India: Mother of Democracy @G20
Dr Hitashi Lomash

India is a country of 1.3 billion people, and the value of democracy and rule of law is embedded in its culture. The country has been a champion of democracy and the rule of law at every international forum. At the G20 Summit in Osaka last year, Prime Minister Modi made a strong statement in support of democracy and human rights. The tweet below sums it up perfectly:
PM @narendramodi on India's official Twitter account tweeted on Nov 8, 2019: "Democracy is about debate and discussion. Tolerance is its ethos. Let us remain steadfast in promoting these values in an inclusive, tolerant and peaceful world."

True democracy is where the government offers accountability and the public offers a reasoned voice and tolerance to each other. As long as there is a strong relationship between them both, true democracy will exist in the country. Therefore, maintaining the balance between the two is the challenging dimension of democratic governance.

In this paper, I would like to focus on the public reasoning aspect in exercising democratic rights in India. Two main objectives of this paper are :

  1. To spotlight how India's philosophical treatises helped to establish strong theories on logic and provide public forums to foster rational reasoning among the people, to develop a truly democratic government;
  2. Learning from India's tradition of respecting and facilitating "public reasoning" in international boards will help create a greater democratic, globalized society.

When India calls itself the Mother of democracy, it refers to two important facts. First, in the last century, out of all those states who have attained independence, India has 75 years of democratic practice and development together under its belt. Second, despite colonial rule, when India stood on its feet, it built the world's first federal parliamentary system within the bounds of a democracy. It created a federal structure with dynamic powers vested at the center along with a federal principle that recognizes the need for cooperative federalism. As such, Indian democracy differs from Western-style democracies in terms of structure and practice, having many additional dimensions in its constitutional setup.

The building block of democratic values in India has been the importance of public participation since ages. Public participation has not only been conducted fairly but also philosophically provided frameworks and training to sharpen the reasoning process through critical observations for ages. 1 Dialogue between Raja Janak and Yagyavalka, Milind-Panho are a few classic examples when even the kings had participated in the debates. The discourse among the public was never underestimated or ignored. The entire democratic process of the country has always been based on the philosophy of the learned tradition that evolved over the years through several philosophical treatises (Nyaya, Vaisesikha, Buddhism, Jainism, Vedanta, Mimansa) and the great epics Ramayana and Mahabharata providing guidelines for the governance of the people. Taraka vada, Kathhavatu, Sambhasa vidhi, Panchapakattita of Panini's grammar are a few more classical examples of using logical thinking in the people management for the good governance of the country.

The Nyayasutras is one of the ancient Indian treatises on logical reasoning and epistemology, developed around 600 BC in the Vedic period. It was based on the principle of 'Pratiprajna' meaning 'absolute certainty'. It examines reasoning methods and their application to ethics and politics in a society governed by law. This is one of its fundamental principles, which is very much applicable even today. A distinguished medieval commentator on the Nyayasutras, Sridhara Svami says that "A person can gain knowledge only by logical means i.e. by observation and inference." According to Abhinavagupta, the principle underlying the Nyaya philosophy is that even a layman is capable of attaining wisdom if he practices proper reasoning. Further, according to him, true wisdom consists in reaching the truth without using any external aid such as scriptures or authorities.

The contribution of Jain and Buddhist logicians Like Shri Haribhadra Suri, Shri Dignaga, and Shri Udyotkara has been equally influential in shaping the fabric of Indian culture and providing the concepts of Hetuchakra, Anekāntavāda. Vedanta and Mimamsa are two ancient philosophical texts whose ideas laid the foundation for modern Hindu thought. Out of major philosophical thoughts, Nyayasutras greatly influenced the history of India in various aspects, including the development of its judicial system, the concepts of Karma and Dharma, and the principles of statecraft and governance. Therefore, India has strong civilizational roots in its legal traditions which play a very important role in governance and democratic system of India. These Ancient texts are a great source of learning for understanding.

The greatest challenge that democratic values are facing today is the interpretation of public reasoning worldwide, since there is a fundamental disagreement on how certain political values are to be constituted within the democratic discourse. This problem is intensified in the era of social media, where everybody can become a public intellectual and an influencer representing a particular worldview, which calls for a critical analysis of the sources of his/her information and their legitimacy when it comes to decision-making within the public sphere. As a result, public reasoning was superseded by public opinion. Though these words are used interchangeably, but there is a fundamental difference in their meaning and role in public sphere. Public opinion is subjective and prone to manipulation, and is therefore not the best measure in determining public policy. Public reasoning on the other hand is more objective and representative of the views of the majority, making it an ideal method of arriving at a consensus regarding important political and social issues.

Edward Bernays in his famous book "Propaganda" opines that public opinion is not rational, therefore needed to be controlled by an elite group who protect the people from themselves for their good. This basic assumption of propaganda is the main challenge to public reasoning as it goes against the very nature of democracy where decisions are reached through discussion, arguments, and a consensus.

That said we need an international sphere free from the influence of propaganda to be effective at collective decision-making. This is the prerequisite to developing an effective democratic system based on the principle of “freedom of speech and expression” enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For that India, at international forums, might be a beacon of democracy in the world especially while hosting G20 in the year 2023. Also, it is important because India is one of the strongest democracies in the world, and it is going through a transition from a centralized government to a decentralized one as part of its election manifesto ahead of the 2019 elections hence, it is important for India to demonstrate that how principles of Democracy strongly rooted in its philosophy can be practiced in the new age facing new challenges in the new world order.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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