Rescuing democracy from elections

In selecting candidates, winnability has taken primacy over what it is to work as an elected representative.

Elections have been a dogma of democracy. At worst, it is a necessary and inevitable evil and at best, it is a constituent feature of the famous ‘basic structure of the Indian Constitution’. In practice, we have never attempted to explore and affirm the significance of democracy and instead, we, rather our ambitious politicians, have shown eagerness to use elections to secure unbridled power and weaken or subdue possible competitors.

And in the process, no effort has been made to strengthen the institutions of democracy, the concomitant checks and balances. On the contrary, winning elections somehow has been the abiding goal and the means can be politically and socially immoral and degrading and they are contrived to be simply technically correct or remain within the confines of impunity. We have never bestowed our thought and energies to deem power as a flow from the operation of all round democracy amidst the institutions and methods of citizens’ participati-on, specialist or dedicated NGOs, public opinion, free press, independent judiciary and unshackled legislatures and their committee system paraphernalia. These latter are the organically linked/constituting cells of the political body of the country.

Democracy or people’s rule, in a bafflingly diverse and plural society like India, is inevitably mediated or made possible by elected representatives and here it is called the parliamentary system. These elected representatives are the pillars of government or state, deriving their political sustenance sap or raison d’ etre from the people. Even though the governmental system is constantly forced to listen and cater to the needs of various group or vested interests, there are the ever elusive and transcending people’s needs, interests and potentialities in all its dynamism.

Since representatives are elected by the generality of people, one person one vote principle (this idea in India dates back to the Motilal Nehru constitutional recommendations of 1928, the year when women got the vote in Britain in an altogether new and hard earned democratic development), they are obligated to unearth, fathom and articulate the general needs and interests amidst the clamour and pressures of highly publicised and resource-endowed sectional interests--industrial labour, urban property owners, government employees, agents in wholesale markets, private school owners, nursing home proprietors etc.

In the context of expectations about fast growth including all round human development, we often hear of too much of freedom and democracy acting as hurdles to governmental, administrative policy and action. Here is a misconception, unbecoming of democracy: people are being looked at as only the recipients of benefits and not as policy initiators and independent agents in society and polity, articulators of pain and agony.

Whatever the lacunae, they are all required to overcome through increased scope for participation in decision making and possible decentralisation of administration. And we have to stop looking at people as mere voters and instead treat them as participants in ever widening and facilitated political processes. Political opportunity deficit is the major hurdle coming in the way of faster all round growth.

Elections, though they are necessary and important instruments of democracy, have taken the centre stage in the reckoning of elected representatives and their parties and leaders. In choosing candidates to be fielded in elections, winnability has taken primacy; considerations as to what it is to function as an elected representative have not been the criteria.

The task of representation has become severely vitiated by the by now famous influence-peddling. Reaching benefits to individuals and favourites has been gaining importance and the general good has taken the short shrift. The general good can come about only when all types of service delivery institutions, small and big, near and less near become effectively and adequately functional and are duly endowed.

Essential prerequisite
Working to make these institutions, schools, hospitals, PWD offices etc, more effective ought to be an essential prerequisite to function as people’s representative. This aspect is neither understood nor given importance in the clamour for election winnability.

Democracy in a major sense implies people’s control of government; and done through the mechanism of representation or representatives. And this has very little to do with elections in an immediate sense.

Probity with regard to brass tacks governmental processes has to be a part of the instinct of elected representatives. This requires study and marshalling of facts/instances of governance or its lack. Questioning the conduct of government in the form of all important legislature questions has to be seriously undertaken.

In the recently concluded clamorous winter session of parliament, hardly 1% of 330 questions were answered orally in the Rajya Sabha and 11% in the Lok Sabha. This is a serious deficit in India’s representative democracy.

(The writer is formerly professor, Maharaja’s College, University of Mysore)

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