Democracy becoming majoritarian rule; If the trend not reversed it would collapse: Shuja Shakir

New Delhi: An online lecture on “Emergence of Majoritarian Democracy” was organised by the Institute of Objective Studies recently.

The lecture was given by Shuja Shakir, professor, Department of Political Science, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University, Aurangabad, Maharashtra.

Prof. Shuja Shakir said that democracy was becoming majoritarian rule. If this trend was not reversed it would collapse.

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Explaining his point of view he said that democracy was the rule by majority, and it was expected to operate within certain philosophical and constitutional constraints that prevented it from violating the rights of minorities. Across the nations, democracy was the most popular form of government and one of the reasons for this was the belief that democracy could not become anti-people. It was a system chosen and built by people themselves. Over the years, however, the growing competitiveness among democratic forces transformed the ecosystem of parliamentary democracy into the majoritarian democracy with the result that the rule of majority had come to mean exclusion of minorities, he commented.

Prof. Shakir continued that the democracy was the form of governance where the will of the majority was decisive. Democracy with a good majority was acceptable, but today, our democratic values are challenged.

He said that the major driver of majoritarian democracy was the political leadership that thrived on polarisation and gullible voters which end up electing them based on false promises. Some scholars like Levitsky and Ziblatt had argued that the majoritarian trends in democracy might soon herald the end of democracy, like some auto-immune disease, where the internal system of human body starts to attack healthy cells. He argued that the fear of democracy turning into a majoritarian system was rational, but it was not always realistic because of the inherent inconsistencies in the idea of ‘community’ cohesion.

He insisted that the traditional notion of community being constituted by oneness of the race, religion, culture or caste had been seriously contested by upsurge of ‘salad bowl’ multi-cultural societies, comprising assortment of races, cultures and religions. He said that even though the trajectories of modern democracies appeared to foreground the ethnicisation of its politics, it did not amount to a full-fledged ethnicisation of the communities at large. A thoroughly united community, if there was one, looked real only in the realm of imagination.

Prof. Shakir pointed out that several books on the state democracy were written in 2019. Some of them discussed the obituary of liberal democracy. Referring to the internal threat to democracy, he said that democracy was ill because the majority population has been sidelining with majoritarian politics. Today, voters exercised their right of franchise on the basis of the identity of a candidate. He held that the Modi government was emerging as a majoritarian government. What would be the reaction of minorities if the majority justified its thinking in a majoritarian state, he sought to know. Checks and balances and constitutional guarantees worked through institutions, which were manipulated by the rulers. He called it the tyranny of democracy. He said that Gandhiji was opposed to democracy because of the fear that it would not work in India. Many countries had now become multi-cultural having several ethnic communities. Migrants, ethnic, racial and religious communities demanded protection of their cultural rights. He observed that some scholars were skeptical about the majority reducing democracy to a naught. At the same time, some scholars asked why good people did not rule democracy. This trend was developing in Europe and America, he noted.

Prof. Shakir said if one asked people which type of society and democracy they wanted, they would reply to the question only after someone dictated answers to them. Every leader spoke of welfare and development but changed later and did the opposite. He became authoritarian and curbed civil liberties.

He said that some western scholars forecast the end of democracy. It was no doubt that democracy was weakening. Despite all weaknesses, democracy was not going anywhere. He ruled out the possibility of democracy reaching its dead-end. He also opined that the majoritarian rule would not continue for long.

Ills plaguing the democracy were curable. One of the reasons for this conclusion was that people voted individually; they did not vote collectively. Thus, individual rankings could not be called collective ones. People preferred or were concerned about individual benefits. He believed that democracy would survive because the society in which one lived was not cohesive in social and political areas. He discounted the perception that the scheduled castes and Muslims were united.

Prof. Shakir cited the case of Maharashtra where several castes were clubbed together with Scheduled Castes, but, they were not cohesive as a community. In this respect, Muslims too were not cohesive. Referring to the data released by the Election Commission of India, he said that the turn-out of Muslims during the elections had been low. There was hardly any difference of the pattern of turn out between the majority and minorities. To buttress his point, he argued that while 31 per cent Hindus voted for the BJP in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the vote share of the party in 2019 election was 37 per cent.

In his presidential remarks, Prof. Arshi Khan, Professor of Political Science, AMU, said that there was a big challenge to democracy in America. Similarly, democracy was in the reverse gear in France, but it went without saying that democracy was the most important system of governance. He observed that India was a representative and participative democracy. It had a symmetrical federalism. In this connection, he referred to the state of Nagaland, which had special powers. He held that it was protective to democracy.

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