Democracy: Stabbed in Panchayats, whipped to death in Vidhansabhas

There is nothing Indian that I am more proud of than our democracy. As all of us are a bit too busy complaining about our nation, it has escaped our attention that we are the largest ever experiment with the illusory idea of self-rule in the history of humanity.

If you think that democracy is all prevalent and common, it is not. Even today, nearly half of the world population is still awaiting this miracle to happen to them.

And, what is even more important for us to recognise is that our closest rival, US of A is catering to 100 crore less people.

To understand why size matters, we need to get up close and personal with this near-impossible way of organising people into a nation.

If we look for a pristine model of democracy, it is suited only for a small group where it is practically possible to take opinion of every member of the group and decide based on majority.

If we want to upscale this model of self-governance, there is no option but to accept dilution of representative model. For a larger body, individuals have to entrust their right to opine to a chosen individual and accept what he/she decides on their behalf.

Representative democracy is not a true democracy, but it can be made to work if individuals get a right to change their representative periodically. But, unfortunately, there is more to democracy than just a functional confirmation to election-based system; and that is where we have made a fundamental error.

If I am to find an epicentre of the earthquake that is bringing the grand edifice of democracy down in India, it is acceptance of political party presence in Panchayat elections.

Though West Bengal Panchayat elections are a live example of the horror, Panchayat elections fought on political party lines is an accepted reality across India. In every state, when local body elections are over, political parties come out of the rotten wood work claiming victory.

Each and every political party is oblivious to the fact that, at a village level, the decisions required to be taken are linked with day-to-day life, about where to dig a well or how to share water. Where to dig a well can not only be decided upon without having an ideological alignment with Congress or BJP; but rather it is best decided without such alignment. The minute a global context enters a decision-making process for a local issue, the decision taken is no longer locally optimised.

Local decision-making is disrupted and self-governance is compromised as party-lines are toed. Political vitiating of villages taking place because of this is clearly a septicaemia killing Indian democracy.

The real tragedy of India today is complete absence of political thinkers trying to evolve and solve practical problems of democracy management. But, we have had the greatest social scientist foreseeing this problem and suggesting a practical way out.

If we read the draft constitution prepared by Gandhiji on the day before his untimely demise, he proposed disbanding of congress for the very reason. He realised that true self-governance is required at the local level and hence it needed to be manned by local committed individuals with no political affiliations.

He proposed “to disband existing congress organisation and flower into a Lok Sevak Sangh” and suggested that it rises to help in creating a new structure where “Every Panchayat of five adult men or women being villagers or village-minded shall form a unit.”

Unfortunately, Gandhiji was not only the last thinker, but also the last executive with moral authority to bring a disruptive change to the nation. Those who followed him rarely bothered to see the big picture that India is.

Today, Indian Gram-Swaraj is dead. All political parties are shamelessly reaching into local body administration and polluting governance.

While democracy is murdered locally, it is buried/cremated (as per your religious preference) in Vidhansabhas of states.

A state assembly is a largest forum of self-governance of a cohesively bound unit. A state is actually a largest possible village where people of common cultural base are congregated. So, just like a village, there is very little need of ideological alignment in most decision making.

As this was recognised by our founding fathers, our constitution provides a reasonably clear list of state subjects that a state assembly is expected to ponder upon.

If a Vidhansabha is discussing how to deal with impending draught, there is absolutely no need for anyone to look at it with a party-based logic. A Vidhansabha can function perfectly well if each member listens to the proverbial and now mythical “voice of conscience” and votes, as the need of national party based alignment would be required only in rare cases.

Unfortunately where we stand today, Vidhansabha is whipped into running on a party-based mandate. No member can dare to express local opinion, as there is a formal mechanism to force members to toe the party-line.

There is no doubt that democracy runs into far too many difficulties when put to the test of reality, and the situation as we see today has evolved out of practical requirements to make it work. But, it is still not impossible to dilute political party-based interference and restore parts of it that were aspired for by our forefathers.

Democracy always comes at a price, as it allows disagreements and tries to find a consensus on the middle ground. Rapid progress of China vis-à-vis India is a great example of benefits of dictatorial governance.

But, for a human being cherishing freedom, democracy is still worth considering as an option.

If we want Indian democracy to work, we need to do a lot of thinking. There are a lot of problems still to solve, and modern technologies may provide us with tools that were not available in past.

Let us see a real Big Picture

Humanity must head for a global democracy of unprecedented scale. It is a future worth aspiring for. India can and must lead the way to form a global democracy by experimenting and synthesising wisdom.

We stand at a precipice, but endeavour we must, as humanity may not get a second chance with forming a democratic nation of such a scale.

I am happy to admit that I have managed surviving till now with minimum effort as all my intellect has be used to avoid doing anything meaningful. As I needed to while all the free time I generated in course of being lazy, science has been my favorite muse that I have enjoyed company of. As an effort to kill time (in a way, to get even with it) one fine day I decided to write a science column, more for my personal amusement than to attract readers. After getting educated about the attention span of modern readers from my editor, it became more like a challenge to tackle esoteric subjects in 600 words that I have managed to remain interested in for more than a year now. I do not want to add my worldly profile here as these are ideas that need to be considered only on the merits they carry and not as an opinion of a certain human being.

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