Democracy refers to the system where the government is formed through the elected representatives of the people of the country. India is the largest democratic country in the world.
The word democracy has been derived from the combination of two Greek words ‘demos’ and `kratia’ that mean ‘people’ and ‘rule’ respectively. Thus, the etymological meaning of this word is – `rule of the people’.
Meaning of Democracy
Political thinkers have used the word ‘democracy’ at different times in different senses and for various purposes. Roughly it can be discussed in two ways – (i) in the wide sense and (ii) in the narrow sense.
Democracy in the wider sense:
In the wide sense, democracy means a social system in which there is equality in every sphere – social economic and political. In other words, democracy in the wide sense means a particular form of society, a form of state, a form of government, and even a particular economic system. As Prof. Giddings says, “A democracy may either be a form of government, a form of state, a form of society or a combination nation of all the three.” In the words of Burns, “Democracy, as an ideal, is a society not of similar persons, but of equals, in the sense that each is an integral and irreplaceable part of the whole.”
Again, the form of state which is based on equality is called a democratic state. In a democratic state the ultimate authority is vested in the hands of the people. In such a state, every person—rich or poor, high or low, man or man woman—has the right to take part in the affairs of the state.
According to the socialists, true democratic society is impossible unless economic equality is established. Prof. Laski has observed that political democracy is meaningless without economic democracy. Indeed, political democracy no use to a person if he is not free from want of the bare necessities of life.
a) Democracy in narrow sense:
In the narrow sense, democracy means democratic government. According to Abraham Lincoln, democracy is a ‘Government of the people, by the people and for the people’. But there is a great deal of controversy among the political scientists regarding the interpretation of this definition given by Lincoln.
a. By ‘Government of the people’ is generally meant spontaneous and natural allegiance of the people to the government. But according to Sweezy, “Government of the people is government which emanates from and forms an inseparable part of the people”.
b. Again, ‘Government by the people‘ implies people’s participation in running the government. Professor Seely defines democracy as a government in which everyone has a share. But due to a large population it is impossible for all to participate directly in the government. So, people rule the country indirectly through their elected representatives. Moreover, every individual of the country can never be regarded as eligible to take part in the government. Every country disallows lunatics, criminals, bankrupts and minors from participation on in the government. So, democracy means rule of the majority. It may be said after Dicey that a government may be called democratic if “Government body is a comparatively large fraction of the entire nation.” In the opinion of Bryce, though the authority is vested in the hands of all the people in a democratic government, in reality it turns out to be the rule of the majority.
c. ‘Government for the people‘ stipulates that democratic government serves the interests of all sections of the people. Such a government does not work for the interests of any particular person, group or class. Promotion of the general welfare is the primary duty of such a government.
Modern Concept and definition of Democracy
Recently, Joseph Schumpeter, Robert Dahl, G.C. Field, Plamenatz, Karl Popper and others have given a modern definition of democracy.
Schumpter says, democracy is the system of electing representatives by democratic method.
But to Robert Dahl, democratic method is a process of compromise among different interest-groups.
Again, G.C. Field has said, in this form of government, people are able to influence actively the process of decision-making of the government.
Almost a similar definition has been given by Plamenataz. In his view, democracy is that form of Government which consists of persons freely elected by the governed and which remains responsible to them.
But Popper does not consider rule of the people or the majority of the people to be democracy. In his opinion, democracy is the combination of such institutions though which the people can control the rulers and remove them from power, if necessary.
Importance of Democracy in India
In India, democracy is described as a ‘government based on public opinion’.
For, the views, hopes and aspirations, likes and dislikes of the citizens of India are expressed through it.
So, the government in India has no power to disregard the public opinion. The government has always to remain alert that no law is made against the public opinion. Passing any bill against public interest automatically leads to unfavorable public opinion. As a result, defeat of the government in power becomes inevitable.
So, in a democratic country like India, special importance is given on public opinion.
Democracy may be successful through discussions and mutual understanding between the government and the opposition party, i.e. between the majority and the minority. Hence, Barker has described democracy as a system of government by discussion.