The Statesman, Kolkotta
February 13, 2004

By Neelamani Sahu
(The author is the former Reader in Philosophy)


Irving Kristol says, “Democracy does not guarantee equality of conditions — it only guarantees equality of opportunity.” Anyone with a thoughtful mind would understand that without the guarantee for equality of conditions the guarantee for equality of opportunity becomes vacuous.


If one takes the present trend into account one finds that even the so-called equality of opportunity is disappearing. More and more an unequal society is being created. This happens because the so-called democratic governments are not accountable to the people. In order to create a society in which there would be the guarantee for equality of conditions along with the guarantee for equality of opportunity, we must have democratic governments with accountability.

People have voting rights. But the relation between the election process and the voters reminds me of a conversation between a daughter-in-law and her mother-in-law. The daughter-in-law goes to her mother-in-law and requests: “O Mother, my brother has come and wants to take me home. If you say ‘yes’ I go, if you say ‘no’ I go. Now tell me whether I shall go or not.” To this the mother-in-law replies, “You daughter of a widow! You go if say ‘yes’ and you go even if I say ‘no’. Then why do you ask me?” The voters cannot even rebuke as the mother-in-law did. The voters simply have to vote.

The most popular and classroom definition of democracy is Abraham Lincoln’s. He says that democracy is the “government of the people, by the people and for the people.” But in practice we find that democracy is the government of the rich, by the people and of the rich.

We have said “by the people” because people feel pride and boastfully claim that they have changed the government at an election. However, this pride is to a great extent illusory. It is illusory because during an election, media and money play a decisive role in telling the people who should be voted in, whom to vote for. Who can spend so much money to use the media in its different forms and the necessary man and muscle power to influence the voters — even to rig the elections? It is those who have the fat money bags at their disposal. So ultimately, in practice, democracy is a government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich.


Though in a democracy the ballot is said to be stronger than the bullet, money is the strongest of all the three as it controls the other two — ballots and bullets.

By changing a government the people hope that the new government would fulfil their aspirations. But the new government too functions in the same manner as the earlier government, which was thrown out by the people.
At the end of five years this new government too would be thrown out as an inefficient government that failed to meet the hopes and aspirations of the people. One party would be thrown out and the other would be brought in. And the cycle continues.

How is it that governments change, but policies do not change? For example, when the Congress party sitting on the treasury benches initiated the globalisation process, the other parties sitting in the opposition vehemently opposed it. But when the other parties, whether in the name of the United Front or in the name of National Democratic Alliance, were in power they continued the globalisation process in an intensified manner.

It was the turn of the Congress party to sit in opposition and criticise mildly, or even wildly, the very same policy it initiated. The example is treated in a very simplified manner without taking the details into account, but so far as the policies are concerned the political behaviour and spirit of the party or alliance in the government and the party or parties in the opposition remain essentially the same — in the government implement a policy, in the opposition oppose it.
The policy writers for the government are the multinationals or capitalists as a class. Any party in government has to carry out their policies. Otherwise truckloads of notes would not come, MLAs and MPs could not be purchased. No-confidence motions would be tabled and governments would be brought down.


The purchase of our MPs and MLAs by different parties and the scams involving them are examples of this process, but the hidden hands are never seen. We the audience merely see the dancing dolls, but never the fingers that make them dance.

At the time of elections, political parties publish their election manifestos to allure and motivate voters. In these manifestos a thousand and one promises are made to the people only to be forgotten after the elections. Making promises during the elections and willfully forgetting them after coming to power is nothing but a breach of trust. If a businessman commits a breach of trust with a customer, then the latter could drag him to a court and demand justice and compensation. However, if a political party makes promises, but does not keep any, the electorate has no remedy until the next election.

So the people of India must ask to make the election manifestos legal documents — to be treated as promissory notes executed by the political parties to the people. So that, on noncompliance, the government and the political party or the alliance forming the government could be dragged to courts of law for justice and appropriate punishment. The Election Commission of India too has to look into this aspect of our political process to make our democracy accountable.

When we have democracy with accountability, then we shall have a government of the people, by the people and for the people, which would guarantee equality of conditions along with equality of opportunities.

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