General elections, whether rigged, manipulated or impartial, are the most vital and visible signs of life in any functioning democracy. Be it presidential or parliamentary, democracy has been widely accepted as the nearest form to minimum acceptable governance embodying the vital elements of liberty, human rights and equality that are ‘beyond-bargain’ parameters for dignified human existence. The harsh reality that many world nations are still suffering from greedy monarchies, military dictatorships and religious theocracies makes a mockery of all our claims of progress in this 21st century. There are several reasons for the flourishing or floundering of democratic institutions in different parts of the world. The latest elections in India and Iran provide a very good opportunity to look at some of the reasons for the sustainability of democracy in the current world.
Though various forms of democracy are under trial in different nations, we can easily notice that it is showing signs of survival only in certain environments. The very spirit of democracy, especially in countries offering universal adult franchise, seems to be compatible only with certain types of people and faiths. The strengthening or weakening of democracy as a form of government among 200 odd nations with 6 billion people gives some clear indications about the real faith of democracy. One can also draw very good conclusions about the thought process, mentality and behavior of the people, nation and faith of those who prefer essentially democratic arrangements for governance. In contrast we can also get glimpses about why certain faiths are incompatible with democracy. There must be underlying reasons for both.
Enough and more clues about the reasons for success or failure of democracy in different nations can be obtained by analyzing the happenings in their recent elections. In the last one decade we have seen presidential elections in USA (2000, 2004, 2008), general elections in India (2004, 2009) and different types of elections in Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Afganistan and Nepal. It will not take much effort to prove that the 2000 election in USA, 2009 elections in India and Iran were neither impartial nor fair. All these elections have been rigged in one form or another. Rigging of elections need not always be in the form of duplicate voting or over printing of ballots or even false counting of votes. It can be in the form of manipulating the tools for elections, including the election commissions that conduct the elections, or even by hijacking of mandate obtained in any election. In India the popular mandate in 2009 elections in favour of a particular political formation has been hijacked by installing an ‘unelected’ leader.
No election is perfect and the success of any democratic arrangement emanates from the spirit and willingness of contesting parties to accept defeat. Only if equanimity exists to accept defeat or victory on the part of each and every contesting party, prior to any election, can the democratic process end conclusively. Extreme contrasts in this regard are provided by the reactions of an erstwhile Indian Prime Minister as against the current stance of the ‘defeated’ Iranian leaders in the recent elections. “Our party may have been defeated but India has won” were the famous words of a statesman like Vajpayee when he got defeated in 2004. And Al-Gore and Advani went many steps further when they conceded defeat in elections which they have morally won for furthering democracy in their own nations. The fact that these leaders had the support of their followers (in India it is in hundreds of millions) shows the general characteristics of their faith. However, the unhealthy trend of certain families hijacking the rule under the guise of electoral victory in successful democracies is another factor that merits the attention of all those who value genuine democracy.
There are certain basic incompatibilities between some dominant faiths and the essential spirit of democracy. The bare minimum belief that is needed for any favorable thought on democracy is the concept of equality of human beings. To accept anyone becoming the nation’s ruler, its majority must strongly believe that all of them have equal rights (even if they are not equals in every sense) and hence eligible to rule. In the case of genuine communism and theocracy, this concept of equality is non-existent. If workers are more equal than others in a communist setup, it is the rights of clergy to be more than others in a theocratic arrangement. No wonder that democracy does not find any foothold in nations that discriminates between believers and non-believers, men and women, masters and slaves and even slaves white, brown and black. The exhibition of universal brotherhood by hugging, singing, praying and preying together are only skin deep rituals in such societies.
Conceding equality to others is easy to preach but difficult to practice. It needs a strong underlying principle to accept equality as a natural concept. In Hinduism it is easily available in their belief of having the very same God present in everything animate and inanimate. And in Christianity it is provided by the belief that all are born as sinners. But having the very same starting point does not provide a good reason for considering other competitors as equal in the subsequent race for living. The belief that all are made by the same God does not automatically confer equality on everyone. Products can be of different value even if they are manufactured in the one and only producing company. It is difficult to consider them equal but there is no harm in having brotherly feelings that can subsidize, promote or confront the enemies together.
In very general terms it is easy to conclude that democratic process succeeds only amidst some of the world’s dominant faiths, and fails miserably in the case of others. The current turbulence in Iran and successful transformation from monarchy to a democratic republic in Nepal provide living examples for this argument. And in Pakistan, democracy has failed to make any foothold even after 60 odd years of free rule. In Iraq and Afganistan it has miles to go before we can conclude that it is acceptable. There is a great message to humanity coming out of all these. It is about the misery and turbulence that awaits us if one of those undemocratic faiths comes to dominate the world. Silence of graveyards will be the only sign of equality that will be present among all nations then. Only by considering and respecting all others as our equals can we nurture democratic principles and that requires nothing less than the acceptance of same God’s presence in everything.