Explainer Series: Democracy, Republic and the Nation-State
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Category : Explainer Series
Author : Arshad Shaikh

We often use terms like strong democracy, weak democracy, ‘too much’ democracy. We know the names of countries such as the Islamic Republic of Iran or the Democratic Republic of Congo. We read terms such as the ‘deep state’ or ‘state sponsored terrorism’. However, rarely do we care to learn about their origins and meanings, unless we are students of political science or preparing for the civil services. This article tries to answer basic questions regarding these oft-used terminologies. The preamble of our Constitution states that – “We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic…” It ordinarily implies that India is a democratic republic. Does it mean that every republic has to be democratic? Can we have a state that is not a republic? What is the difference between a democracy and a republic? What do we mean by the people of India? Is India a nation, a state, or a nation-state?

DEMOCRACY
We proudly claim that India is the largest democracy in the world. The word democracy is derived from two Greek words – demos and kratia, which mean people and power/authority respectively. Thus, democracy is a type of government in which the power/authority rests with the people of the country. This is in contrast to a government where power is in the hands of a monarch (monarchy), dictator/martial law administrator/military chief (dictatorship) or an individual (totalitarianism).
DIRECT DEMOCRACY The roots of democracy go back to the Athenian Assembly where every male citizen from Athens, Greece had individual voting rights in the Assembly that took decisions on every issue. The concept of framing legislation based on majority rule is ancient Greece’s biggest contribution to democracy. This arrangement of every citizen having the right to physically vote personally in the Parliament/ Assembly as practiced in the Athenian Assembly cannot be sustained when the number of citizens is in the millions and in some cases more than a billion. So what can be done? This leads to the most common type of democracy that we examine next. However, please note that even today, direct democracy is practiced in Switzerland. They have a population of around 8.2 million and each of its citizens use direct democracy to run their local, regional and federal governments. Every Swiss citizen is a member of their National Assembly and votes on all issues pertaining to governance, legislation etc. The voting takes place 4 times a year.
REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY It is also known as Indirect Democracy. In this system of government, individuals are elected to represent the will of the people. These individuals called elected officials, lawmakers, Corporators, MLAs, MPs etc. represent their respective constituencies, wards, districts, cities or even provinces and states. One example of Representative Democracy is India’s Lower House of Parliament called the Lok Sabha. Members of the Lok Sabha are elected by an adult universal suffrage and a first-past-the-post system to represent their respective constituencies. On the other hand, the members of the Rajya Sabha or Council of States are elected by the legislatures of the states and union territories using single transferable votes through Open Ballot while the President can appoint 12 members for their contributions to art, literature, science, and social services. The Indian Parliament is therefore a federal representational government as the Members of Parliament create laws that apply to the whole of India.
REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY It is also known as Indirect Democracy. In this system of government, individuals are elected to represent the will of the people. These individuals called elected officials, lawmakers, Corporators, MLAs, MPs etc. represent their respective constituencies, wards, districts, cities or even provinces and states. One example of Representative Democracy is India’s Lower House of Parliament called the Lok Sabha. Members of the Lok Sabha are elected by an adult universal suffrage and a first-past-the-post system to represent their respective constituencies. On the other hand, the members of the Rajya Sabha or Council of States are elected by the legislatures of the states and union territories using single transferable votes through Open Ballot while the President can appoint 12 members for their contributions to art, literature, science, and social services. The Indian Parliament is therefore a federal representational government as the Members of Parliament create laws that apply to the whole of India.
CONSTITUTIONAL DEMOCRACY Here, the country is governed by a Constitution (a body of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is acknowledged to be governed) that limits the power of the elected representatives to legislate within the ambit of the basic framework of the Constitution. Thus, a constitutional democratic government must both uphold the constitution as well as represent the will of people.
MAJORITARIAN DEMOCRACY Here, the country is governed by a Constitution (a body of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is acknowledged to be governed) that limits the power of the elected representatives to legislate within the ambit of the basic framework of the Constitution. Thus, a constitutional democratic government must both uphold the constitution as well as represent the will of people.

MAJORITARIAN DEMOCRACY

It was famously criticized as having the inherent danger of becoming a “tyranny of the majority”, whereby the majority in society could oppress or exclude minority groups, which can lead to violence and civil war. Some argue that since parliament, statutes and preparatory works are very important in majoritarian democracies and considering the absence of a tradition to exercise judicial review at the national level, majoritarian democracies are undemocratic. If you understand this term and track the different laws that were legislated by Parliament in the last few years, you will appreciate why some political commentators keep saying that India is moving from a Constitutional Democracy to a Majoritarian Democracy.

Essential attributes of a Democracy include – free and fair elections, citizen participation with equal rights in the process of governance, protection of citizens’ rights like the right to safety, freedom, peace etc., and equal rule of law.

REPUBLIC The term republic comes from the following: the Greek word politeia, which means the rights of citizens; and a Latin word called res publica, which means public affair. A Republic is understood to be a form of government in which power rests with its citizens. In republics, the government is made of elected officials relying on a representative form of democracy (as explained earlier). Another way of understanding a republic is by viewing it as a form of government in which the people hold power, but elect representatives exercise that power. For a country to qualify as a republic, the head of the state is an elected official. For example, India qualifies to be a republic because the government is made up of Members of Parliament (who are representatives of the people) and the head of the state (the President) is indirectly elected by an electoral college comprising both houses of the Parliament of India and the legislative assemblies of each of India’s states and territories, who themselves are all directly elected. Thus, France and Germany are republics as they have elected Presidents while the UK and Canada are not republics as they have a monarch as the head of the state (currently, Queen Elizabeth II).
CONSTITUTIONAL REPUBLIC The laws that can be framed by the elected officials/ representatives are subject to being ‘constitutionally valid’ or within the framework of the constitution. India and South Africa are examples of constitutional republics.
PRESIDENTIAL REPUBLIC It is a type of government in which the President of the country is elected by its citizens who is both the head of the state as well as the government. Examples of presidential republics are Brazil, Mexico and Indonesia.
FEDERAL REPUBLIC A good example of a federal republic is the United States of America. It is a federation of states, each having the power to frame their own laws as long as they do not conflict with the policies established at the federal level for the entire country (typically the security, defense and monetary policy).
THEOCRATIC REPUBLIC In these countries, the laws of the land are fundamentally governed by religious laws. However, the head of the state is elected as in the case of Iran and Pakistan. The lawmakers are directly elected as representatives of people.
THE NATION
A Nation is a community of people formed based on a common language, history, ethnicity, a common culture and, in many cases, a shared territory. A Nation is more overtly political than an ethnic group. A Nation has also been defined as a cultural-political community that has become conscious of its autonomy, unity and particular interests. In international law nation is the term for a sovereign state. Even if a person comes to believe that a nation does not exist, the nation will remain unharmed, as it is not a subjective reality, which exists in the mind of a single person. Only if a very large number of people come to believe that the Nation should not exist and end its validity will the nation cease to exist.
THE STATE A State has four essential elements – Population, Territory, Government and Sovereignty. The government is not the state. This has to be very clear. The government is just an agency of the state. It acts on behalf of the state by formulating laws and ensuring their implementation along with governing the country through various state agencies. The most commonly used definition of a State is by Max Weber, who describes the State as a compulsory political organization with a centralized government that maintains a monopoly of the legitimate use of force within a certain territory.
THE NATION-STATE A Nation-State is a political unit where the state and nation are congruent. It is a more precise concept than “country”, since a country does not need to have a predominant ethnic group. The most obvious deviation from the ideal of “one nation, one state” is the presence of minorities, especially ethnic minorities, which are clearly not members of the majority nation. An ethnic nationalist definition of a nation is necessarily exclusive: ethnic nations typically do not have open membership. In most cases, there is a clear idea that surrounding nations are different, and that includes members of those nations who live on the “wrong side” of the border. Historical examples of groups who have been specifically singled out as outsiders are the Roma and Jews in Europe. Negative responses to minorities within the nation state have ranged from cultural assimilation enforced by the state, to expulsion, persecution, violence, and extermination. The assimilation policies are usually enforced by the state, but violence against minorities is not always state-initiated: it can occur in the form of mob violence such as lynching or pogroms. Nation states are responsible for some of the worst historical examples of violence against minorities not considered part of the nation. However, many nation states accept specific minorities as being part of the nation, and the term national minority is often used in this sense. India is a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multilingual and multi-religious nation state that is a constitutional republic with a representative democracy. While Article 30 and Article 29 of the Constitution do not specify ‘minorities’ in India, it is classified into religious minorities and linguistic minorities. The basic ground for a community to be nominated as a religious minority is the numerical strength of the community. Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jain and Zoroastrians (Parsis) have been notified as minority communities under Section 2 (c) of the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992. As per the Census 2011, the percentage of minorities in the country is about 19.3% of the total population of the country. The population of Muslims is 14.2%; Christians 2.3%; Sikhs 1.7%, Buddhists 0.7%, Jain 0.4% and Parsis 0.006%.
REFERENCES: (1) Wikipedia (2) “What Is a Republic vs a Democracy? Understanding the Difference” by Ashley Robinson.

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