Democracy and loyalty are two diametrically opposite concepts; yet, they are compatible when they are in their rightful places. Now let's see what is loyalty and what is democracy.
Loyalty is commitment to a cause or a person, irrespective of the situation and change that time brings upon. Loyalty transcends promises and performances. It is a commitment beyond consequences - which may be favorable or unfavorable.
Democracy is a choice amongst contenders and it can only happen when there is impartiality. In democracy, you vote because you want to have a change. You are able to take stock of the situation and then choose. It is always based on past performances and future promises.
Choice can only be amongst equals or seemingly equals. However, for any competition to exist, you need impartial masses. Then how can impartial masses be loyal to any party? When there is no competition or choice, democracy dies. When the public is loyal to this particular party, or person, then there is no need for any election because there is no choice. Winning by a small margin is not considered to be a great victory. In the same way, a 100 percent unanimous victory also does not speak much for democracy, as people have voted out of loyalty alone.
Loyalty disallows impartial competition for if you are loyal to one party and if the same party continues to rule, what is the point in having elections? Democracy allows healthy competition between parties to perform and serve people better. Unfortunately, election campaigns around the world have become so negative, it is a competition of mud-slinging and belittling others, rather than coming to power by one's own virtues and sacrifices. In many countries around the world, loyalty and elections have been separated. In situations where people have not been properly educated about their rights, their choices and the consequences of their choices, democracy may bring injustice in the garb of justice.
Loyalty goes hand in hand with royalty. Royalty does not change - it is passed down from generation to generation, whereas democracy needs an impartial decision and good judgment. Loyalty has its place - you need to be loyal to your principles, monarch, country, the military, your employer, employees and spouse. You have to be faithful to your country, but you endanger democracy if you are loyal to a single political party. It is unjust to demand loyalty from everybody, with the exception being party workers and office bearers who have to be loyal to their party otherwise it will not function. It is also equally valid that by giving a permanent mandate to a particular political entity, you are breeding corruption. One should give a break to the party in power, grant them a holiday, so that they can recoup their enthusiasm and energize themselves.
To give a more down to earth example, if you have two pumps, you work one for twelve hours at a stretch, then you give it a rest and start the other. Similarly, a field that has been planted with a certain crop for some time needs either to remain fallow or be planted with a different crop, so that the soil does not get depleted. The same is true in politics.
Many countries in the world have gone for a combination of both monarchy and democracy. While the kings and queens are the subject of loyalty, people feel free to choose their Prime Ministers or Presidents, as is the case in the United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark, Spain and Japan. There the loyalty for dynasty continues and so it does not get mixed up with democratic institutions.
It is the nature of people with integrity to find an anchor for their loyalty. In India, for centuries, the Maharajas, who were the subject of loyalty, have been abolished and the Governors and Presidents have somehow not been able to replace them. Hence, that loyalty is now directed towards the elected leaders. Dynastic rule is detrimental to democracy as people know who would be the next leader. This can bring down the moral fiber and destroy fair competition. In the U.S., a common expression is 'yellow-dog Democrats' - people loyal to the Democrats would rather vote for a yellow dog than a Republican. Most people label themselves Republican or Democrat.
In any election it's the narrow 'swing' vote which is really the deciding factor. If you look closely, it is only a few who have really chosen. Ideally, it should be the masses who choose and the few who should be loyal. Then election has meaning.
Another point of view then would be that there can be no continuity nor stability if the loyalties are shifted frequently. Here one should understand that loyalty should be more for the cause than to the means - and party is the means, the cause is the upliftment of the country. Bereft of loyalty, life is without backbone and without freedom, life cannot flourish. In a teacher-student (Guru-disciple) relationship, the Guru - as Krishna did to Arjuna, gives the freedom and the disciple exhibits the loyalty.
Freedom and loyalty should go hand in hand. However, a loyalty which is stifling gradually decays and freedom without loyalty leads to anarchy. Life needs loyalty, but when it comes to democracy, one should act like a father who has love for all his sons, yet chooses the right one for the right job.
You have to be loyal to human values. Instead, if you are loyal to a party, how can you exercise your franchise? You cannot be loyal to a party and claim to have a choice. Only the impartial can choose. Have you thought about it?
Published in the Times of India