Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Let us think and Act with an open mind to
Develop a Vibrant Democracy Article 18

Introduction: I have identified thirty obstacles which cause a distorted and ineffective democracy and possible solutions for these. Because very few people have time / inclination to read long articles, these are presented in separate brief articles for pointed attention and easier assimilation. I hope this will lead to spreading of awareness and facilitating point by point debate on each of these for saving our sinking democracy.
(Please keep these articles within easy reach for referring back till the series is completed.)

Role of people

Democracy has been defined as government of the people by the people for the people. To have a government by the people, we (the people), have to play important roles to ensure that governance is carried out according to the true spirit of democracy. For this, we have the responsibility to elect representatives who have character, clean image and the qualifications and experience needed for governance. We have not only failed to do so in many ways but also have not realized the seriousness of our mistakes and therefore remain callous about these.

All those who did not vote have unfeelingly failed in their responsibility. Voting figures show that they form more than 30% of the electorate. Among those who voted, many did not fulfill their responsibility of choosing capable and efficient representatives with character and clean image: large numbers voted in droves and failed in their individual responsibility; some others made the serious mistake of selling their vote; some others have allowed themselves to be intimidated even though their vote was secret; some others had preferred persons of their own caste. For example, in a sample survey in 2013 across Karnataka, 41% had stated that caste was very important in deciding who to vote for (Times of India dated 01-11-14, page 6).

These four groups who wrongly voted and those who did not vote have made a mockery of our democracy by failing in their responsibility to elect capable and efficient representatives with character and clean image. Those who did not vote and those who voted on caste basis together form more than 70% of the electorate. No estimate is available for the first three groups of wrong voters. With their addition, percentage of voters who did not consciously fulfill their responsibility is likely to exceed 90%. Unfortunately, these five groups, who together constitute the vast majority of voters in most constituencies, did not realize the seriousness of their mistakes. Because of this grave failure by people, most of our elected representatives suffer from the incongruity that they were supported only by a negligible minority of voters who had consciously exercised their responsibility!!

We have not realized that capacity required for good governance is different from that needed to win an election. Moreover, while winning election needs capacity for one time hectic effort only, good governance needs capacity for sustained efforts for many years. Another aspect is that politicians who win elections by making false promises are deceptive. All the above lacunae explain why experts in winning elections have often failed to ensure peoples’ welfare. As efficient voters we should watch out to prevent being duped by experts in winning elections. We should demand for proof about their capacity and commitment to ensure peoples’ welfare and verify their character and image. It is better not to take the risk of supporting candidates with even doubtful image. We should also ask why they or their party did not fulfill the promises made earlier. Merely blaming others without giving positive solutions and resorting to hate speeches should be considered as disqualifications.

All of us interested in saving our sinking democracy should use the NOTA option during elections if we do not “find a right candidate with character and clean image” as exhorted by the anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare (The Hindu dated 18-03-14). If large numbers of voters have used NOTA option we should insist on fresh elections after excluding all the candidates who have been rejected by this option. To save our sinking democracy we should not only consciously use NOTA option but also educate and motivate others to do so.

As responsible voters, we should reject even right candidates if they belong to a party which is observed to be “buying votes” or has sponsored candidates with criminal background. This is very important because, after election, even these “right persons” will be forced to support party interests at the cost of peoples’ interests; for example supporting the party in not punishing those who are corrupt or have misused their power to help vested interests.

Failing in our responsibilities to vote properly is the twenty-sixth and very serious obstacle which resulted in a distorted and ineffective democracy.

Wrong conceptions:
Another major failure is that after voting once in five years, we close our eyes and allow our representatives and the government they form to govern as they like. We are not alert enough to question when they do not act to ensure our needs and aspirations and repeatedly ignore the principles of democracy and the promises made at election time.

A third major failure is the misconception that government alone can provide good governance. This has led to a totally negative and callous attitude about cooperating with government efforts and supplementing these. Even worse, we often create problems because of lethargy, narrow selfish interests and intolerance of others.

When faced with problems, we expect government to do everything for us but we do not make any efforts to cooperate with government to solve problems or try to reduce them. For example, when there is shortage of electricity, we do not try to eliminate avoidable consumption or at least reduce it. If everyone switches off lights and fans when leaving a room there will be substantial reduction in shortage. Unnecessary use of large number of bright lights to show off affluence enhances the problem. If we, particularly owners of large office buildings and multistoried flats, install solar power spending affordable funds, shortage will come down drastically. We have also not cared to make full use of wind energy.

Similarly, preventing wastage of water will immensely help to reduce shortage of precious water. Currently, it is estimated that as much as 40 t0 50% of water is “lost” in the distribution system (Article 15) but we do not protest. Leaking taps, leaving taps open for longer time than required, misuse (such as frequent car wash in stead of dusting, washing passages in stead of sweeping etc.) and wasting 90% of full tank for flushing of toilets after urination add a lot to wastage.

We have no right to complain about any shortage until we prevent wastage.

Where garbage is a serious problem, we expect the authorities to clean up but have no hesitation to throw it anywhere we like. Segregating waste and producing power from it to reduce shortage or making organic manure which reduces the need for harmful chemical fertilizers not only help to reduce the problem but also solves other problems.

National integration, which helps to sustain democracy (Article 12), has failed mainly because we have not taken any interest in building up the concept of being an Indian. Regrettably, we have nurtured dissipating tendencies in stead of building up togetherness with humanitarian approaches.

We are often carried away by hatred or belief in unverified rumours by trouble makers. We have also developed the harmful habit of hero worship which has often resulted in our blindly glorifying some politicians who mesmerize us by their oratory or hoodwink us by clever tactics, even when they did not ensure peoples’ welfare with equanimity – sometimes even ignoring their criminal past. Moreover, we often start fights for trivial or irrelevant matters due to emotional imbalances or selfish interests. These show our inability to discern what is good for welfare of majority of people which is a key principle of democracy.

A fundamental mistake is to consider that democracy is needed only for good governance. We have not realized that many more aspects e.g., those relating to religion, culture, entertainment, recreation, sports etc., require organized attention to avoid conflicts and to enjoy a peaceful life and be happy. These cannot and should not be taken up by government. We have to build other organizations to fulfill our responsibility to ensure happy and peaceful surroundings which are not subjected to hatred and fear.

Because ensuring the noble idea of equality is illogical and impractical, we can and should set limits for inequalities in income, expenditure, ownership of land etc. This is another fundamental omission.

Sad to say, we (the people) have not visualized such important aspects which ought to form the back bone of a democracy which aims at happiness, peace and a good quality of life for people. For this a new type of leadership has to come up. These important aspects are discussed further in later articles.

All these show that we, the people, have some wrong conceptions which hindered development and maintenance of a true and vibrant democracy.

This is the twenty-seventh and most serious obstacle which resulted in a distorted and ineffective democracy.

To overcome these obstacles we have to introspect and change our mindset. We have to realize and create awareness that all of us have the responsibility to ensure that capable and efficient representatives with character and clean image are elected and governance actually reflects the will of the people and effectively functions for the people.  We have to be alert to sustain our democracy.  We should be watchful to detect signs of deterioration of democracy in any locality or in any manner.

We should insist that once in six months the MLA of our area together with our MP should report to us their achievements as well as problems faced and future plans to overcome these in a meeting of all “groups” of people (without any exceptions). During these meetings, they should also advice us about how we can cooperate with them to achieve better results and also help to maintain peace and social harmony in the area, besides striving for national integration.

During these meetings we should also give our assessment of the extent to which government has succeeded in meeting our needs and aspirations. We should insist that video recording of these meetings should be immediately sent by the concerned MLA to the State Election Commission so that it can keep a regular watch on the efficiency of these representatives and local leaders who had participated in the meeting. This method of assessing efficiency of MPs, MLAs and government is a much better way for people to exercise their voice than by voting once in five years to elect  representatives without (a) knowledge and expertise required to elect efficient managers of democracy and (b) being misguided by other considerations like, caste, party affiliation, monitory incentives  etc..

Often, particularly during election, leaders speak at public meetings. We should be alert enough to avoid being hoodwinked or mesmerized by their crafty speeches especially when the speaker is cleverly using gift of the gab and dramatic gestures to mislead us. When leaders speak at length criticizing others, they should be politely told that we are not interested in fault finding but in what plans they have to improve welfare of people and how they are going to implement these plans. We should realize that those who criticize others without giving any positive plans are more likely to be incapable of positive actions. Those who make hate speeches should be told that we consider them as enemies of peace. Those who give flashy promises without elaborating their plan to achieve these are also not worthy to be elected. Some national and regional leaders speak in support of candidates from their party. We should not trust that what these leaders say fully reflects the views and principles of the local candidates and is binding on them.

Some leaders cleverly manipulate creation of caste, linguistic, religious and other group conflicts as well as cliques and other favourable conditions to safeguard their interests and to achieve their ignoble ambitions. We should not allow ourselves to become their tools for such anti-social activities which disturb peace in our areas. We should avoid electing persons who are thrust on us by leaders from other areas who cleverly mesmerize us by their oration but choose those who directly convince us that they can act with vision and compassion, with empathy and empowerment and with qualities of head and heart. Some disqualifications for a leader of democracy will be explained in Article 20. We should closely watch whether our leaders have any of these disqualifications and should not choose them as our leaders.

We have also to be alert to ensure that mischief mongers and selfish groups do not create problems. Constant efforts should be made to identify rumour mongers and to isolate them in the community. Though unintentionally, most newspapers divert our attention from real problems by providing gossip about celebrities, political parties and politicians. We should not be distracted by such gossip.

The six-monthly review meetings mentioned earlier should be made use of to short list efficient leaders, out of the elected and local leaders who participate in these meetings.

We have to give full support to social activists who are eager to be upholders of democracy (Article 17) so that they can provide leadership for saving our sinking democracy. We should request them to be our watchful leaders to attend the 6-monthly meetings suggested earlier and to bring problems to the notice of the authorities and fight peacefully for solutions.

All the steps mentioned above are essential to overcome our lack of qualifications and expertise to elect efficient managers of democracy and thereby ensure true democracy.

We should develop a sense of discipline to solve problems which come up and to avoid creating other problems. It is important to have a committed approach to solve all social and economic problems with or without government help. We should be eager to use every opportunity to support helpful government efforts and extend our full cooperation. Where government cannot help we have to organize ourselves. In fact, we have to play the dual roles of partners in democracy and watch dogs to detect deficiencies in our democracy.

You can help to save our sinking democracy by making as many people as possible aware of these obstacles and possible solutions, through personal group discussions, newspaper articles, e-mail and social media like face book and twitter so that we can have healthy debates and arrive at some innovative ideas to save our sinking democracy.

Comments (especially those which point out errors or deficiencies, if any, in this article and thereby help to improve it) and suggestions to overcome this very serious obstacle are welcome.  Please send these to

StartRemovingBlocks@outlook.com. I shall make use of all befitting suggestions to prepare the last two articles of this series – Articled 23 will spell out the basic principles which will guide formulation of the revised system of democracy and Article 24 will outline the revised system of democracy for public debate to arrive at a consensus.

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