“It is not that India did not know what is democracy. There was a time when India was studded with republics, and even where there were monarchies, they were either elected or limited. They were never absolute. It is not that India did not know Parliaments or Parliamentary Procedure. A study of the Buddhist Bhikshu Sanghas discloses that not only there were Parliaments-for the Sanghas were nothing but Parliaments but the Sanghas knew and observed all the rules of Parliamentary Procedure known to modern times. They had rules regarding seating arrangements, rules regarding Motions, Resolutions, Quorum, Whip, Counting of Votes, Voting by Ballot, Censure Motion, Regularization, Res Judicata, etc. Although these rules of Parliamentary Procedure were applied by the Buddha to the meetings of the Sanghas, he must have borrowed them from the rules of the Political Assemblies functioning in the country in his time”. – Dr Babasaheb B R Ambedkar, in his last speech in the Constituent Assembly on November 25, 1949
As the Gregorian calendar hits the January 1 mark, that would be the beginning of the election year. Yes, Bharat, the largest democracy in the world, will go for the regular General Elections after March. The oldest modern democracy, the United States of America (USA), will go for the Presidential elections at the end of the year. In between, more than 49 per cent of voters from at least 64 countries will vote for their respective national elections. While each election is vital for the domestic audience and some elections, like Taiwan, can have international ramifications, we need to consider the round of elections in Bharat compared to immediate neighbours, namely Bangladesh and Pakistan, to appreciate our vibrant democracy.
At the beginning of the year, Bangladesh will go for elections in which Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will try to secure another term. Since the Bangla-speaking nation attained Independence from Pakistan in 1971, its experience with democracy is not very pleasant. Earlier, a presidential form resulted in a dictatorship, and the post-1991 return of the parliamentary democracy has been, again, unstable. Though the Hasina Government has secured a comfortable majority for the last two terms, the accusations of curbing political dissent have been doing rounds. This time also, major opposition parties like Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami are boycotting the elections, making similar allegations. After trying to reject the idea of Pakistan being an Islamic state, after fifty-two years of existence, Bangladesh is facing the same crisis. Radicalism is on the rise, and elements like Jamaat are trying to call the shots. Hatred for Bharat is breeding. Fundamentalists are trying to impose Urdu and Arabic in education at the cost of Bengali, the linguistic identity based on which a separate nation was carved out.
The state of democracy in Pakistan is even worse. Still, no one knows the election schedule. Former Prime Minister Imran Khan, believed to have the popular support, is still in jail. The Army is calling the shots, and the Sharif brothers do not look in control. The economic and security situation is worsening, and Islamic radicalism combined with hatred for Bharat is the only rationale for the existence of Pakistan.
In contrast to these two territories separated from Bharat seventy-five years ago, we are surviving as the largest and most vibrant democracy in the world. Barring the Emergency period, we had regular elections through an independent and powerful Election Commission. The opposition has a fair and equal chance to present its alternative programme. After remaining in opposition for five decades, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has attained the central position in Bharatiya polity. After experiencing coalition Governments for seven consecutive terms, our faith in democracy remained undeterred.
The secret of the success of Bharat’s democracy lies in our Hindu roots. Despite all apprehensions at the time of Independence, we have made significant progress in establishing our own democratic processes due to this ethos. Soon, women will also get 33 per cent of the reservations in Parliament. We have been practising spiritual democracy for centuries. As a mother of democracy, even during the monarchical regimes, we had the concept of Sabha, Samiti and Dharma-dand. Earlier, Pakistan and later Bangladesh decided to cut them off from this ethos; hence, their nature of democracy is fragile. Bharat, as the mother of democracy, has always cherished the values of multiple voices, values and ways of worship, which Pakistan and Bangladesh, with growing Islamic radicalism, find it difficult to imbibe. In 2024, let the true spirit of democracy inspire the entire world, curbing the tendencies of religious supremacy and dictatorship.