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    Is the world losing faith in democracy?


    Is the losing faith in democracy?

    Bhavdeep Kang

    Is the world losing faith in democracy? Confounded by recent political trends like Brexit and the electoral success of right-wing leaders and parties, notably 's Narendra Modi, France's Marine Le Pen, USA's Donald Trump, Germany's AFD and Poland's Law and Justice Party, liberal intellectuals fear that democracy is under threat.

    Britian's left-of-centre journal, New Statesman, carried an article last fortnight claiming, “The politics of mass democracy has failed.” It argued that, “As such, it is the most cynical betrayal of those who are disenfranchised. It confirms that they have no part in real political processes; they can only choose their monarch.” Shades of the Marxist critique of western democracy, ie, of interest groups subverting popular will.

    Certainly, US president-elect Donald Trump's opponents appear to have lost faith in the democratic process. They refuse to accept him as president (apparently because he endangers the democratic process that they have no faith in). Protest has taken the usual forms, like blockading streets, vandalism, slogans of “Dump Trump” and death threats. And some unusual ones, like company CEOs threatening to sack employees who are Trump supporters, fashion designers refusing to craft clothes for the first lady-elect and a Starbucks barrista refusing to write “Trump” on a coffee cup.

    Fed up with the post-electoral drama, US federal judge John Primomo declared, “Whether you voted for him or you did not vote for him, if you are a citizen of the United State, he is your president.” He followed that up by recommending that those who didn't like it, had best go to another country!

    The remark enraged the anti-Trump brigade. Even the US media, sections of which had repeatedly characterized Trump as a terrible danger to democracy, has yet to wrap its head around the result. It must tread a fine line between supporting anti-Trumpers and sounding like it wants to jettison representative democracy. Where would Honest Abe Lincoln (“A government of the people, by the people, for the people”), who knew a thing or two about the divisive nature of politics, stand on this?

    All through the US presidential campaign and after the result, the social and mass media has reverberated with fears of the US morphing into some variety of totalitarian democracy under Trump. Or blowing up the world, with Trump's “sweaty finger on the nuclear trigger”.

    Pretty much the same fears have been expressed through the two-and-half years of the Modi regime in India. Modi, the first to win a decisive popular mandate since 1984, apparently can do no right. Minorities are in danger, we are told, but no one seems to know how exactly. Pressed for an explanation, Modi-baiters lapse into abstractions like “ of intolerance”. Further pressed, they might mumble “love jihad” or “beef ban”. Of late, they have acquired a big stick with which to beat the NDA: the ambitious and prima facie disastrous exercise in demonetization.

    The fact is, halfway through the Modi regime, fears of democracy being undermined have been belied. Like all governments, the NDA has sought to take unpopular decisions and was stymied, either by pressure from the grassroots – as in the case of the Land Acquisition Ordinance – or by the Supreme Court, a case in point being the striking down of the proposed Judicial Commission. If demonetization doesn't pan out, the BJP will pay for it at the hustings. That's democracy – the bad guy gets his come-uppance and a new guy comes in, for better or worse.

    Intellectual elites, railing against mavericks catapulted to office by imperfect political processes, prefer not to recognize that democracy has already been subverted. Neoliberalism has created structural inequalities, which do not sit well with egalitarian concepts of democracy. Whether ideologically left, right or centre, incumbent political establishments across the world have failed to respond to growing inequities (not even when Thomas “Capitalism in the 21st Century” Piketty raised the red flag). Accordingly, they are being booted out and the Trumps – rank outsiders – come marching in.

    The question is not whether electoral politics is divisive – of course it is, to some extent or the other. All politics is identity politics, built on the aspirations of caste, class or demographic groups. Nor does democracy necessarily translate into populism. At time, populist moves work, like the UPA's infamous loan waiver, but at other times they don't. Voters are not dumb. They are well aware that democractically-elected governments are more responsive to the rich and powerful.

    Mavericks being elected to office does not undermine faith in democracy. It is symptomatic of a lack of faith, not in democracy, but in the political elites who have refused to address rampant neoliberalism. As Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

    The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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