Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Vox Populi Vox Dei??

Even though this phrase sounds obscure for most of us, it may seem familiar to students of political science, sociology or even philosophy. Translated from its original Latin, it literally means "voice of the people is the voice of god". The ideology reflected in this one sentence has almost single-handedly swept across the world and seems to have perfectly filled the void left behind the wake of the political hurricane that defined the first half of the 20th century. So strong has been its impact that it has almost been elevated to the point of infallibility only comparable to how people treat the Bible, Quran or Torah. Democracy these days can only be compared to an all-encompassing inescapable mist of narcotic that can intoxicate an entire mass of people. These universal concepts make it easy for people to abandon self-assessment and independent thinking and conveniently go with the flow and subscribe to mass (read mob) mentality. What we need to do is look at the entire original sentence in order to understand what Alcuin of York, an astute scholar of his time, truly meant when he wrote this to King Charlemagne in 798. It goes as:

"Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, Vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit"
"And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness"
What this means clearly is that democracy is nothing but an official way of legitimizing any form of mob mentality. If a sufficiently large number of people pool together and demand something, irrespective of the outcome, democracy guarantees its deliverance and execution. A prominent example of this was how Adolf Hitler came to power as head of Germany not through a military coup-detat, but through legitimate democratic processes (general election). Very recently, on a state visit to USA, our Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh commented that he was representing the largest democracy of this planet to the people of the oldest democracy of the world. Factually true (and praiseworthy as was seen on the floor of the US Senate that day), these two democracies represent a democratic extreme of some sort. While the US version is toothless and ineffective with changes occurring on an almost geological time scale, the Indian version is swift, aggressive, volatile and, often, violent. In the USA, for over a decade the American people are being deprived of the basic rights that their ancestors so righteously fought for. In terms of Economy, large corporations are snatching jobs away from the American people and shipping them overseas in the name of free trade and global business. This is the ugliest form of economic polarization where these greedy corporations strive to increase their profit margins, fill their coffers while forcing the American people to go hungry, sick and untreated … hollowing out the very core of the most cherished element of this society … the American dream. In terms of healthcare, the doctors and allied professionals, the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical corporations have formed the true axis of evil to hold this country hostage to a helpless situation of rising healthcare costs, increasing incompetence and mediocrity, falling coverage and last but certainly not the least, frightening stories of ghastly treatments of unprivileged patients. A vivid testimony of all this can be found in Michael Moore's documentary “The Sicko”. This is a burning testimony of how Democracy failed one of its staunch believers, the American people, who gathered in protest in front of the Lincoln Memorial, shouted at political fundraisers, wept at Townhall meetings, only to witness the hopeless blind and mute system they so dearly believed in for centuries. On the other end of the sociological spectrum is the Indian democracy, where things are swift. As I pen down the words here, news broke that the protesting (read plundering and pillaging) Gujjar community in Rajasthan has reached a landmark agreement with the state government, about their demands of reservation after months of mindless destruction of both public and private property, violent obstruction to proper functioning of daily activities for not only the people of the region but for all Indians. Whether caste-based reservation is justified or not is a whole different can of worms … for a different time and day. This way, the Gujjars (or anyone else) can almost be demanding anything and our hopeless democratic system, where every political party was either too frightened to lose their vote or eyeing the same, would have caved in. For all I care, they could be rioting to legitimize the tradition of 'Sati' or any other outrageous demand and they would get it!! It is sobering that the people of the largest democracy in the world subjected its own (people’s) government hostage to its crazy and unfair demands and time and again we are shocked to see how they are met! Perhaps it is time to break the vicious cycle and rethink the subtlety of its limitations and inabilities. It is democracy that is supposed to protect and uphold the rights of the people and not the other way where we commit our unconditional allegiance to it. "Democracy for People" and NOT "People for Democracy" …

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