understanding-democracy

Long back, former President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln said, “Democracy is a government of the people, for the people, and by the people.”

The term ‘democracy’ comes from the Greek word demokratia which means “rule of the people”. It was coined from two words: demos that mean “people” and Kratos which refers to “power”.

That is, in a democracy, the power rests with the people. This meaning is based on the experiences of the governments that existed in some of the Greek city-states, notably Athens.

And, today also, democracy is defined as a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodic free elections.

When you examine the definitions of democracy, as suggested above, you will find that most of those definitions define democracy as a form of government that is run by the elected representatives.

Which aspect of democracy is reflected in these definitions, political, social or self? You have seen above that in the present age democracy is just not limited to political democracy.

It means more than a mere form of government. In its comprehensive form, democracy means, or ought to mean,

  1. a form of government,  
  2. a type of state, 
  3. a pattern of the social system, 
  4. design of economic order, and 
  5. a way of life and culture. 

Therefore, when we say that India is a democracy, we mean not only that its political institutions and processes are democratic but also that the Indian society and every Indian citizen is democratic, reflecting basic democratic values of equality, liberty, fraternity, secularism, and justice in the social environment and individual behavior.

Essential Conditions For Democracy 

A system can be termed as a genuine and comprehensive democracy only when it fulfills both political and socio-economic aspects of people’s participation and satisfaction. Let us identify those. There may be two major categories: 

  1. political conditions, and 
  2. social and economic conditions – the fulfillment of the first leads to political democracy and the second as social democracy. 

Obviously, the first and the foremost, are political conditions of democracy. It is essential that for a system to be democratic, we must adopt a Constitution and laws that vest supreme power in the people.

The human rights and fundamental rights, such as equality, liberty of thought and expression, belief, movement, communication, and association must be protected by the Constitution.

The democratic system has to have a universal adult franchise as the basis of electing representatives at various levels of the government. Moreover, opportunities for political participation of all the citizens not only in elections at a regular interval but also in other aspects of the political process have to be made available.

There has to be a responsible government in which the executive is answerable to the legislature, the legislature to the people and the Judiciary to remain independent.

Political institutions like political parties and interest and pressure groups (associations, various non-governmental organizations) must be functional for expressing popular needs, demands and grievances.

A democratic system is strengthened if it maintains an enlightened public opinion in its various forms through free press and other communication processes. Political democracy is thus one which incorporates all the above political traits. 

You may also be interested in knowing the social and economic conditions of democracy. A democratic system has to ensure that social development is in tune with democratic values and norms reflecting equality of social status and opportunities for development, social security, and social welfare.

Citizens must avail opportunities for universal and compulsory education. They must also be enabled to utilize means of economic development. The fruits of economic development must reach all and especially to the poor and the deprived sections of the society.

The socio-economic development of the people strengthens social democracy.

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Source NIOS