In the ancient Indian village republics, all citizens assembled and decided issues of governance. People exercised their power directly in matters of the state. This kind of polity is called ‘Direct Popular Democracy.’ In this case, both legal and political sovereignty was vested in the people. With a gradual increase in the size of the population, it became difficult to have direct democracy.
Presently, direct democracy is visible only at the Gram level in India. All decisions at the village level are taken by all the villagers together. Gram Sabha is headed by elected members. However, decisions on the development projects are taken openly by villagers.
There are three essential elements of democracy:
- Freedom to citizens
- Respect for human rights
- Holding free, fair and regular elections
- Protection and effective realisation of human rights
15th September is celebrated as the International Democracy Day!
To understand how democracy works at the national and international levels, we should understand how it works at the local level. Therefore, we will now read how democracy works at the village level.
Though we have had self-government at the local level since ancient times, it got constitutional recognition only after the 73rd Amendment in 1992. The 73rd Amendment envisages the Gram Sabha as the foundation of the Panchayati Raj System to perform functions and powers entrusted to it by the State Legislatures. The amendment provides for a three-tier Panchayati Raj System at the village, intermediate and district levels.
The 73rd Amendment thus envisages the Gram Sabha as the foundation of the Panchayati Raj System. ‘Gram Sabha’ refers to a body consisting of persons registered in the electoral rolls within the area of Panchayat at the village level. In the Panchayati Raj System, Gram Sabha is the only permanent unit. The duration of the Panchayat, i.e. the tenure for which Mukhiyas/Sarpanchs and other members of the Panchayat, continue is 5 years from the date of appointment.
Panchayat Institutions are the vehicles of political empowerment for people at the grass root level. A vast majority of people live at the grassroot level in the rural and remote areas without any contact with the mainstream or modern means of living.
At the time of independence, the promise of democracy was, in part, the promise of the life that it would produce. A system of self-government held the potential to generate conditions where freedom could be realised. [page 42]
Barely a month after India acquired independence, the All-India Congress Committee refused to stop only on the achievements of political freedom and declared that “the establishment of real democracy... can only be realised when democracy extends from the political to the social and economic sphere.” [page 52]
In a 1943 speech on nineteenth-century Congress party leader and social activist Mahadev Govind Ranade, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar observed that the “formal framework of democracy is of no value and would indeed be a misfit if there was no social democracy". As Dr. Ambedkar noted on another occasion in the same year, the reason for democracy’s collapse in Italy, Germany, and Russia and its survival in England and America was “a greater degree of economic and social democracy in the latter countries than it existed in the former.” [page 55]