India but in all the democratic countries of South Asia, where there is a democratic setup, there is a need of perusal.

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