The roots of democracy in India are very deep. Probably it is India where
democracy started functioning first. It is evident from the existence of institutions like Sabha, Samiti
and Viditha in the Vedic era. A fterward, the existence of many republics during the time of
Gautama Buddha and Shakyamuni’s advocacy in favour of democracy, his stress upon development of
democratic institutions and noteworthy suggestions made by him in this regard strengthens India’s claim to it.
Generally, the democracy is recognized as a political institution. On the basis of
it a political system of governance is conducted. But, in ancient times, the Buddhist assemblies in India have worked successfully in
a democratic manner. Hence, it has been more or less applied in religious sphere also. From this the significance and relevance of
democracy for India can be well understood.
We can firmly believe that democracy is the best form of governance for a country
like India. Along with political field there is a possibility of its
functioning in economic and religious fields. We can assert this for
the reason that India is a country of diversities and its unity is
possible only by a democratic system of governance.
Democracy versus Mobocracy
Mahatma Gandhi, himself felt the importance and necessity of democracy for India,
despiteitsbeing liable to be greatly abused. That is why; he
emphasized upon its constant development and maturity. Through this
he wished transformation of his dream of Ramarajya
into a reality. In the Ramarajya of his imagination
each and everyone, weak or strong, gets equal opportunity to rise
andhis security and honourare guaranteed. In short, Gandhi's
Ramarajya is an advanced form of democracy.
Now, the question arises, is there a possibility of transformation of Gandhi’s dream
of Ramayana or an advanced form of democracy into a
reality? If yes, then when? In this respect Mahatma Gandhi himself
was not sure. He knew that a human being always commits mistakes
knowingly or unknowingly. He was also aware that one cannot get rid
of them immediately and completely. Similarly, a manmade
institution, can also not become free of evils entirely and right away.
Therefore, Mahatma Gandhi, along with other necessities, particularly stressed upon
discipline, equal respect of law by all and priority to social will
over the individual will in a democracy. He was of the opinion that
indiscipline, disrespect of law and priority to the individual will
over the social will are among the main causes behind evils in a
democracy. So, it is necessary to minimize them for making the
democracy disciplined and enlightened.
Moreover, Mahatma Gandhi laid great emphasis on a healthy public opinion and expressed
the needfor responsible representation. The reason being if public
opinion in democracy is not healthy and matured it can be converted
into a mobocracy instead of giving strength to it. On many occasions
and at different levels this can be observed in many counties of the
world including India.
Similarly, if representatives in a democracy are not responsible, they weaken it
instead of becoming its defenders. Therefore, Mahatma Gandhi called
upon the people to reduce possibility of abuse in democracy to the
minimum from time-to-time. He, time and again emphasized upon making
democratic system of governance firm, healthy, disciplined and
responsible. Mahatma Gandhi’s call to save democracy from becoming a
mobocracy and to make it people-friendly and finally transforming it
into a Swarajya was, and is, worth giving a thought.
Despite the large number of people coming together mobocracy can never be the
reflection of a democracy. Due to lack of discipline and control
over the crowd amobocracycannot transmit the will of the people.
Hence, a mobocracy sometimes becomes more dangerous than a
dictatorship. That is why; Mahatma Gandhi also said,
"They [who are in a mob] have no mind, no premeditation. They act in frenzy."
How can a democracy be devoid of mobocracy? How can it be transformed into a
real people's rule? How can it become a Swarajya?
Mahatma Gandhi was of the opinion that it was possible through the
process of constant reforms in democracy and not in avoidance of it
and that too in accordance with demand of time and prevailing
circumstances. Simultaneously, for the rise of the institution of
democracy he rightly called upon the people to carry on their duties
and to maintain discipline.
In this process he further spoke about people's awareness: it meant people's
consciousness of their duties, rights and responsibilities towards
the nation. He fixed the responsibility of people's representatives
on the one hand and the government on the other. He opposed the idea
of such a democracy in which a handful of representatives, it
doesn’t matter if they are elected for a fixed period by the people
itself, sat at the centre to work for it. Through that the real aim
of democracy can never be achieved; the system cannot become a
self-rule. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi himself:
“Democracy cannot be worked by twenty men sitting at the centre. For, it has to
be worked from below by the people [consciously] from every village.”
Undoubtedly, Gandhi’s stress upon an alert democracy is vital and significant. We
should see no reason for an institution of democracy becoming
unhealthy if its holders are disciplined and responsible. If citizen
are conscious enough the democracy will definitely step forward
towards a true self-rule. A disciplined, responsible and conscious
democracy can become a true government of the people. Such a rule
can turn into a Swarajya and can pave the way towards
the Ramarajya of Mahatma Gandhi’s imagination.
Hence, Gandhi’s views regarding a democracy cannot be taken slightly. They must be
analyzed minutely. An open debate on the vitality and relevance of
them in the current perspectives should be organized. If they seem
relevant as per the demand of time, they should be examined and adopted.
Today the whole world is looking at Ahimsa-based ideas of Mahatma
Gandhi. Particularly, institutions of higher learning are making
critical analysis of his views on democracy. In such a situation the
relevance, significance and utility of his ideas for India can be
* Dr. Ravindra Kumar is a renowned Gandhian scholar, Indologist and writer. He is the
Former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Meerut [India], and the Editor-in-Chief of Global Peace International Journal.