In the contemporary world, every country wants a status of a democratic nation even if they are very far from it. These countries conduct elections (which are not free and fair), release beautified reports (which hide the truth), and claim they are providing all basic human rights, etc. just to have a clean image on global platforms. But true democracies are established based on sacred values like equality, justice, liberty, and fraternity. These democratic nations are welfare state which ensures every person lives his/her life with dignity, freedom of expression and thoughts, with certain education, political rights, economic stability, etc. How do these democratic governments make it a reality? Who is responsible for assuring these values?
Institutions are entitled to secure these values of democracy. Hence, the best way to determine whether a country is democratic or not is to look at its institutions and identify how free, independent, powerful they are. At a different point in time, different institutions played a major role in public life. In the medieval period or even before that religion was the most dominating institution, it used to decide who can do what, what is the definition of right and wrong, etc. in modern times we have Parliament, Judiciary and Executives to do such functions.
There are two kinds of institutions. One, institutions that have a specific legal definition, predefined mandates and duties, and with a formal framework, for example, Parliament, Supreme court, Election commission, CAG, Income Tax Department, etc. Two, institutions with informal frameworks like religion, culture, family, civil society, etc.
We are more interested first one as they have a direct role in establishing democracy. Now, the question arises why did they come into existence in the first place?
- Before the existence of human civilization, people used to live in small groups and tribes. Every sect had a leader, who was elected by a member hence, the rule of people. To continue this rule of people institutions are essential. For example, the Election commission of India is mandated by the constitution to conduct free and fair elections every 5 years.
- Expansion of State led to the need of mandate specific institutions. No nation in the contemporary world can be run by a single body or individual. Hence different institutions with different obligations and duties were born, for example, SC is entitled to provide justice to people, parliament is mandated to form laws, UPSC is responsible for hiring bureaucrats, etc.
- The transition from direct democracy to representative democracy. Switzerland is well known for its direct democracy and its government use referendums for major decision-making. It has a population of 8.5 million and an adult literacy rate of almost 100 percent. Such a tiny nation can afford direct democracy but India can’t. hence, to enable representative democracy it needs institutions with transparency, accountability, and proper check and balances.
Functions of these institutions
- These institutions enable the participation of people in state functions. ECI allows any citizen to form a political party and stand in the election and become part of a law-making body.
- These institutions work as safeguards of democracy. For example, SC’s Doctrine of the basic structure under which it has abolished many laws and act enacted by parliament.
- These institutions provide perpetuality in state functioning. For example, an officer got transferred or the CM office is vacant in such a scenario’s government function does not stop because of these institutions.
- These institutions help in avoiding concentration of power through check and balance. For example, CAG is mandated to audit all government financial accounts, parliament is mandated to critically analyze every executive decision, etc.
- These institutions maintain social, economic, and political stability. For example, RBI is obliged to maintain the flow of currency and maintain inflation.
Challenges to these institutions
- Reducing trust of people in institutions. For example, in a recent incident in Assam assembly election EVM (Electric voting machine) was transported from the voting destination to the ECI office in a BJP candidate’s vehicle. However, ECI took steps against it but incidents do irreversible damage sometimes.
- These institutions lose their reputation and importance most in presence of centralized and autocratic political leadership. For example, Indra Gandhi came to power with 352 seats in the lower house in 1971, such a majority enabled her to interfere in other institution’s mandate and she implements an emergency. Another example can of the current administration under Narendra Modi which has alleged for diluting independence of national TV media.
- Institution competes with each other. For example, recently Parliament amended the National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1991 it has substantially increased the powers of the Lieutenant Governor’s office over the Chief Minister’s office. Another example can be, Judiciary is being alleged for its interference in the business of Executives.
- The advent of the internet and computerization has led these institutions to store data digitally which is highly prone to hacking and breach of data.
- India still has a largely rural landscape which makes it hard to deliver essential services to people.
Possible way forward
- Adoption of the latest technology along with proper safety measures. For example, the Indian government has adopted the Digital Locker system where all the educational, identification, and other government documents are available in a single place and replacing need any physical contact. This is good but is highly prone to the breach of national data.
- Enactment of laws like Right to Information (RTI) to enhance transparency and accountability.
- Encourage participation in decision-making. Last year, the government passed 3 farm laws, against which farmers are still protesting. One of the major criticism government which attracted was that it failed to evolve all the stakeholder in the process.
- Mandates and the power of institutions should be clearly defined to avoid conflicts.
When a nation has a leader with truly good intentions like Abraham Lincoln or Jhawar Lal Nehru, that nation normally moves towards prosperity, equality, growth, and development even in absence of such a strong power-balancing institution. Even in such a scenario nation require institutions as individuals are entitled to do mistakes. But these institutions become even more crucial when the wrong person comes into power, which is very much possible in any democratic nation. These institutions work as resistance, for example, if tomorrow PM Modi decides to make India a Hindu nation in such case, we can’t even imagine from how many institutions (parliament, judiciary, civil societies, religious groups, etc.) he will face resistance. Yes, Institutions might become hurdle sometimes in implementation of decisions and policies, but in long run they very important in holding a nation together.