“Democracy” means rule by common people. In a democracy people are the source of all authority. Democracy is Government by the people and, according to one definition, aims to “promote a social condition of equality and respect for the individual [and minorities] within the community”.
There is little doubt that, conceptually, Sikhi would support all these
aims of a true democracy – so far the fairest system evolved for the
administration of institutions and states. However, Sikhi parts company
with almost all systems when it comes to actually implementing a
democratic regime in which the individual and minorities are protected
and in which no one inflicts pain on another (the ideal of halemi
raj in Gurbani ). The problem is that most systems deviate from
the ideal. A democracy simply simply becomes rule by the majority or
worse. This can happen for various reasons.
The essential checks and balances can fail through corruption,
religious, social or caste based divisions, uneven economic playing
field, lack of education or concentration of political power in the
hands of a few e.g. through loyalty to dynastic rule. In some cases a
democracy can become an oppressive and cruel regime in which the
individual or minorities no longer feel safe. It is in those
circumstances that a benevolent dictatorship is preferred to a
democracy, which has been derailed. Pursuit of power becomes the sole
aim of politicians even if that means intimidating or bribing the
voters, or playing communal politics etc. Minority interests are
ignored to please the majority community.
Sikhism starts with some underlying egalitarian postulates of
democracy, but it is essentially a path of "dharam" which
combines spiritual and temporal goals and sets longer term objectives
for humanity. Sikh tradition, institutions and concepts such as sangat
(Gur sangat kini Khalsa), pangat, sewa, gurmatta, sarab samti, would go
much further to ensure a balance between the individual and minority
rights on the one hand, and the wishes of the majority on the other.
Practice of seva bhavna (attitude of service) and humility
are the essential qualities necessary to run Gurdwaras, Sikh
institutions, and Sikh administrations.
Many democratic systems in the world today fall well short of creating
environments in which individuals and minorities do feel secure. Sikhi
ideals aim higher. While Sikhi can remain comfortable with fair and
just democratic regimes or even benevolent monarchies like those of
Maharajah Ranjit Singh, Sikhi schools must be run along Gurmatt lines
and accord with Guru Panth approved Sikh Reht Maryada.
(approved code of conduct).
To some extent the Sikh institutions based on Gurmatta and Dal Khalsa
principles, which served the Panth so well in the 18th century, were
weakened during the Sikh drive to extend kingdoms and empires in the
late 18th and early 19th centuries. According to one historian, Dr J S
Grewal, “The Sikh resurgents of the late 19 Century had to discover
their inheritance all afresh.”
That is what we should continue to strive for at least in our gurdwaras
today, which are the schools for practising Sikh ideals.