Populism, democracy and accountability

Democracy means “the rule of people” and the word is derived from two Greek words, i.e. ‘Demos’ and ‘Kratia’, which literally translates to the Rule of People. India, the land of a heterogeneous population which is sometimes considered as a ‘fruit bowl’ (wherein different fruits denote different religions, cultures, castes, races etc.), is also a constitutional democracy. In a constitutional democracy like India, the People elect their representatives through Ballot-box or highly controversial EVMs on election day for five years and the government is guided by the principles of the Constitution. While voting at a ballot box, the voter expresses his will and choose her representative. In essence, the majority party in the Parliament enjoys the will of the people. But do they have the power to translate the will of the People into justifying their unconstitutional actions? That is the difference between a populist government and a democratic one.

The populists use the machinery of the state to fulfil their goals which are generally apolitical and are often against the established constitutional norms and they do it with the support of the “majority of the People” who fall in line with their ideology, simply by conviction. Generally, democracy requires different institutions of the state to be transparent, accountable and independent. But what happens in populist regimes is totally different, they capture all the so-called independent institutions. The capturing might not be direct, such as booth-capturing on the voting day, but it can simply be filling up offices of these independent institutions with persons who will deliver certain decisions which are favourable to the populist regimes. The only “legality” which these regimes have is the popular support of the People, our beloved Janta Janardhan.

The founding fathers of the Indian Constitution envisaged a dream of a nation built on principles of democracy. The Executive, i.e. The Prime Minister and his ministers, are accountable to the Legislature, which is accountable to the People of the Nation. When a government takes any decision, it must be constitutionally valid. A decision that goes against the principles of the Constitution is unconstitutional. Even though the populist regimes have a brutal majority in the Parliament, still ideally they must abide by the principles of the Constitution. But in fact, they do not. They do what they want to do. The populist regimes which are guided by religious fanatics are more dangerous as the important decisions, such as, locking down a religious congregation during a pandemic is taken by the heads of religious establishments than the government. The decision to stop the spread of the virus is taken by the contractors of divinity, not scientific mind, not democratically elected government. But such an attitude is only shown when the decision is about their religion. The minorities are usually slapped with several provisions of the penal code.

But complaints aside, what do we need in such populist regimes? Is there any solution? According to the Constitution of India, the Hon’ble Supreme Court is the guardian of the Constitution, the protector of rights, the third branch of the government to keep a check on the populist regimes, but where is the Supreme Court? There are dead bodies lined outside the cremation grounds, there are “The People” who are dying without oxygen, there are “the People” who are not getting necessary medication due to black marketing of the same, and there are children who are now orphans. Who will protect their rights? The government is silent, the parliament is silent and the Courts are silent- just like the bodies buried under the ground- silent.

The majoritarian government will not stop until they fulfil their agendas. They will win the States, they will get the seats, they will capture every institution. But the Supreme Court- the most powerful counter-majoritarian institution in the country- must come forward and protect the rights of the citizens. They have nothing to lose. An opposition leader will be sent to jail if she raises her voice. An NGO will be charged under FCRA or UAPA if they will question the government more than needed. A common man will be labelled as anti-national. But the Hon’ble Judges of the Supreme Court of India have nothing to lose.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, please save us!

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