Democracy-rule by the people, of the people, for the people- is a superior form of government because it is based on fairness, natural justice and equality. It offers the most conducive political climate for peace and prosperity for all. Violence is anathema to the concept of democracy, in which rule of law protects people’s life, property and rights, preempting most reasons for violence. So when the law of the land is broken in a democracy by a vast majority of people in the name of democracy, the question whether such breaking of law is against the concept of democracy becomes relevant. That is the question we posed to you in the last Saturday Poll. Of the 37 people who took the poll, almost two-thirds felt such an action was unacceptable in a democracy.
Violence has served good and bad causes. For some countries, violence has been an essential element of their transition to democracy from other forms of government. Yet, it is never the means we would like to espouse. Even those who would tolerate violence in order to safeguard democracy will find it difficult to justify the consequences of violence; they can only term it inevitable under certain conditions. So the real issue is how to prevent a situation that will breed violent dissent.
A democratic system works through a principal-agent relationship in which the people of a country transfer their sovereignty to political leaders who will act as their agents and safeguard their interests. The principals retain their power to periodically review the performance of the agents who are accordingly rewarded or punished at the ballot box. But this system works only when there is rule of law and both the principals and agents are committed to democratic principles. So when a leader who has risen to power by democratic means eschews his commitment to democratic principles and manipulates the rules of the game to deprive people of their sovereignty, the system crashes and violent rebellions arise. This is what we have witnessed in many countries in the recent past.
Such developments are reminders for everybody that without a robust institutional framework that protects the basic principles of democracy, peace and freedom of the common man are constantly at peril. Usually the breach begins with the exercise by the agents of their right to amend laws. Democracy itself is an evolving concept and laws have to be flexible enough to adapt to changing socio-economic dimensions. At the same time, they have to be rigid enough to resist cunning manipulation by those who are greedy for power. This immunity is provided in the form of checks and balances on the powers enjoyed by various organs of the government. The stronger this scheme of checks and balances, the stronger and more independent public institutions in a country are, the more difficult it is for democratically elected leaders to turn into despots.
In short, while the agents should have the power to create and amend the rules that govern the lives of their principals where it is necessary, they should never be allowed to have the power to change the very nature of that relationship. Too much discretionary power in the hands of a few has always been detrimental to one and all.