People’s participation in Democracy

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By Ashim Bhuyan

Abraham Lincoln, one of the greatest proponents of democracy, and one of the best Presidents of the United States of America ever had, once famously said : “Democracy is the Government of the people, by the people and for the people”.

Democracy provides scope by which people can participate in governance, and have their say in this process. India’s founding fathers propounded democracy as the governance model. The intent was people’s participation in the affairs of the Nation, with welfare of everyone in every nook and corner of the Country. One of the cornerstone of democracy was universal franchise to every adult Indian citizen, irrespective of gender and background. 71 years after Independence, we can definitely revisit and look back if democracy has worked, and more importantly, if it has ensured people’s participation in the governing process of the Nation, for the welfare and benefit of everyone.

In spite of tremendous challenges, including very low literacy and very high level of poverty, our founding fathers had faith and belief in the people of the country with diverse background and sensibilities. As we look back, India is a unique case where democracy not only seem to have survived, but has set certain unique case studies in democratic governance. Of course, it is no denying that there were also instances when democracy was threatened, primarily by the State. This threat exists even today.

One of the pillars of democracy in India is the Election Commission. Over the years, the institution has evolved, Many a time its very functioning as an independent and constitutional body was in doubt, but it has survived, and has been able to ensure free-and-fair polls in majority of the times, at least of late, in the elections to the Parliament and State Assemblies. The fairness of polls may not be 100%, but it’s by and large. The same cannot be said of the election machinery in the States while conducting elections to local bodies like Panchayats, Municipalities, etc. The Election Commission can be credited for higher turnout of electorates in elections, Though voter turnout could have been more, a figure of 65% and above is quite commendable, and is an indicator of people’s participation in elections – an important element in democracy.

The judiciary and the justice system in India is also evolving, and, as of now, is short of enjoying the full faith of public in general. Fairness and timeliness of the justice system are not beyond doubt, and there are huge number of backlog of court cases for disposal, especially in lower courts. There are allegations of corruption in the judicial system. People seeking justice are often left wondering if just and fair justice would be delivered. Participation of people to seek justice is limited, and citizens, more often than not, avoid going to the Courts. In the midst of this, some Supreme Court and some High Court judgments have generated hopes among the people. Such judgments tend to make people repose faith in the judiciary. The Supreme Court monitored NRC process in Assam is such an example.

Laws and the law-making process should benefit largest sections of the society. Unfortunately in India, people’s participation in the process of law making is miserably missing, except a rare few cases. Even the elected representatives do not have appropriate say in law making, and this appear to be the preserve of a few, or the leadership, in the ruling disposition.
Policy making at the Centre and in the States is another aspect where participation of people is found wanting. More often than not, policy making is made with electoral gains in mind, rather than greatest good of the people. Yes, there were several policies made that may not have yielded electoral gains, but the nation has benefitted. Some may have doubts, but the economic reforms of early 1990s have done the country a lot of good, though these did not yield electoral dividends to the Government at that time, people’s participation in policy making can make democracy more vibrant, which is not the case till now in India.

For all the good intentions of law making and policy announcements, the implementation and execution of these at the ground level is what aills the Indian democracy. The implementation or execution agencies, mostly the bureaucracy, lack the sensibilities and deftness to ensure people’s participation, rendering intent a near meaningless exercise, most of the times. The welfare schemes that are for the benefit of the people, many times, get translated into political issues on political lines.

Redressing grievances are an important aspect of governance, and of democracy. A vibrant democracy should be able to listen to its people. Yes, people do cast votes and elect their representatives, but elections are just one, and not whole, aspect of democracy. Though on paper and in theory, grievance redressal mechanism is suppose to work in governments, mostly these are non-functional for practical purposes. In spite of the hype, digital India has not comforted the grievances of people. It is the fourth estate, that is the press and the media, that many times raise the voice of a section of people, and report incidents of injustice, irregularity, etc. The bureaucracy, especially at the lower rung, are not sensitive to the grievances of the citizens.

The pressing need of the hour is active participation of civil society groups across the country on myriad issues that concern and affect the common man. Sensible pressure groups must raise their voice, and sensitize the people. Citizens must create platforms where issues, local and national, can be discussed, debated and solutions found, unlike the biased Prime Time debates on the TV channels. India is a great nation, and democracy in this country can thrive only with the active participation of its people in the nook and corners of the country, so that those in power are compelled to work for the larger interests of the Country and the Societies at large, instead of working towards parochial need of electoral and selfish gains.

Otherwise, there is a possibility that Benito Mussolini words : “Democracy is beautiful in theory; but in practice is a fallacy” coming true.

Source: The Sentinel

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