Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College Belgaum – INDIA
Demokratia as democracy was known then was a form of government introduced first by Cleisthenes in 507 BC in Athens. Abraham Lincoln called it the government by the people, of the people and for the people. Plato highlighted that the transition to democracy has never been easy, we progressed from aristocracy to timocracy and from timocracy to oligarchy/monarchy and finally threw over a democratic revolution. Yet even in the pre pandemic times what we experienced was democratic regression especially in political societies suffering from political ills of rising polarisation and decreased respect for liberal views.
The coronavirus pandemic has shaken the entire world especially in such unpropitious times when the unedifying disputes have been withering the very essence of democracy much like in the Cold war era. It has given a Fillip to autocratic snollygosters to centralise power and disguise authoritarian measures as those taken to fight the pandemic. Emergency powers have been invoked by repressive regimes to suit their political interests. The PM of Hungary, Victor Orban even enacted a law using his brute parliamentary majority declaring a state of extreme danger and punishing all those criticising administrative decisions to curtail the pandemic. The condition of Philippines has been no different with President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration resorting to mass arrested and state violence throwing civil liberties in doldrums.
Governments across the world have used this pandemic as an opportunity to pass crucial bills without effective debates, parliamentary scrutiny and citizen participation. Contact tracing apps for identifying possible positive patients have used to create a state of digital surveillance infringing on the very right of privacy .Many countries are even weighing opportunities either to cancel elections all together or at least delay them by months to consolidate power .Across the world increased censorship and selective relaying of information with underreporting of cases and death figures have become a norm .And the irony being that it is justified on the pretext of maintaining calm as suggested by Donald Trump, the US President downplaying the risk altogether. Furthermore autocratic leaders have used this a chance to propagate the view that autocracies like China have handled the pandemic well in comparison to stable and mature democracies like USA or France.But much lies beyond their vicious campaigns neglecting the successes of others like New Zealand, Australia, South Korea and even Taiwan.
Yes, it might take more time and efforts to get things done in democracies but it lends an ear to all voices and deliberates on every idea using a pragmatic approach. Autocracies on the other hand supress human rights and even early scientific warning of intelligentsia on the consequences of disastrous lockdown remained as the voices crying in the wilderness. Ignorance of health impacts of possible disease endangered and will continue endanger the health and wellbeing of the works at the cost of lust of expanding authority and superiority.
Democracy reflects people’s will ,ensures accountability, citizen rights whilst managing any untoward situation in the best possible manner. It doesn’t fallout to the exclusionary ideologies of authoritarian regimes where only those who toe on the line of government are allowed to function and prosper. Through effective competition and legislative backing to organisations like Competition commissions it ensures markets spaces don’t become a soft target of monopoly, duopoly or tripoly. Through its effective system of checks and balances by its three pillars of Legislature, Executive and Judiciary it allows all people irrespective of their caste, creed religion the freedom to speech, profess and religion, occupation .Corruption can be checked, non performing leaders can be held accountable by institutional mechanisms like LOKPAL, CBI etc. In autocracies political opponents are either prisoned, poisoned or murdered consider for example the treatment meted to Alexei Navalny who was poisoned In Russia .Realistic reporting is considered crime, free speeches and movement amounts to treachery. Based on law, social safety nets ;democracy protect societies from high levels of deprivation that stoke mass support for demagogues, and shared sovereignty that allows the international community to act in the event of widespread human rights violations by national leaders nothing of which is possible in autocratic societies.
Climate change, environmental degradation and a biodiversity crisis, marked increases in inequality, economic calamities, the rise of populism, rising geo-political tensions, the effects of increased globalisation, and ongoing religious and ethnic conflicts, including the Black Lives Matter protests in the US, provide the backdrop against which the Covid- 19 pandemic has erupted. Yet, nothing is as gloomy as it may seem .The pandemic offers an opportunity to global democracy to evolve from a binary framework of established democracies providing assistance to developing ones. The aim should we to increase collective bargaining power, sovereignty and addressing shared challenges of future and not just narrowing it to elections. But we must realise that withholding the principles of democracy is not just the responsibility of government .Interest based networks, citizens and regional organisations must take collective action for affirming the democratic ideals.
Bygone are the days of the dictators. Today we experience democratically elected leaders practicing autocratic democracy but we must not lose hope as Reinhold Niebuhr said.
“Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary“.