For Greek commentators and critics alike, demokratia was a unique form of rule in which the demos acts as a selfish body in pursuit of its own particular interests. A cursory glance over the declaration of property by Ministers in the Central Cabinet and state cabinets in India will evidence the fact that a few rich section of the society who is millionaires has in the name of democracy been able to occupy power.
The repository of both wealth and power is found concentrated in them. 'We the people' in India is no longer a decision making and deliberative body but a divisive and fractured vote politic body manipulatively played against each other in the chess board of Indian politics by the few rich individuals (demos) to their political advantage. 'We the people' has been turned out to be a convenient cliche in the hands of the few rich to exercise power over the majority.
What is of interest here is that the divisive, exclusionary connotations of the word democracy did not disappear with its 'modernization'. They were if anything resuscitated and strengthened by a political tendency that has in the meantime become something of a well-established pattern: the tendency of actors to invoke the word democracy, understood as popular sovereignty, as a handy weapon in the struggle for power over others.
For example, when Anna Hazare was spearheading the Civil Society Movement in India, he put the onus on central government to introduce his version of a strong Janlokpal Bill to wipe out corruption and keep in its ambit the top echelons of power including Prime Minister, the ruling Congress Party ministers at centre stated that Anna Hazare has no right to dictate Parliament as it is a sovereign body to take the fizz out from his campaign by citing the commonly adduced cliche 'the sovereignty of the people.'
Francois Guizot (1787-1874) was among the first to spot intellectually this paradox that modern democracy could degenerate into power grabbing. He was also to experience the process first-hand, for instance in the 1794 execution of his father by revolutionary forces, and again in the revolutionary overthrow of his own government in February 1848, both times in the name of 'democracy'. He pointed to the theological origins of the doctrine of the sovereign people. 'There is only one God', wrote Guizot mockingly, 'there ought therefore to be only one king; and all power belongs to him because he is the representative of God.
The advocates of the sovereignty of the people say: There is only one people; there ought therefore to be only one legislative assembly, for that represents the people. According to Guizot, the theological reasoning of the advocates of popular sovereignty rests on a non sequitur. While there is only one God, absolute knowledge of his ways and laws are by definition forbidden to human beings, which is why room for multiple interpretations of God is necessary.
No actual power …ought to be undivided, for the unity of actual power supposes a plenitude of rightful power which nobody possesses or can possess. Guizot noted that contemporary advocates of popular sovereignty ignore this precept. Convinced that the people are like God, their actions lead straight to despotism. Even when they concede that the people, unlike God, do not speak in one voice and with one resolve, and that therefore majority rule is necessary, the champions of popular sovereignty sanction the despotism of numbers and the bossing of minorities by majorities.
‘The sovereignty of the people is contradicted at the outset, by its being resolved into the empire of the majority over the minority…the sovereignty of the people is aristocratic despotism and privilege in the hands of the majority. The principle of the sovereignty of the people, that is to say, the equal right of all individuals to exercise sovereignty, or merely the right of all individuals to concur in the exercise of sovereignty, is then radically false; for, under the pretext of maintaining legitimate equality, it violently introduces equality where none exists, and pays no regard to legitimate inequality. The consequences of this principle are the despotism of number, the domination of inferiorities over superiorities, that is, a tyranny of all others the most violent and unjust'.
Though in Parliament it is numerical majority that determines the power that be but in comparison with number of 'We the people' it is minuscule minority kept at the helm to enjoy the loaves and fishes of power.
The uncomfortable truth is that in the history of modern democracy, beginning with the revolutionary events in France, the doctrine of popular sovereignty has recurrently been a partner in crimes against people. Simple democracy has not just been an innocent bystander. It has stirred up public passions, galvanised political support and generally served as a cover in the struggle for power over others.
From the point of view of democracy understood as non-violent power-sharing - complex democracy - the differences between these more or less murderous outcomes remain important. But they also have a single implication : populist movements and parties have everywhere had doubtful results, which is why the Indian political thinker Rajni Kothari has rightly commented that political forces that appeal to 'the people' typically have anti-democratic effects.
The resort by emergent or dominant power elites to plebiscitary politics tends to weaken institutions of representation (like communications media and political parties) by transforming them into organs of charismatic style, backed by force. Populism strengthens the repressive apparatuses of government and simultaneously destroys the role of people by turning thinking and judging citizens into manipulable and crucifiable objects. The Irish playwright Oscar Wilde used more pungent prose to put the same point. 'Democracy', he wrote, 'means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people'.
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