How to reform Politics in India
Politics in India has a way of enslaving the society, rather than serving it. Hence, politicians — and also bureaucrats, who are the co-sharers of power with politicians — become people’s masters, rather than their servants.
Democracy stipulates that elected representatives are representatives of the people. In reality, they (exceptions apart) act as rulers of the people, continuing a master-slave pattern set in colonial times. The power structure that has been erected in India after Independence is such that real power vests with politicians and bureaucrats, whereas the common people, by and large are powerless.
As a result, even for the enjoyment of rights and entitlements that have been explicitly provided for in the Constitution, laws and government schemes, the common people are made to run from pillar to post. Stripped of their dignity as citizens, they are made to think of themselves as supplicants.
When sometimes politicians and the government machinery do deliver these entitlements, the common people are made to feel that a favour is being done to them for which they should be beholden to the politicians and bureaucrats concerned. Moreover, they are expected to “return” the favour in ways that are demanded of them — in terms of bribes, votes, etc.
How can this situation be changed? Here are a few ideas – in brief. I shall return to these ideas in future posts.
1) Let us demand transformation of our REPRESENTATIVE democracy into PARTICIPATIVE democracy with a strong ethical foundation. Even though we cannot completely do away with elected representatives, there is a pressing need for codification, legalisation and institutionalisation of citizens’ right to participate meaningfully in both political and governance processes. Undoubtedly, RTI has been a welcome step in this direction. However, citizens need many more rights, so that the scope for corruption and arbitrary exercise of powers by politicians and bureaucrats is reduced.
In other words, our “rulers” have reduced democracy to a five-yearly election ritual, with little role or powers to the people between two elections. The democracy we want is one in which the people can exercise real power on a continuous basis.
2) In particular, there is an urgent need to secure effective participative democracy rights for non-governmental and non-political professional groups, subject-experts, workplace representatives, neighbourhood representatives and other civil society representatives. This is a crucial step towards broad-basing our democracy.
The actual set of people who exercise power in our society today is very narrow. Unless this base is progressively expanded, our democracy will continue to debilitate.
3) Today, the win-ability in case of candidates – and ability to garner maximum votes (in favour of one’s party’s candidates) in the case of party workers – has become the main criterion for upward mobility in politics. This has placed a premium on those political leaders and workers who can manipulate and divide society on the basis of caste, community, religion, etc. This poison must be purged out of our political system.
4) The instrument of referendums and opinion polls should be used widely to gauge people’s views on specific issues, bills or proposals before governments. The Internet has made it possible to ensure citizens’ involvement with ease and at very little cost.
5) In cases of people’s grievances, vis-à-vis politicians and bureaucrats, there should be an independent and credible grievance redressing mechanism in every government office, with the empowered participation of eminent citizens. The mechanism must give priority to grievances of the poor and marginalized sections of society.
Our democracy has little meaning if justice is not secured for the poorest and the most deprived, irrespective of their caste, creed and educational status.
6) The internal working of most political parties in India is largely undemocratic. Even ordinary workers are made to feel – and act – as servants or hangers-on of leaders. There should be an internal reform of political parties to promote a genuine democratic culture, which imposes greater transparency and accountability on leaders.
India’s Political system is not going to be reformed by Politicians, who have a vested interest in keeping it unchanged.
Reform is possible only through the sustained activism of an enlightened, disciplined, responsible, law-abiding, non-violent and determined citizenry.
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