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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Danda Democracy



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I always regret not having studied Political Science, having been schooled in a day and age when it was sacrilege to even think of anything except PCM (Physics Chemistry Math) if you were a boy and PCB (Physics Chemistry Biology) if you were a girl. So my knowledge of what comprises a Democracy is very basic, gleaned from the little Civics studied up to tenth grade. Subsequent attempts to expand that knowledge by reading Fukuyama met with limited success. My understanding of how a democracy works is very rudimentary. People subscribing to a certain ideology come together to form a political party. These political parties set forth their intentions and agenda before the people during election campaign. People cast their vote for the party whose ideas resonate with their own aspirations for the future. The party which secures a majority forms the government and takes decisions on behalf of the people. The direction in which it makes policies, legislates and conducts foreign affairs etc are based on the known leanings and principles of the ruling political party. These are assumed to be in line with the will of the people since the majority that elected them expected them to act in this manner.

What if the government doesn’t act in the way that the people who elected them expected them to? There are certain checks and balances built into the syste to prevent an elected government from causing unalterable damage to the country during its tenure of five years. For example, to change the fundamental nature of the country’s values or principles envisaged by the founding fathers, it needs to amend the constitution. This requires a three-fourth majority in the parliament. If the ruling party has this majority on its own, it implies that its vision is backed by adequate number of citizens and thus it is in a position to make the requisite changes on its own. Otherwise, it needs to build consensus with the opposition, thereby getting the buy-in of the people who voted for the opposition too. Apart from this, any action by the government deemed illegal or unconstitutional can be challenged in court by the opposition or even an ordinary citizen. The government is also accountable to the parliament for even its day to day functioning, and various parliamentary committees are formed to monitor this, which include members from all political parties.

Within the confines of the above safeguards, the government carries out the business of governance for its elected tenure. At the end of that tenure, people assess its performance vis à vis its promises, and if it has failed to live up to their expectations, may punish it by voting it out of power. It is thus a five year contract, where the people outsource the task of taking decisions, within the confines of legality and constitutionality, to the government. The reward for performance is renewal of the contract, and vice versa.

But lately one is puzzled to see a different interpretation of democracy as it is manifesting in the conduct of some political parties. A national party without even the ten percent seats in the parliament necessary to confer upon it the status of an official opposition takes a conscious decision to disrupt the parliament and not allowing the government to function, in order to ‘safeguard the interests of the people’. Another regional party, facing a massive exodus of its sympathizers towards the ruling national party, takes it upon itself to use criminally coercive means to enforce its will on ideological issues.

Is it stupidity, arrogance, or a healthy dose of both that deludes them into abrogating the role of sole arbitrator and enforcer of the will of the people, in the face of electoral evidence to the contrary? By doing so, aren’t these parties actually insulting the majority who elected the government?

Let us, for the sake of argument, accept that the government’s actions are contrary to the mandate of the people. That the government has grossly deviated from the policies and promises that the people had elected them for. The opposition must take recourse of the court if any of these actions by the government are illegal, such as corruption, or unconstitutional. If not, and the differences are on aspects of ideology or priorities, then the democratic thing to do would be to let the government function the way it deems fit. As an opposition, it is your duty of course to constantly point out the follies in the government’s decisions and actions, and bring them to the notice of the people. They, the voters, are the ultimate arbitrators, the masters which all political parties claim to work for. If the government’s policies are as flawed as asserted by the opposition, the people will punish them in the next elections. But ideological differences, or the belief that your own understanding of what is good for the country or what the people want, doesn’t give opposition the right to disrupt the functioning of the government. Similarly, it doesn’t give any party, group or organization the right to force their agendas through coercive tactics such as disruption of events, mob lynchings or even assassinations.

The message that such parties are sending is that an electoral mandate is of no consequence. That neither the people in power nor the majority which has elected them know what’s good for the country and for them. That they, the opposition which has been booted out of power, is the sole arbitrator of people’s well being. Interestingly, this affectation is reminiscent of the colonial attitude of yore, where the chosen few were destined to bear the ‘white man’s burden’ of enlightening the savages. They had to do this by force if necessary, for the savages themselves didn’t know what was good for them.

As someone who voted the current government into power, I resent this. I want the government I elected to be given opportunity to work towards fulfilling their promises. If they fail to meet my expectations after five years, and if I have a better alternative available at that time, I will withdraw my vote from them. Till then, I don’t want the opposition or even some coalition partners, to sabotage my will being exercised through the government I have elected.

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