Challenges to a Democracy

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In this essay, I will talk only about the most eminent challenges to a democracy. But to begin with, here is a short summary on democracy as we know it.

Forms of government can be arranged accordingly to how many people hold power in them—that is, according to whether a government is based on rule

  • by one (an autocracy),
  • by few (an oligarchy),
  • or by many (a democracy).

A government for the people by the people and to the people.

Abraham Lincoln introduced the modern saying of the democracy

Democracy was coined from the Greek Words, “Demos” as in the “people” and “Kratos” which refers to “power”.

Today some of the most influential countries are the ones with stable democracy.

Today the democracies are representative democracies rather than participatory democracies, thus requiring institutional mechanisms to translate public opinion into government policies.

The classic model of democracy is the “majoritarian model”. It also assumes that a population of knowledgeable voters willingly goes to the polls to vote on issues and to select candidates who they believe will best represent them. The main tools of majoritarian democracy are elections, referendum, and initiatives.

A second model,the pluralist model, reflects the limited knowledge and participation of the real electorate. It envisions democratic politics taking place within an arena of groups with similar interest. This model relies on open access that allows individuals to organize into groups to press their claims on multiple centers of governmental power.

When we talk about democracy in India, the values on which our democracy was formed are as follows,
Equality, Liberty, Fraternity, Secularism and Justice in the Social environment and Individual behavior.

The principle of our democracy is that all citizens should be democratic. These values and the principle ensure that the integrity of our democracy relies on a solid foundation.

Our democracy can be termed as a genuine only if and when it fulfills both political and socio-economic aspects of people’s participation and satisfaction. For this reason, it needs to adopt a Constitution and laws that vest supreme power upon the people of the country.

Challenges that any democracy face differ from country to country, but India faces complicated challenges due to extreme political polarization within its diversity.

Challenges to a Democracy

Biased Education:

Education is an essential tool of a Democracy. It is a decisive factor in socio-economic welfare of the country.

Education is the means of educating the citizens about the laws and functioning of democracy. Also it helps to propagate the importance of voting. In absence of proper educational system, the democracy will start to fail and crumble under the power of influential individuals who can manipulate the un-educated population.

But even in the presence of an educational system if the education system itself is corrupt and educates children about one ideology to benefit only a certain section of the society or a certain political party could lead to disastrous situation for the democracy.


Socio-economic standing of the population directly impacts the ability of the population to empower the democracy and function within it. Poverty denies a healthy and full fulfilling life for the people.

Poverty is linked directly with systemic deprivation of rights and inequalities. Poverty leads to lack of education and eventually mass unemployment.

Furthermore weakening the process of economic development and causing social injustice and creating socio-economic gap between the rich and the poor. An environment with such extremes fuels autocratic rule challenging the need the authority of the democracy.

Caste System:

Social exclusion systems like caste system weaken the pillars of democracy by attacking its foundations of equality, rights and secularism.

The detrimental and inhuman acts of caste system like segregation and cultural exclusion leads to a dissent amongst the people towards the governing bodies.

Caste system can also be used within a democracy as divide and conquer strategy; political parties can use the caste system for narrow gains by exploiting the emotions and problems of the underprivileged to gain their votes.

Fundamental rights relating to equality, freedom of speech, expression and association, participation in the electoral process, free media and press, and legislative forums are misused for maintaining caste identities.

The socio-economic deprivations and the lack of identity protection affect the morale of the population. The reasons like illiteracy, ignorance, poverty and political willingness (caste Politics) can be detrimental towards the decline of democratic governance.


Corruption within democratic organization and the structure of economy is also a major threat for democracy. It is true that corruption is rampant in all walks of human life viz., land and property, health, education, commerce and industry, agriculture, transport, police, armed forces, even religious institutions. Corruption exists in three levels – political, bureaucratic and corporate sector.

One can see the nexus between the politicians, the bureaucrats and the industrialists which has resulted into corruption and corrupt practices. The tentacles of corruption have affected all organs of government in almost all the countries. Several countries face with dilemma of corruption in the most essential institution including the judiciary.

Corruption is a cause for political instability and institutional decay, challenging seriously the validity and propriety of governance. For corruption there is no boundary like caste, education, region, religion, status etc. All variety of human being indulges in it.

Criminals within Politics:

When politicians indulge in violence and take refuge in other unhealthy, undemocratic methods to win elections.

Undoubtedly, this is not a healthy trend in politics and if such trend arises there should be urgent need to apply serious check on such tendencies. It is the very negation of democratic values and has no place in a democratic set up. Such politicians are less educated with an ideology and conscience.

Furthermore, the greediness may make them to bring their kin and nepotistic networks to the politics which adversely affect the democratic style of representation.

Fringe Politics:

Fringe politics often sides with an ideology or a religion. The will to ensure absolute domination of an ideology or a religion in a nation destroys all the bases and principles of a nation. Religions are non-democratic organization and an adversary of secularism.

The fringe elements when they start influencing politics results in violence, ethnic cleansing and creation of caste systems. The fringe elements often create several identities of a nation thus dividing the nation and its population. This ultimately results in systemic abuse of the minorities and tribal population within the democracy.

Fringe elements also abuse their power and influence over the corporate, business and even political parties and the judiciary, this leads to undemocratic environment and the fall of governance.

Fringe politics also often result in constant power shifts from one political figure to another thus causing instability and confusion within the democracy.

Patriarchal Politics:

Patriarchal politics leads to anarchist governance.

Patriarchal politics is wherein the political power moves down from generation to generation within a single family. When a single family stays in governing positions for long time they consolidate excessive power which in-turn delegitimizes the authority of democracy over its governance.

Biases created by patriarchal politics can adversely affect those in the opposing sides and favor heavily the favorites of the family.

Voter Turnout:

Voting by the citizens of a country is crucial to empower and strengthen the democracy. When voters are able to vote for the candidate of their preferences they ensure that candidates work for the voter’s benefit rather than their own benefits.

This also ensures that the rule of the people is not challenged. But if there is a less voter turnout, or only the voters favoring a certain candidate turn up to vote, than the political candidate will work only for that certain group and class of people.

Thus those who do not vote lose their chance to participate and benefit in a democracy. This undermines the “democracy for all” principle.

Vote Manipulation:

When the electorate system is sabotaged by the party in power or the opposing party, the votes can be faked, manipulated or the voter’s count can be distorted to create fake votes. This partially is the result of lack of voter’s rights awareness. There are cases in which voters are paid to vote for a certain political party or a candidate.

There are also certain cases wherein the political volunteers and workers of the political party double voting or even voting on behalf of the voters who did not turn up.

This de-legitimizes the electoral process and the voting is thus rigged to benefit a certain political party or a politician and their supporters.

Voter Manipulation:

Manipulating voters with money, fake promises and/or by threatening the voters constitute for voter manipulation. This results in voters voting for an immoral candidate or political party.

Thus empowering a political candidate and their party to misuse their power and abuse the country’s resources. This also leads to corrupt individuals gaining higher political positions thus causing social injustice and poor governance.

Extremist Ideology:

There are extremist ideologies on all levels and in every organization. All religions have a group that resort to extreme behavior or propagate and distort false values and meaning of the faith. This may on several occasions result in violent clashes between extremist groups.

Such violence always has collateral damages which result in the innocent civilians siding by a certain extremist group for protection. When such conditions arise, the political party or politicians siding with the extremist group are favored by the citizens siding with the extremist group.

This subsequently results in gross violation of secularism and secularist society. This in turn results in isolation and subjugation of a certain group or sect of people.

Political Polarization:

As mentioned before, there are several ideas and variations of democracy and political ideology.

Several individuals identify themselves as liberals who are bound to the rule of the democracy and loyal to the rights and responsibilities stated in the constitution of a democratic country. And there are several individuals who identify themselves as conservatives; these are the people who weigh the religion and rituals of the religion over the democratic rule.

The liberals are often considered to be on the left side of the political spectrum and conservatives often lean towards the right side of the political spectrum. Also there are moderates, those who do not lean on either side of the political spectrum, although the moderates are often termed as progressive too.

Liberals often emphasize on Patriotism, which means that a citizen should comply with the constitution and can be loyal to their country in any way they would like to and that they are not bound to follow any one type of loyalty and ideology to be considered patriotic.

Whereas the conservatives believe in nationalism which believes in just one identity and one way of loyalty to the nation, for example one religion defines the country, or one ideology should be followed by the whole country.

Political polarization is the case in which the “Left” and the “Right” both polarize in their ideology. Basically, political polarization is extremism within political ideology.

When certain ideology or movement of the conservatives or the liberals starts to become a norm within the political group and its supporters the ideology or the movement is said to be polarized. After a certain point these polarization starts to affect the political narrative of the country. Often times leading to violent confrontations.

These ideologies often evolve to complement each other thus seemingly becoming the same ideologies. For ex. Communist ideology of the Left and the Fascist Ideology of the Right are almost similar.

Fake News/ Misinformation in Media:

Mass Medias like paper news, publications, digital news etc. are primary source of information for the masses.

When these forms of Media are corrupted or biased by political polarization or due to political influences and/or political abuse, the information to the masses is then distorted and fake.

This fake news or fake media leads to misinformation, and spreading of extremist ideologies. Political Parties and the extremist groups start using these mediums to then propagate certain ideology and values that could harm the bases of a democratic society.

The very corruption of the media causes cracks in the pillars of the democracy.

Abuse of Social Media:

Social media is the new form of electronic media. Social media has far reaching capabilities since a certain topic or information can be sent within seconds to the masses.

Even the traditional media, now, relies on social media to create enthusiasm and curiosity among its audience towards its own information.

Social media can heavily influence how the masses think and perceive a piece of information. Since the social media provides information in ‘take and give format’, in which when the information is given to the public an instant feedback is often required or expected, resulting in increased level of engagement of the audience.

Thus when a certain piece of manipulated or faked information/ media is presented to the audience, the audience is most like to start believing it.

This causes an environment of mistrust and wrongful manipulation. Democracy and its functioning rely on smooth flow of information. Corrupt information harms the functioning of the democracy. It makes the democratic institution and the citizens biased, unjust and unreliable.

Archaic Laws:

A democracy has to evolve with the changing times. To ensure the evolution, the constitution and the laws of the democracy need to be modernized.

Archaic laws are the laws that were made to ensure that the society of the time of formation of the democracy could be governed well within the structure of the constitution and the then current state of the nation.

Although as the democracy gets older and as the times change, with advent of new technologies and newer means of living, the rules and laws of the country need to change. Often time leading to changes within the constitutional framework itself.

But almost always the conservatives and nationalist would halter this change and obstruct any change in the society and its law; Thus hampering the progress of economy, the democracy and its citizens.


Thank You.

Published by Shrsthi Jain

I am studying law in Mumbai. Seeing the current state of Women and child welfare in India motivated me to advocate for human rights. Believing strongly in the functioning of government under people's power. My aim is to promote and encourage citizen's contribution to the governing and policing of the state.

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