Democracy does mean the Government of the people, by the people and for the people. Viewed from this angle democracy is a form of government wherin people themselves elect their representatives to run the affairs of the state on their behalf and also to provide opportunities to the people for their max,’mum good. But what we generally observe is that when we talk of democracy, we regard election as the central point. There is no doubt that we cannot think of democracy without elections. But it is a mistaken belief that elections are the sum and substance of democracy. Although one of the main ingredients of democracy, elections are one of the means to achieve the objectives of the rule of the people. As a matter of fact elections do nothing more than indicate as to whether a particular party enjoys or does not enjoy the support of the majority of the people. Thus elections are only a part of the whole process that makes democracy meaningful. What is more important in substance than elections is the concept of the welfare of the people.
The welfare concept is regarded and accepted all over the world as the essence of democracy. It is for this reason that all the modren democracies call themselves ‘welfare states’. As already pointed out elections alone or elections by themselves do not constitute democracy. Elections are a method, and perhaps the most popular method to initiate democracy. There are many other and rather more significant components that go to make a successful and meaningful democracy.
Let us very clearly understand that democracy is a concept—not rigid and static. Since its inception it has under-gone changes and it cannot be claimed to have reached its final stage of evolution. In the past democracy was more of an idea or a myth and concerned itself mainly with the elections. But today it is more of a reality and has addressed itself to the newer task of securing maximum welfare to its people. With the evolution of the concept of democracy to the stage of welfare, it is confronted with innumerable challenges unknown in the past.
Again, if we accept that democracy is a concept not rigid and static, we will have to agree that every nation has a right to discuss, evolve and formulate the ways and means best suited to it according to the genius of its people, to give it a practical shape without sacrificing the spirit behind it. It is more clearly explained if one compares the form of democracy in the ancient Greek city states with the form and content of the western democracies of today. Such a comparison will illustrate the validity of the statement that the concept of democracy has evolved through ages in various parts of the world in conformity with the traditions, cultures and interests of the people of different lands. In the ancient Greek city states the welfare concept was not as predominant as it is today. The modern welfare states perform a large number of functions aimed at the welfare of their people. The content of democracy has, thus, undergone continuous change during all these years. And now it is not the form but the content of democracy which is more important.
A general survey of the growth and evolution of democracy will show that’it has been very uneven. The welfare concept is being put into practice in varying degrees in various parts of the world. It is so because of difference or divergence in local conditions and genius of the people of various regions. Out of this whole discussion two main points emerge : First, elections are only one of the formal components of democracy, and second, the content of democracy has undergone great changes in various parts of the world according to the requirements, challenges and genius of the people. Both these constitute to mean that the sum and substance of modern democracy is the promotion of the well-being and happiness of the people. A true and good democracy today must try its best to achieve this object with out which it would be regarded a democracy only in form and not in spirit. It is in the context of this change
in the content of democracy, that we must remember what Mahatma Gandhi said, “My notion of democracy is that Under it the weakest should have the same opportunity as the strongest”. Reference to what George Washington said in this regard would be quite relevent. He said, “The aggregate happiness of society, which is best promoted by a virtuous policy, is, or ought to be, the end of all democratic governments.” It is therefore, clear that the elections are Only a necessary formality in a democracy, the real and essential function of which is the well-being of the people.
Elections are a necessary formality in a democracy. Every democratic country observes this periodic formality with great pomp and show. The western countries, where there is ecpnomic prosperity, education and equality, can claim to have meaningful elections. But poor and developing countries can simply have the mental satisfaction of holding the periodical exercise of elections without any meaning. The criterion required for genuine and meaningful elections is equality, economic, social and political. The election are only a farce without such equality. A large number of democratic countries including India cannot claim to have that level of equality. So much so that even in advanced western countries elections are vitiated by false promises, influence of money, use of official machinery, dazzling slogans and unfair manipulations. The case of Watergate scandal is very well known. In countries like India where the majority of the electorates is illiterate and below the poverty line, exercise of the right of franchise is largely and significantly influenced by the factors mentioned above. Thus even this formality is not observed in right earnest.
Even for creating minimum conditions for meaningful elections, the welfare concept of democracy appears to be more vital. It is through a massive effort on the welfare front that ideal conditions for genuine elections can be created. It is, therefore, correct to say that elections should not be mistaken for democracy and democracy does not imply only elections, but much more.