Recently elections were held in five states in India. Once again it was fought on the basis of agenda cropped up by various political parties with the only aim to grab power. The manifesto promises ranged from jobs to loan waiver for farmers and what not. That brought to my mind how can these parties claim to know what is good and bad for me without even consulting to me in person? The constitution has granted universal adult franchise based on the rational that an adult, irrespective of his/her background, is capable of deciding what is good for him and the society. This forms the basis of the democratic process adopted in our country which aims to empower each and every citizen to put forward his/her demand and participate in the development of the country. Then why am I not consulted in this democratic process? The process of election, which was designed in place to empower me as a citizen, is making me feel like I’m handing over my power to someone who claims to know what is good for me and my country. When I tried to find out the answer to these questions, it took me back to the first general election of the independent India from where this trend started to take a form.
Generally, a common man define something alien to him on the basis of his first-hand experience of that thing. Democracy which is defined and known to educated people as “a govt. by the people, for the people and of the people” got its field definition by common people in India during the first general election in 1951. And the definition that was ascribed to democracy by the people of India was this- an exercise of vote giving in an election. Not only that, if we closely examine few trends that we see or relate to an election nowadays, all got started cementing from this general election itself. One among such trends was the publication of manifestoes by political parties to gather support from the masses. The leaders at that time were visionary with the aim to develop the country and hence assumed it as their prerogative to publish the manifesto deciding what is good and what is bad for the masses at that time. Partly it can be considered reasonable given the high rate of illiteracy among the masses. Still, it defeats the faith posed by the constitution by granting universal adult franchise which considered voting as an expression of opinion by citizens rather than a mere selection between choices cropped up by someone else. The following image of democracy developed in the masses- that democracy is nothing but a ceremony of election carried over a small period of time in which we ultimately hand over our power to a representative who decides our and our country’s fate, which is published in the manifesto, and such a representative can be held responsible only for the next election. So democracy which is supposed to be a process of continuous participation of citizens in the working of the government is reduced to a few day carnival of the election fought among parties based on proximal and populist agendas. What citizen is supposed to do- vote and let their representatives decide upon everything. Nowadays this everything has expanded to include what to eat and what to wear! Etc. As election after the election took place this image of democracy got cemented in the mind of citizens. Now it is assumed totally the responsibility of parties to come up with the future course of our country. And the parties come up with as appealing and as reactionary policies to mobilize people and win the election. The true expression of people opinion is long disassociated from the democratic form of governance in India. The form of governance meant to empower people became a tool to drain away power to political parties and then they decide what to do and what not. As citizens get more passive roles, they become less enthusiastic in participation. Low turnout in an election could be an outcome. Lack of trust from the system is another consequences. The motivation to be vigilant decreases and issues of corruption, inefficiency, inaction etc. increases.
So how to solve this problem of increasing passivity of citizens in a democracy? A radical solution to this is the citizen’s manifesto. A citizen’s manifesto is simply a manifesto released by the citizen to put forward their expectations from the elected government. It will be a continuously updated document in which demands of the people will be recorded. The advantages are many. First, it will repose the power to decide what is important to the people back in their hands. Now rather than parties telling people about the future course, citizen’s manifesto will be utilized to develop the future course of action. And it would get tough for parties to sway individuals based on populist agenda as each citizen will have his own list of agenda which they can use to crosscheck with the promises offered by the parties. Secondly, since the people have put forward these demands and the voting and subsequent election of representative was guided on those lines, they will be motivated to be vigilant about the implementation of those demands and hence one-time accountability will be gradually transformed into a continuous evaluation.
In the initial part part of this article, I discussed how democracy which was meant to empower people failed to achieve so due to its reduction to one-time action of voting. The above two prime arguments clearly show how that power is reposed back to the citizens and this will propel active participation of citizens in the democratic system. As ill effects like corruption, inefficiency, govt. inaction etc. were the outcome of increasing passivity of citizens in democracy, once this happens the ill effects will also slowly wither away. Thus citizen’s manifesto is that instrument which will motivate individual participation in the democracy and make it continuous, making us realize democracy in its true form. Isn’t the idea behind a vibrant democracy also nothing but this?