Elections are an indelible part of the democratic process. However, the current trend of populism around the world has made the electoral process and the subsequent democratically elected government entirely contradictory to what the purpose of democracy was. It is pertinent to clarify the concept of why democracy exists for voters to make informed choices.
In this article published in the April 15, 1961 edition of the Indian Libertarian magazine, the author M.A. Venkata Rao emphasises that the origin of democracy was intended to place limits on governing powers and not to invite them to expand powers in the guise of welfare.
The first and most important truth that the voter in our tremendous democracy should know is that the raison d’etre of democracy is not welfare or Ma Bap providence to the children as is probably the dominant impression current among the ignorant multitudes. The far more urgent necessity that transferred power to the people from former hereditary holders, (whether monarchies or oligarchies) was the felt need to curb the exercise of arbitrary power on their part resulting in the daily and hourly oppression of the subjects. It is said that democracy was born in envy of the holders of power and their pomp and luxury. It was also attributed to the common man’s intolerance of the ease and comfort that came as a prerequisite to the holders of the governmental power whether they deserved it or not by their discharge of their duties in a faithful manner.
But the fact remains that the central justification and motive of democracy consisted historically in the necessity of imposing checks on the exercise of arbitrary power by kings and tyrants. The action of the Norman Barons at Runnymede in forcing King John to sign the Magna Carta was the first of the great signals and achievements that came to be written into democratic government in all future times. The Bill of Rights codified by John Locke after the “bloodless revolution” of 1688, the Declaration of Independence and the Rights of Man connected with the American Revolution, the Liberty, Equality, Fraternity and the Rights of Man formulated by the French Revolution not long after in Paris and the democratic rights written into the English constitution stage by stage throughout the nineteenth century, (full universal adult franchise being reached only after the war of 1914-18) are all so many landmarks that spell out the bulwarks of liberty. They are primarily limitations on absolute power imposed by the people’s representatives out of bitter experience to safeguard their daily life from undue interference from their own legitimate governments!
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IndianLiberals.in is an online library of all Indian liberal writings, lectures and other materials in English and other Indian regional languages. The material that has been collected so far contains liberal commentary dating from the early 19th century till the present. The portal helps preserve an often unknown but very rich Indian liberal tradition and explain the relevance of the writings in today’s context.