In popular belief, democracy is about positive practices: freedom, justice, equality. The democratic processes take us closer to those goals. I have written numerous articles on different positive aspects of democracy earlier. However, if you look at it, in practice, democracy is not just about positive achievements. A lot of its success depends on its ability to keep negative outcomes away.
The 20th century proved how bad things can go in the modern world. With advancement of newer techniques of mass killing, democracy had to take the front-seat. Amartya Sen has convincingly demonstrated that democracies prevent famines from occurring. According to his theory, when we contrast British India with Independent India, we find that India has not seen disasters on the scale of the 1943 Bengal famine. According to his theory, while poor people all over India are still undernourished, they are not starving to death in large numbers, like they did in the Colonial times. A country of nearly 1.3 billion people is feeding itself, in some sense. It might not be a major achievement, but it is something. I really wonder sometimes if Sen’s theory applies to violence as well? In other words, just as democracy prevents famines without addressing everyday food crisis, it does prevent a holocaust while accepting smaller acts of violence.
Historically, there has always been trouble when people labelled as outsiders have come into a region and become economically prominent there. This was exactly the problem with Jews in Europe. Society needs outlets for these negative emotions as much as they need visions of the greater good. But notice how differently these emotions were let out in an undemocratic system and a democratic system. While Hitler and his army uncontrollably slaughtered 6 million people, Raj Thackeray and his crew could only bring out a few riots, however ironic it may sound. And what more, these acts of violence were openly criticized by people like Sachin and Mr Bachchan. It is also helped by the fact that, in practice, democracy is not a very well established system. This may be a blessing in disguise. The mythology of democracy is a mythology in progress. Once established, maybe in another 100 years, who knows, people may find serious loopholes in democracy as well. As long as people have their belief in an order, it tends to work.