Millennium Post

Redefining democracy

Principles of equality, fraternity and dignity are the pillars of democratic societies

Redefining democracy

And together, we shall write an American story of hope, not fear. Of unity, not division. Of light, not darkness. An American story of decency and dignity. Of love and of healing. Of greatness and of goodness." These were the concluding lines of the speech of Joe Biden, the 46th President of the United States who was sworn in on January 20 this year. The speech had profound messages and takeaways, not only for American people but for the entire world. They are not mere words coming from the winner of the presidential election, as he rightly says 'triumph not of a candidate, but of a cause'; but in fact, they redefine democracy. It is so true that the unity of people is possible only when the dignity of human life is ensured with love and fraternity as guiding principles of building hope for the future. It's more significant in these times of political and social unrest in various parts of the world that the president of the greatest of democracies, unlike many of his predecessors, makes an open and loud declaration of equality, human dignity and unity as a path to progress. The legacy of great Lincoln cannot be more evident. The echoing effect of such progressive resolutions on people and nations of the world is definite and can bring a sea of change in the perception of democracy.

A democratic society is the foundation for a democratic polity. Rationality and scientific temper are essential for building it, in which all human beings are treated equally, irrespective of colour, race or birth. Or else, a democratic constitution merely remains a piece of paper. Joe Biden has unequivocally given a call to confront and defeat 'White supremacy' in order to deliver racial justice as it was a desperate cry from the victims for over 4oo years in America. He undoubtedly deserves a standing ovation for such upfront and honest stand, given the fact that he himself is a White like his grand old predecessor Abraham Lincoln — the sworn enemy of slavery. Social inequalities based on colour and race began to tear the fabric of American society more prominently in recent times than ever before. George Floyd's brutal killing by American police is one of the latest examples. It is contextual to recollect the profound warning by Dr Ambedkar, one of the greatest social revolutionaries of the world and the architect of Indian Constitution, on November 25, 1949, in the Constituent Assembly when he said: "on January 26, 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics, we will have equality and in social and economic life, we will have inequality. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril." President Biden's call must inspire all democracies to strive hard to end discrimination based on birth, gender, colour or race and ensure fraternity. He proudly refers to Martin Luther King's dream and also to the unsuccessful protests against women's right to vote 108 years back in America and endorses in a victorious manner, the swearing-in of Kamala Harris, the black South-Asian American, as the first woman Vice-President in the history of America. The leaders of nations cannot help but be inspired by his heroic and confident line, 'Don't tell me things can't change'. Not an ounce shy of a visionary, President Biden in fact has realised, in his best capacity, the famous dream of Martin Luther King — "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character."

President Biden is forthright when he says that the struggle between the 'ideal' i.e., equality and the 'real' i.e., racism, nativism, fear and demonisation has torn the society and reduced the nation to a mere state of chaos. He underscores that without unity, it will only be bitterness and fury in place of peace and progress. This reflects on all the nations, especially the third-world countries which have been going through nation-building problems. Terrorism is an added misery making matters even worse. As Biden rightly feels, mutual trust and reason can show the path to unity. The message has a universal appeal. As he again rightly observes that politics need not be a 'raging fire destroying everything' and disagreement must not necessarily lead to disunion. The world must rise to the occasion in restoring peace and progress by employing peaceable ways and means of dispute resolution. The totalitarian states or the despotic rulers elsewhere, who exercise brute power to physically liquidate opponents or oppress people fighting against state tyranny must realise that their days are numbered, as such tyrants and despots met with tragic ends in history. Nations must strive to ensure tolerance towards democratic dissent and accommodate plural interests as opposed to vested ones.

"Politics is not to seek power but to explore possibilities, not a means to serve personal interests but for the public good", are other gems from Biden's address. Politics has unfortunately become a business of self-empowerment in some of the countries, contrary to the ideal that it is supposed to be for the empowerment of people in order to strengthen democracy. Politicians across the globe long began putting self-agenda before that of the nation and indulge in aggressive shenanigans to remain in power, even if it means to collude with the military and other vested interests. Democracy has been reduced to a game of numbers with money and muscle power playing a predominant role. The storming of Capitol Hill in Washington by Trump supporters' violent mob on January 6 was a shocking incident and a shameful undoing of democracy. However, the American people deserve to be congratulated for their resilience in successfully restoring their centuries-old democratic republic. As Biden rightly said — 'one should not merely lead by example of power but by the power of one's example'. The American experiment of democracy, especially in the last two months, has a takeaway for the world that it will be impossible to manipulate democracy or its institutions. President Biden defines democracy in the best possible language when he says 'And I promise you I will fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did'. This is the heart and soul of American democracy which puts primacy on the rule of unanimity over the rule by majority. History will not forgive us if we refuse to learn the lessons it taught. The growth and progress of the advanced economies owe more to the undiluted respect for democratic institutions and impeccable adherence to democratic culture than to the natural resources and productive manpower they are blessed with. On the other hand, the backwardness and poor human development index associated with many developing countries have a direct correlation with undemocratic society and travesty of institutions. Opportunities, human dignity, freedom and fraternity elude such societies perpetually if democratic values continue to be disregarded. Political leaders must realise that it would be a serious mistake to undermine the power of democracy through machinations. Leaders are loved and revered by people only when they are progressive, committed to national goals and, dedicated to human values. They should personify democracy — a challenge but an absolute necessity for the success of democracy. Again, to quote Dr King, "We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope."

The writer is a former Additional Chief Secretary of Chhattisgarh. Views expressed are personal

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