"No government can be long secure without a formidable opposition"

- Benjamin Disraeli

(British statesman and novelist)

Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as a 'government of the people, by the people and for the people.' Since childhood, we all have rote learnt this definition and till today if anyone asks us what democracy is, we repeat the same line. As a Political Science student, I have come to know about democracy a lot more than just this definition. Most modern economies of the world follow a system of Liberal Democracy. A liberal democratic state is one in which the people's power is supreme. People elect for their favoured representatives by casting ballots for them. The government is popularly elected and representative which is continuously responsive, responsible and accountable to the public for all its policies, decisions and actions. It is constituted by free, fair and regular elections. There is rule of law, decentralisation of powers, judicial independence, constitutionally granted and guaranteed rights and freedoms of the people and freedom of mass media. These are the salient features of a healthy democracy. However, one of the most essential pillars of such a political system is the presence of a strong opposition and the government's tolerance towards dissent.

It would be very ironic if we call the political system of a country democracy if there is no opposition or if the opposition is very weak/non-united. It is here that the main argument comes into play- What is essential for a healthy democracy: A strong government or strong opposition? I firmly believe that the latter is the key to establishing a healthy democracy. A 'democracy' with a strong government and no opposition in my opinion is nothing less than an authoritarian form of government. As the saying rightly goes, "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." An apt example of this would be Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany, who without an effective opposition demonstrated signs of fascism. A true democracy is characterised by open political competition, healthy and free struggle for power.

The constant tug-of-war between the opposition and the ruling party keeps the government on its toes and ensures good governance. Many people have misconceptions that the only work of the opposition is to criticize the policies of the government, hinder and obstruct their working which is very wrong. There is much more to it. Be it the government of the opposition, the main aim of the two at the end of the day is to secure a welfare state. I feel that the real work of the opposition starts right after the General Elections. Instead of being frustrated at their defeat and looking for ways to unnecessarily counter the government, instigate people on religious grounds and create ruckus in the country to gain sympathy, it should reach out to the people and build networks with them, discuss the policies and agendas put forward by the government and give their plausible alternatives. It should bring to the government's notice the plight of the poor people, reforms needed in various sectors of the economy and expose the snollygosters in the ruling part as well as other political parties. It constantly needs to remind the majority party that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" and that democracy cannot be limited to casting ballots.

I cite the example of The United States of America to prove my point. The two dominant political parties there are- the Democrats and the Republicans. There are several other parties as well but they do not even reach the National Convention as they are in a minority. After every General Election, it is either of the two political parties that wins and forms the government. Both of them are extremely strong. The party that forms the government makes sure that it does meritorious work to remain in the good books of the citizens so that it can be elected for another term. In the same way, the opposition makes sure that it tries to do good work to gain the support of the people as well as continue with its constructive criticism. The government thinks at least a hundred times before implementing a policy. It has to take into account the reaction of the opposition as well as the people as it knows that a wrong move by it can be very costly for it. In this way, the USA was and still continues to remain the world's largest and most powerful democracy.

In Britain, the concept of a 'Shadow Cabinet' is very popular. The members of the opposition party form their own cabinet reflecting the incumbent government. They assign portfolios to the party members who either act as a shadow or mirror of the respective Cabinet minister in power. They develop their own contacts and suggest substitutes of the policies put forward by the government. It is a very good idea because if they win in the next General Election, they can appoint the same people as ministers. It can be applied in India as well. Although it is very ideal, and nothing much can be predicted about it but at least a beginning in this direction should be made. Dynamic and influential people can be a part of such a "government in waiting."

It has been seventy three years since India became an independent nation. For a very long period of time it was the Indian National Congress(INC) as the dominant political party. Due to lack of effective opposition, every time it won the elections. As a result, the people became fed up of the same people being elected again and again. The government was no doubt strong as it had some great people like Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and P.V. Narsimha Rao. Finally, when the Mr. Narendra Modi led BJP secured an absolute majority in the 2014 General Elections, people thought that the INC would act as a very strong opposition and the tussle for power between the two would be one worth watching. However, much to the dismay of the people this is clearly not the case. Even other political parties who used to be active earlier have now become dormant. Thus, stating very clearly India has never had a united, strong and credible opposition. If this continues, the fear of the 'tyranny of the majority' will continue to drool over the people. As it happened, the opposition suffered its worst defeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the current scenario paints a grim picture in this context as the opposition shows no signs of recovery.

By saying all of the above, I do not mean that a strong government is not essential. Of course it is of prime importance as it runs the administration effectively, maintains foreign relations, prevents the causes of a revolution as well as performs other miscellaneous functions which enables a country to emerge strong and independent. Since the government is of the people and for the people, it should not at any point rise above the people. Now, it is not only the responsibility of the Judiciary to ensure this but also the responsibility of a vigilant public and opposition. If the opposition is riddled with factionalism, casteism, self-centrism and internal disputes then it's not really the government's fault. The opposition makes itself a laughing stock in front of the ruling party. Social, economic and political checks need to be actively performed on the government otherwise the country's vulnerability to corruption, civil and religious unrest increases.

Thus, a healthy and good democracy can prosper only with the presence of a strong opposition. The government and the opposition are two sides of a weighing scale in which equilibrium needs to be maintained otherwise either of the two will overpower the other which is not good.

Frank Harris has very rightly said,

"Strong people are made by opposition like kites that go up against the wind."

The author of this post is Arya Mishra

The views expressed in this article belong to the author/s and do not necessarily reflect those of the JEC Blog. We welcome comments and contributions to this blog – please comment below.

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