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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 47 New Delhi November 12, 2016

Nehru’s Views about Democracy

Wednesday 16 November 2016

by Vivek Kumar Srivastava

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru is not only the first Prime Minister of India but also the main gardener who sowed and flowered the spirit of democracy in a highly diverse country. His ideas of democracy were liberal but classical. He was a man of inclusive nature who lived a life absolutely devoted to India and for him this devotion rested on the edifice of democratic ideals. He conceptualised democracy in the Western liberal framework where the elections were to be organised in a regular fashion, with participation from all Indians who had full faith on their Constitution and the political insti-tutions.

Democracy requires the participation of all, none in the territory of the state can be ignored. There can be no difference between the majority and minority, and there will be no discrimination on the basis of races, caste, religion, gender etc. These elements constitute the philosophical basis of Indian democracy which has been ensured by the Indian Constitution. These ideals were ingrained in his mind as reflected in his activities during the freedom struggle and later as the head of the government. Pandit Nehru presented the Objectives Resolution in the Constituent Assembly in which he elaborated several elements of the India of the future which found explicit expression in the Preamble, Fundamental Rights and other provisions of the Constitution. The ideals of justice, social, economic and political; equality of status, of opportunity, and before the law; freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith, worship, vocation, association and action were the components of this resolution which evolved as the bedrock on which the liberal democratic order of the country stands.

He believed like the Greek thinkers that citizens have a crucial role in governance; hence they need to participate in the democratic system as an energetic individual. The children of today are the future of the country. They are citizens of tomorrow whose political participation will ensure the longevity of democracy; this analysis led him to embrace the children in all dimensions. His citizen participation concept suggests that he wanted a participatory form of democracy. Greek ideals influenced him as the election of Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan,as the second President of the Republic, in the tradition of a philosopher king; a concept elaborated by Plato which was accepted by Pandit Nehru who acted as a major factor to elevate Dr Radhakrishnan to the highest position in the republic.

Pandit Nehru’s democratic ideals had close relations with the amelioration of the problems and low conditions of multitudes of people. He therefore looked upto Fabian Socialism in which he had some intellectual training, and after indepen-dence he attempted to make liberal democracy more humane as without socialist ideas it could have become a pawn in the hands of a few rich. He succeeded in this effort and therefore at the theoretical level he was close to C.B.Macpherson who also tried to revise liberal democracy with the help of Marxist ideas in order to make it more acceptable to all kinds of people who subsist at different strata in the society. Pandit Nehru did it in practical terms what Macpherson explained at the theoretical plane.

For Nehru, political democracy was to be fused with economic democracy; then only real progress of the country was possible. Speaking at a seminar on parliamentary democracy on February 25, 1956 he said: ‘democracy has been spoken of chiefly in the past as political democracy, roughly represented by every person having a vote. But a vote by itself does not represent very much to a person who is down and out, to a person, let us say, who is starving or hungry. Political democracy by itself is not enough except that it may be used to obtain a gradually increasing measure of economic democracy, equality and the spread of good things of life to others and removal of gross inequalities.’

Democracy may have several formats but for Pandit Nehru in its best form it represented the values of national movement where the whole country fought with non-violent means to achieve independence. He deduced that democracy, as conceptualised by the elitist thinkers, had no meaning in the Indian context because the government as long as it does not represent the interests of the common people it has no real worth and that the democratic process which establishes such an establishment is immoral. Nehru’s ideas are therefore in opposition to the ideas of the elite democratic school thinkers including Giovanni Sartori, Joseph Schumpeter who propose that in a democratic system the leaders have the singular aim to obtain the authority by securing votes by competitive means. For Pandit Nehru the competition for votes is unacceptable as he lays stress on the concept of service after achieving power. This concept is possible if the candidates during the election possess the ethical mindset and believe in the piousness of the means and ends. He at this point is Gandhian as he depends upon Gandhi’s moral values for the right electioneering and thereafter the ethical use of power.

Pandit Nehru looked up to democracy from the participatory perspective in which decentra-lisation of power was an important component. He presented the community development programme in 1952 and established the Balwantray Mehta Study Team from where the real journey of Panachyat Raj institutions started and culminated in the passing of the 73rd and the 74th Constitutional Amendments. Nehru, speaking at the inauguration of the three-tier Panachyat System at Nagaur, Rajasthan on October 2, 1959, said that ‘democracy was not entirely new to India, for its roots could be found also in our old Panachyat System (and) in political life everyone has a vote, in economic matters everyone has equal opportunities, in our Panachyat also everyone should be considered equal, there should be no distinction between man and woman.’ Thus for him decentralisation in every form was based on equality, the essential grain of the democratic ideals.

Pandit Nehru succeeded in establishing a true functional democratic order in the country. This is a rare achievement in a developing country. For this achievement he stands apart from several leaders in India and at the international level. His ideas on democracy are a source of rich values and need to be respected and preserved as the world, including India, is faced with the problem of erosion of such noble values.

Dr Vivek Kumar Srivastava is the Vice-Chairman, CSSP, Kanpur. He can be contacted at e-mail: vpy1000[at]yahoo.co.in

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