Herald: Raising the Bar of Democracy in India

Raising the Bar of Democracy in India

14 Apr 2019 05:00am IST

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By Blaise Fernandes

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14 Apr 2019 05:00am IST

Report by
By Blaise Fernandes

What is democracy?

Democracy is a form or system of governing a country or state, wherein all the eligible members choose the government. The word is a combination of two Greek words ‘demos’ (people) and ‘kratia’ (rule or power), which together mean “rule by the people’. Like a corporate or other organization, it has distinct seats of control and power consisting of the legislature, executive, and judiciary. Though linked, each of these maintains its independence from the other so as to effectively execute its duties and be a check on the others. The defining principle and inviolable basis of all these powers is the constitution, which is a detailed set of rules containing its fundamental principles, philosophy and established precedents. Along with India being the largest democracy, it has the longest written constitution of any country in the world. 

Problems and challenges of democracy

Yet this mammoth democratic institution is plagued by problems. They range from political pressure on the judiciary, duplicate voting and missing names on the voters list, to allegations of insidious application of sedition laws and innuendos of changing the very constitution itself.  The free press, which is like a barometer on democracy, is finding itself compromised by threats and dangling ‘carrots’. Of the many ills that that afflict Indian democracy; the ones which have become most threatening are religious fundamentalism, polarisation of the people on communal lines, corruption, false propaganda, threats to financial machinery, and particularly in Goa, gross political defections. Poverty, casteism, unemployment, administrative weakness and illiteracy are some of the associated problems which fuel the dysfunction of democracy. 

Complaints against elected representatives

The common man when faced with everyday problems or larger community or country-wide issues, often feels helpless and swiftly blames the elected politicians. It is a form of relief, resorting to vocal vomit to vent out the frustration. Corruption, communalism and nepotism are the commonly quoted ‘sins’ of the politician. They are often described as despotic ‘chors’ and looters. Goa’s pop star Remo Fernandes reflects this in his recent song ‘Vote Tit for Tat’, to kick out corrupt politicians who have become too fat! Many would like to do just that but find themselves incapable. Even when there is mandate from the people, like we have seen in Goa, the majority vote has been subverted by horse-trading and shameless party-switching. 

Culpability of citizenry 

It is a paradox that though democracy is governance by the people, by representatives chosen by same people, those same people have reason to complain election after election. More often than not, the same malefactor is re-elected. Would a deeper introspection, lead us to discover that those elected are in many ways, a reflection of sorts of the holders of franchise? Illiteracy is often quoted to be the root cause of these electoral situations, yet Goa, which prides itself on being one of India’s most literate states, has the same problem. The same politicians are voted back to power. That points to causes other than only illiteracy. 

Do Goans by and large display integrity, when it comes to elections? The poor are pliable with cash and alcohol but what of the well to do? A common refrain heard in Goa is “we vote for the one who will do our work” regardless of the party. What happened to ideals, rectitude, statewide/countrywide benefit, care of all people and the environment? Is selfishness leading the voter to sell his vote for cash or for only personal consideration? If the citizenry thinks in terms of benefit to ‘me and my family’ and let the rest fend for themselves; someday the ill-effects will catch up, it then being too late to correct. Or is it just plain indifference, like the recent Konkani song “Mhaka Kiteak Podla” by Friz Love? Is the majority of the electorate like this? Surely, there are a considerable number of the upright within the electorate. Another prevalent attitude, which ends up in a sorry state is the “we know it all” view. Are we, to quote Dr Oscar Rebello, a well-known general medicine consultant, “a truly spectacularly stupid people, so suffused with the hot helium of our own self-imposed pomposity, which would make a vain peacock blush with shame”?

The way forward

It is a time for each individual to question and evaluate his/her own quality of morality and ethics over selfish gain or cabalistic drives. Falsely based pride and getting euphoric with military skirmishes, which put lives of armed personnel and citizens at stake, are not suitable orientations for country-wide development and well-being. Vain development without a healthy democracy, freedom of expression, basics rights like latrines and the right to personal cuisine, will only cause future pain and ugly discontent. 

When evaluating a party or government, we must do so with keeping the good of the individual and all the citizenry in mind. Has the wisdom that true common good, is also good for the individual, percolated our minds? For example, if the environment is saved, the individual as well as all others, now and in the future, will benefit. Many Goans have reached foreign shores and are quite impressed with the systems, cleanliness etc. Do we realize what it is that makes these places beautiful? We would observe that over there, there is conformity to a minimum standard of aesthetics and environment. In India, many may be quite content to live in a posh residence regardless of whether it is surrounded by slums or not. Similarly, the good of all of Goa is good for each village of Goa; likewise, for India and its states. Politicians do ‘good’ in their constituencies but go and plunder others who are not their own, with the MLA of that place claiming helplessness or conniving on the quiet!

We ought then, to think and act towards the formation of a government, which ensures a wholesome democracy, not a mongrel one with tyrannical elements. This democratic system, which has held the country together for more than 70 years, needs to function more fully to benefit all its inhabitants regardless of caste or creed.

Quality democracy

When we say we are the world’s biggest democracy, we think about the quantity but what about its quality? When we find ourselves facing a Hobsons choice, being forced to choose a lesser evil; it reminds us that we are a long way from quality democracy. A quality democracy will have many upright people contesting to serve the people. But for this, clean politics are required to attract nobler candidates into the fray; candidates who will remain upright and not get mired with the filth of infidelity and expediency, who will not use power to stifle dissent, but who will follow universal and time-tested values of morality, human rights and peaceful co-existence. For this to happen, it is all in the hands and hearts of each and every voter, to be upright and bring upright representatives to power. As Dr. Joe D’Souza, eminent microbiologist and ex-faculty member of the Goa University said, “If we want to see ourselves liberated from corrupt politicians, each of us must pick the cross and follow our conscience….”  I may add, “With a more sensitized conscience than we currently have”. Just as a house is as good as its individual bricks and mortar, a democracy is as good as their constituent.

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