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Friday, April 07, 2000

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Opinion | Next | Prev


GOVERNING with the

consent of the governed is the basic premise of a genuine

democracy. Elections are the means by which political parties

seek the consent of the people, their sovereign, to form

governments, spelling out the policies they stand for in their

manifestos.

Sometimes, in addition to the electoral mandate on

issues of particular sensitivity and importance, governments in

power take the trouble of obtaining the consent of the people by

holding referendums on a proposed course of action. In between

elections, governments and representative bodies which are truly

imbued with the democratic spirit, keep their ears to the ground

and defer to people's demands and objections as reflected by the

civil society and the media.

Adherence to democratic values is predicated on a

vital assumption, namely, the governing class with its hands on

the levers of power will be (to use an acronym popularised by the

Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Mr.Chandrababu Naidu) SMART,

that is: sensitive, moral, accountable, responsible and

transparent. Can it be said that Indian democracy is a genuine

democracy in this sense? Is there any respect for public opinion,

or people's voice once the elections are over?

Is it not a common experience that the same individual

who, at the time of soliciting votes as a candidate was humility

personified with a ear-to-ear ingratiating grin and eternally

folded hands, turns into an unapproachable and arrogant MLA, MP

or Minister after he is elected? In short, in the period between

elections, the people cease to count and are left to fend for

themselves, where they are not driven from pillar to post for

obtaining redress.

In India, the interpretation of the phrase `consent of

the governed' is complicated by the process of elections being

defiled at the very roots. Deficiencies in the laws enable the

subversion and perversion of the system by widely practised

subterfuges such as defective electoral rolls containing spurious

names and leaving out the eligible voters, booth-capturing, bogus

voting and various forms of intimidation with the help of money,

muscle and mafia. Illiteracy and poverty prevalent on a large

scale and the lack of civic sense and social conscience aggravate

the situation and leave the field free for lumpens and rowdies.

So the fault cannot be said to be all on one side. The

voluntary organisations, the discerning sections of the society

who do not bother to even exercise their right and duty of

franchise and the people at large are all to blame for the

deplorable pass to which democracy has been reduced in this

country.

This kind of a situation makes it possible for

criminals and absconders to be put up as candidates and even

elected, sometimes by large margins. Not only that, but as it

recently happened in Bihar, they also find a place in the

Cabinets. Does this mean people's consent to have criminals

ruling over them?

Yes, say political parties. Their argument is that the

electorate constitutes people's ultimate tribunal. Vox

person absolves him of all his crimes and misdemeanours and

anoints him as a lily-white innocent!

B. S. Raghavan

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