Ram Madhav
January 6, 2024

Democracy’s Year of Reckoning

(The article was originally published in Indian Express on January 6, 2024 as a part of Dr Madhav’s column titled ‘Ram Rajya’. Views expressed are personal.)

Stoic philosopher Seneca had said that “every new beginning comes with some other beginning’s end”. The eventful 2023 has ended and the new year of 2024 has begun. It is not going to be merely the change of year. It is going to be a year of change.

Like every new year, 2024 too brings much anticipation and many resolutions. A leap year, it is going to witness significant events like the Olympics and Paralympics in Paris and advances in frontier technologies like Artificial Intelligence. But the most unique feature of this year is going to be the “dance of democracy” in the world. Of the around 100 funcwtional democracies, more than two-thirds, over 70 countries, will go for elections this year. The oldest democracies like the United States of America and the United Kingdom, to the youngest ones like Bhutan and Tunisia, to the largest, India, will hold elections this year.

For some time now, there has been anxiety about the future of democracy. Extreme Left-wing groups are encouraging greater anarchy in the name of woke freedoms in the developed West, while terrorism, climate challenges and despotic regimes are causing huge suffering and massive migrations in the developing world. Both are putting enormous pressure on democratic regimes, leading to fears of rising authoritarianism and decline of democratic values. This year, in that sense, is going to be a defining one for the future of democracy.

The US will be heading for a raucous polling season starting with the Iowa Republican primaries on January 15 and ending with the presidential election on November 5. The country is plagued by extreme political instability and racist violence that has the potential to tear its democratic fabric asunder. While the favourite pastime of the American liberal media and intelligentsia has been to sermonise to democracies elsewhere, Canadian political scientist and author Thomas Homer-Dixon warns that it is American democracy that faces imminent danger of collapse. “By 2030, if not sooner, the country would be governed by a right-wing dictatorship”, he predicts.

In Europe, elections to the UK Parliament, expected any time between March and December, will be keenly watched. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is likely to face headwinds as New Labour, occupying the Opposition benches for the last 14 years, desperately wants to push its fortunes up in this election, which, many predict, could be “most perilous and chaotic”.

Mexico goes to polls with two women competing for the post of president for the first time, while in South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa will seek another term for the African National Congress, which has been in power for the last 30 years. At least another 15 countries in Africa, including young democracies like Tunisia, will go to polls this year.

In our neighbourhood, countries like Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan will conduct elections this year. Bhutan will be completing the final round of elections to its National Assembly in January. In Bangladesh, which holds the general election on January 7, re-election of the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League government is impending, although the decision of poll boycott by the main Opposition, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), may raise the hackles of the West. Elections in Pakistan have mostly been a sham, with the country’s military accused of predetermining the outcome, while in Sri Lanka, a divided polity haunts the presidential election due in the second half of the year.

In the extended neighbourhood, in countries like Indonesia, South Korea and Taiwan, the ruling establishments will be facing tough opposition, leading to regime changes that have the potential to influence the power rebalance in the Indo-Pacific region.

The most high-profile election this season will play out in the world’s largest democracy, India. Complaints of cry-babies notwithstanding, India’s parliamentary elections, due for April-May this year, will witness the real dance of democracy in full bloom. With almost one billion voters using their franchise in an election hailed globally for its impartiality and efficiency, elections in India are once again set to showcase the credentials of a successful democracy.

When the Indian leadership decided to opt for a democratic polity after independence, many in the West derided it and predicted that it would become a “mobocracy”. Today some liberal “eminent intellectuals” crib about “democratic decay” in the country. But the country’s electorate has proven time and again that it has matured and is better placed than many others to elect a government “it deserves”.

The maturity of the Indian electorate can be gauged from its recent voting pattern. Gone are the days when parochial factors of caste, creed and religion would determine the outcome. Today, the Indian electorate demands and rewards performance. To the chagrin of the agenda-less Opposition, the 10-year rule of Prime Minister Narendra Modi stands tall on account of performance and delivery.

Indian elections will be fought on four main criteria — identity, economy, security and national pride. On all these parameters, the Modi government’s record has been exemplary.

Modi successfully roused among the citizens of Bharat a sense of their distinct identity as a cultural and civilisational nation that could subsume all the narrow and parochial identities of caste, language, region and religion. He commands an economy that is scaling new heights with every passing year. He was able to neutralise the security threats from terrorism to Pakistan and effectively stood up to the China challenge. Most importantly, he took India to the high table of global governance, with every country applauding and respecting his leadership and India’s global role.

As democracies in the developed West flounder in chaos and uncertainty, contrary to the false commentary of the jealous and often supremacist clique, India is going to lead the democratic world by presenting a shining example in this new year.

The British poet-politician Tennyson’s words — “The year is going, let him go; Ring out the false, ring in the true” — will be India’s new year message for the world.

Published by Ram Madhav

Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation

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