Adaptability Key To Democratic Resilience


Progressive social movements often carry contemporary and eternal elements in them. Contemporary elements become irrelevant when society progresses to embrace new social realities while eternal element provides interface to these movements helping them to connect with new value systems and ensure continuity, growth and change. The ideals and values of the movements intertwine to create a symbol of social virtues which fire the imagination of people toward sacrificing for the creation of liberal, free, equal and inclusive societies. But the history shows that the complexities and challenges of democratic movements extend far beyond the romantic notions of change. Hence, the movements often require great resilience to escape from the stereotypes.

Democratic movements are triggered by pent-up mass discontent about the contemporary social economic realities. The French revolution was inspired by the desperation of the people to free them from inhuman feudal exploitation, the American Revolution was triggered by a dream of decolonisation and independence and the Russian revolution was conceived to establish socialism and communism. Historical precedence show that democratic movements require certain ideals or symbolism to propel it to victory.   

Socialist movements

Early twentieth century was dominated by socialist democratic movements as socialism represented the highest collective vision for a better future. During that period, historic upheavals took place bringing social political transformations in Russia, China, Vietnam, North Korea, Cambodia and many other countries in Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa and Latin America. Every social political movement of that era bore the signature of socialist ideology. The second half of the twentieth century saw a massive polarisation in the ideological discourse on consolidating socialism.  China and Soviet Union represented the two polarities of the discourse which divided the socialist camp, giving way to the rise of western liberal ideas known as the third wave democracy. 

The third wave democracy was a surge of western liberal values which triggered grassroots democratic movement in many developing countries for overthrowing authoritarian system and replacing it with parliamentary democracy sustained by democratic institutions. Samuel Huntington, who coined the concept of the third wave democracy, emphasised economic opportunity, strengthening democratic institutions and international support for liberal democracies to succeed. 

Towards the end of the twentieth century the third wave democracy had lost much of its steam, partly because of factors such as the global economic downturn, use of populism as tool of electoral manipulation, ethnic, religious and racial division in the societies, and the tendency among the elected leaders to stick to power by manipulating elections, intimidating opposition, restricting individual freedom an undermining democratic institutions. 

We are now in early 21st century when two exclusive political ideologies are vying for space in democratic discourse. The argumentative strength of these ideologies is that they have succeeded in evolving policies which have immensely contributed in the reduction of global poverty. These ideologies, frequently referred to as Islamic democracy and socialist democracy are stealing limelight in the global political spectrum. The Islamic value system is emerging as a potent ideology in the Islamic world aligning religious values with political decisions, adjusting religious Sharia laws with modern legal system and bringing stability to the society and giving increased access to economic opportunities for the people. 

Similarly, the socialist democracies are trying to align socialist economic principles with the democratic governance. Socialist countries, especially People’s Republic of China has showcased its success in uplifting 800 million people out of poverty in a span of four decades. This constitutes 75 per cent of global poverty. This is a feat which no governments, democratic or authoritarian, have ever been able to pull off.  The governments  which call themselves Islamic and socialist democracies have been better able to address security challenges, mitigate disparity through redistribution of wealth and maintaining ethnic, religious and communal harmony than, say, USA and India which are called the oldest and largest democracies respectively.

The Western democracy has been successful to disseminate romantic image of liberal democracy as a system which defends people’s individual freedom, pluralism, rule of law, separation of powers, fair elections, communal harmony and so on.  However, it is in these very countries where the fairness of elections has been questioned. Issues of racialism have come to the frontline of national discourses; their economic policies are being blamed for creating a few ivory towers of wealth in the sea of poverty.

Liberal democratic western powers tried to incite revolt in various Caucasian, African and and West Asian countries giving them aesthetic name tag of floral and colour revolutions.  The Rose revolution of Georgia (2003), the Tulip revolution of Kyrgyzstan (2005), the orange revolution of Ukraine (2004) and Arab Spring (2010) in West Asia are some of the brand names of the uprisings nurtured and nourished by western democratic powers.  But these revolutions not only failed to bring any changes in the economic and social life of the people, they divided communities, sowed seeds of terrorism and created hotspots of regional conflict. 


The seed of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine was sowed by the Orange revolution of 2004. It germinated in Russian occupation of Crimea in 2014 and burst forth in a full blown war in February 2022. This war has devastated entire infrastructure of Ukraine, depopulated cities and killed or displaced more than a million people. The ongoing tragedy in the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen have also their roots in the refusal of western liberal democracies to seek interface with the alternative vision of collaborative future.

To conclude, adaptability is one of the most important elements of democratic dynamism because democracy negotiates its course through plurality of interests. In diverse environment, political systems and ideologies must possess dialogical interface not to loose connection with alternative possibility for enhancing capacity to deliver service to the people, foster stability and ensure equal redistribution of wealth. In today’s multi-polar context, imposing uniformity of ideas and model of development will only further corrode the value chain of democracy and reinforce authoritarian culture. 

(Dr. Bharadwaj is former ambassador and former chairperson of Gorkhapatra     

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