Social Democracy is the political ideology of Social Democratic Party of India. There are chances of the public getting confused, because of the various brands and interpretations of Social Democracy that exist across the world. Many governments and political parties, ranging from far right to extreme left, claim to uphold Social Democracy. This term is used by pro-capitalists and also pro-communists in East as well as West. At times, the term Democratic Socialism is also used with more or less same meaning. But the SDPI version of Social Democracy is an appropriate ideology in the Indian context.
Social Democracy is generally defined as a political theory advocating the use of democratic means to achieve a gradual transition from capitalism to socialism. It is a political ideology that officially has its goal, the establishment of socialism through reformist and gradualist methods.
Social Democrats or Democratic socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically—to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few.
The term Socialism which is to form an integral part of any discussion of Social Democracy also lacks conceptual uniformity and uniqueness. Even though Communism is introduced as the most reformed or rather ‘scientific’ evolution of Socialism, the Social Democrats summarily rejects the authoritarian Communist control of power and adhere to Democratic process of social change and governance. In view of Social Democrats, Democracy and socialism go hand in hand. But to many of its proponents, Socialism just represents the dreams and endeavors for a just world.
Social Democracy appeared in the forefront of political discourses, discussions and negotiations in Europe during the second half of 20th century.
This term took a turn in context of the split between reformists and revolutionary socialists; between those who adhered to authoritarian communist theories and those who advocated for a peaceful and evolutionary transition of the economy to socialism through progressive social reform of capitalism.
Though opposed to classical Communist viewpoint, Karl Marx himself modified his stance on revolution by declaring that there were countries with democratic institutions where reformist measures could be advanced, saying that “workers may achieve their aims by peaceful means; but this is not true of all countries”. But Social democracy in the 1930s began to transition away from association with Marxism towards liberal socialism. By the post-World War II period, most social democrats in Europe had abandoned their ideological connection to Marxism and shifted their emphasis toward social policy reform in place of transition from capitalism to socialism.
Before the split between reformists and revolutionary socialists, “Social Democracy” was widely used to refer to a wide range of socialists, including revolutionary tendencies. Later Social Democracy asserted that the only acceptable constitutional form of government is representative democracy under the rule of law.
It promotes extending democratic decision-making beyond political democracy to include economic democracy as a guarantee to working classes and depressed masses. It supports an economy that opposes the excesses of capitalism such as inequality, poverty, and oppression of various groups, while rejecting both a totally free market or a fully state controlled economy.
Most social democratic parties are affiliated with the “Socialist International” which is a broad international platform of political parties hailing from different countries. Not surprisingly, following the tradition of communist and socialist movements across the world, this international platform also created a breakaway group.
Indian Social Democracy
In India, we have the scope and need to create our own alternative concept: An Indian Social Democracy.
India gained freedom from British imperialism in 1947 marking an end to centuries long people’s struggle. The legacy of our freedom struggles contained aspirations for a democratic rule in all spheres of life. It was not meant for a mere change of government from the British to the Indians. Our freedom movement was in pursuit of rights and justice, social and economic as well. The attainment of political power was viewed as the first step towards reaching wider goals of democracy that are social and economic.
While looking back to more than six decades of our experience with democracy, India remains a successful political democracy in the sense that there were smooth transitions of power periodically thought successive general elections at the Centre and in the States. But tragically, our democracy could not go beyond the power games among different political parties and alliances. Our nation could have fulfilled the following three phases of true democracy during this very long course of time.
Political Democracy that brings elected government through universal adult franchise
Economic Democracy that brings economic growth shared by all citizens and classes
Social Democracy that brings Adequate share of power to all castes and communities
As we will be discussing later, the economic policies of the successive governments are taking our nation away from the concept of a Welfare State. If Social Democracy is gradual transition of economy from capitalist clutches to economic equity, we find it being systematically betrayed in India. It is fast surrendering to capital and market forces leaving the vast majority of people to miseries and destitutions. Instead the government controlling the capital interests, the government functions under the control of big capital owners.
The Representation of People’s Act which governs the process of universal adult franchise in India does not carry the spirit of Social Democracy that means adequate representation all classes. In fact, the following pre-requisites of Social Democracy are yet to be achieved.
In Structure: Adequate Representation in legislature, executive and judiciary.
In Function: Equal justice before law and equality in delivery of growth and development.
There is a demand to introduce Proportional Representation as a remedy to check power imbalances and ensure representation of all political aspirations. In the proposed system of Proportional Representation, a voter cast vote in favor of the political party of his choice and the seats in parliament and assemblies are divided among them as per the percentage of vote gained by each party. No doubt, it is a better alternative to the present election system. But this system will also fail to reflect the diversities prevailing in the society because of the following reasons.
In India, unlike Europe, caste constitutes the class irrespective of economic mobility. Our democratic institutions could not abolish caste hierarchy and discrimination so much so that our constitution and statutes prescribe special measures including seat reservation and budget allocations for the lower classes such as Adivasis, Dalits and Other Backward Castes. The religious minorities who constitutes nearly 20% of total population are also not adequately represented in different segments of the government. Though, there is provision for reserved constituencies for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, this right is not granted to religious minorities.
Indian National Congress, BJP and Left parties are the main players in Indian politics. The post-Mandal emergence of caste-based regional parties like SP, RJD, BSP etc. influence the power balance only to a limited extend. These regional parties, contrary to their claims of championing the cause of all backward classes and minorities are, in fact, mostly serve the narrow interests of limited groups and political families. The Muslims, the largest minority with 15% population strength is the most deprived community in India in terms of their presence in legislature, executive and judiciary.
Under these circumstances, SDPI stands for the political mobilization of all Minorities communities and backward castes to lead them to adequate representation and equal justice. SDPI which carry the true spirit of Social Democracy put forth the following demands:
1. Proportional Representation system of elections.
2. Reservation in legislatures for religious and linguistic minorities.
3. Reservation for SC, ST, OBC and minorities in private sector.
4. Quota reservation in education and employment for minorities.
5. Sub Plan and Budget allocation to all backward classes in proportion to population.