Democracy : buy the people, far the people, off the people.
Updated: Feb 1, 2021
Democracy is based on the firm belief that there are extraordinary possibilities in the strength, resolve and wisdom of common people. It is perhaps why Abraham Lincoln described democracy much emphatically as a government of the people, by the people and for the people. These romantic words are enough to rekindle the basic spirits of our human existence. But, alas, these are mere words.
A huge chasm exists between the text and the context, the prophecy and the reality. Take for instance the Indian scenario, in the past few decades there has been a decline in the democratic culture- the democratic way of life. The Indian democracy is for, by and of the people only once in five years. We turn pro-active at the times of election, with every election being a record-breaking one in terms of participation. But, as soon as elections are over, there sets in winter of democratic apathy, we stop caring about what is going on, the discussions cease to take place, the public sphere goes into a long hibernation.
It is an irony that we are very proud of the procedural aspect of democracy that’s regular elections with pronounced participation. But, we end up ignoring the substantive aspect of the democracy that democracy in essence means the empowerment of masses.
Deliberation is the heart and soul of democracy as without it how can the state ever know what the public interest is? But over the years, we have witnessed that deliberation has taken a back seat. The governments have assumed overarching dimensions, opposition voices are muzzled over the years, dissent and disagreements are ridiculed and parliament has been reduced to a mere notice board. The legislations have been done through repeated promulgation of ordinances, which when in parliament are passed under procedural trickery bypassing any constructive criticism. The governments further engage in chest-thumping, calling all these excesses as means to achieve efficiency.
With stifling of institutions, the democratic culture of India shifts towards authoritarianism. The governments have been averse to hear criticism of its actions and there has bee an apparent perception of infallibility. In case there is a criticism of government action, there is good machinery at work to label critics as seditious since 1860s. A subservient media has been pressed hard from governments of all hues to establish a narrative that the state can do no wrong.
There has always been a rampant use of public agencies to stifle dissent. This sets a dangerous precedent for a country which boasts of being the world’s largest democracy. Subverting deliberations, consultations, and intolerance for criticism are taking away the Indian democracy from being the government of the people and for the people. Though it remains, by and large, a government-by the people.
Great revolutionary Bhagat Singh once proclaimed that “The sanctity of law can be maintained only so long as it is the expression of the will of the people.” Countries like Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark are performing very well on human development indices and are one of the most peaceful and happiest countries because there any major law is approved by all the people in the form of a referendum.
In India, we have a population of more than 1300 million, so ensuring participation of the entire population is not feasible. The matters are made complicated with the endemic illiteracy and knowledge asymmetry. Better still, the governments should try to consult as many stakeholders as it can before rolling out any law. Because ultimately the law is meant for the people. But on the contrary, the majority of bills are formulated by the senior armchair officials sitting in their ivory towers without any substantial consultations with the stakeholders, completely ignoring the will of the people.
To make matters worse, there is a rise of legislators with a criminal background. Take for instance the current Lok Sabha, with 42% members having criminal charges against them. The nexus of Money-Muscle-media which gets criminals under the garb of politicians to power only furthers inefficiency, violence, troubles and corruption. Laws are made not to achieve the will of the people, but the will of these alleged criminals.
The need of the hour is that "We the citizens" must start participating in the affairs of governance because the true power lies with the people. The greatest price for apathy to the pubic cause is to be ruled by someone inferior or someone evil. We must not limit ourselves to exercise our voting right. We should continuously and conscientiously hold our representatives accountable for all their acts of omissions and commissions. It is the only way we can prevent our interests from turning hostage to theirs. It is, unquestionably the only possible way to prevent the slide of our democracy.
With substantive inputs from co-writer Vishavjeet Singh Goraya, Contributing writer- AMFL
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