'We the People'
The remedy for democratic deficit is to make citizens wise, not choosing the wise man.
In the fervour of Independence Day, let us remind ourselves of the heart and soul of India's democracy. The ideals of Justice, Liberty and Equality are the basis of our democracy: belief in reason, scientific temper, and freedom of thought and expression. With the adoption of the Constitution, millions of people living in colonial slavery of British Raj became the citizen of the Republic of India. India entered its "Age of Enlightenment" from the dark ages of colonialism by adhering to these ideals. These ideals have not been provided to us by any external agency or state but have been adopted by the free citizens of India as the principles of governance.
How does the Republic of India differ from that of the West despite governing a diverse population? Before analysing this question, it is essential that we distinguish between nation-building in the west and nation-building in India and the concepts of Western Democracy and Democratic Civilisation.
The modern-day concept of Nation States has its roots in the 'Thirty Years of War' fought primarily in Central Europe in the mid-17th century. The war started over the religious fault lines as a battle between the Catholic and Protestant states that formed the Roman Empire. However, over time, it became a geopolitical issue about who will govern Europe. The Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 marked the end of 'Thirty Years of War' and initiated a new order in Central Europe based on state sovereignty. Out of this sovereignty emerged the European Nation States. The Westphalian system was about forming political alliances across the terrain of Europe and the citizens identifying themselves as the loyal units of the states.
Unlike Europe, India is not just a Nation State rather it is also one of the ancient civilisations. Unlike in western countries, where national identities are shaped by their nations, India's identity is a product of its civilisation. Civilisation states go beyond the simple existence of a nation with a flag, anthem and an army. In civilisation states, the units (people) come together to form a Nation. This is the reason the Preamble of the Constitution of India says "We the People of India". In India, the state and the government are just a part of the greater civilisation where citizens are at the centre of power. This idea of citizen-centric civilisation or democratic civilisation where people come together to form a Nation is enshrined in India's Freedom Movement and is called the political identity with regard to nation building.
The elite capture of power and
weakening of democracy
The western political scientists have argued against the practice of Direct Democracy. They argued that ordinary people lack time and skills to recognise the complications of modern day policy-making required to govern a nation. Proponents of democracy world over responded to this by building a system of Representative Democracy, where ordinary citizens vote for legislators who act as their representatives in the corridors of power. However, the problem arises when ordinary citizens do not have political tools to hold the representatives accountable for their actions. When citizens are kept ignorant about what their legislatures are doing and, for whom they are actually working, their faith in democracy weakens. What adds to the problems is the powerful economic elite having resources to influence the representatives and make them serve their interests give rise to Crony Capitalism and Oligarchy. This Democratic Oligarchy is the democracy 'Of the one per cent, By the one per cent, For the one per cent'.
The ideals of democracy, whether we talk about equality, liberty and justice further get weakened when people tend to vote based on group identification (caste, creed, religion etc) or align themselves with political blocs. The weakening of democracy gave rise to a school of thought which argued for a system of Epistocracy- the rule of experts/knowers. This school of thought argued that ordinary citizens do not have the required skills and expertise to make decisions for themselves, thus experts should be made in charge of public policy. The Epistocracy has its roots in the writings of 'Plato'. Plato in his seminal work "Plato's Republic" argued for Philosopher King, someone who has proved his determination and has emerged from all tests with requisite skills shall be made to rule. "Officials and legislators should be chosen by their ability and not based on hereditary, caste, creed or other group identifications". However, the idea of 'wise man should rule' does not solve the problem of political accountability and can give rise to selective aristocracy where experts can manipulate public opinion through propaganda and emotional appeal. Moreover, any form of aristocracy (including epistocracy) is weaker than democracy.
Solution: Democratic Civilisation
The solution to all these problems of democracy lies in the ethos of Democratic Civilisation: treating people as citizens capable of rational decision making, rather than horde who need to be manipulated. The process of Democratic Civilisation is enshrined in the Preamble of Indian Constitution, which treat people as equal citizens and entrust them with meaningful liberties to participate in the decision-making process. The Directive Principle of State Policy provide guidelines to the State for the betterment of the citizen so that they can be entrusted with meaningful decision-making power for the nation's progress.
The remedy for democratic deficit is to make citizens wise, rather than choosing the wise man. This can be done by entrusting as much power as possible in citizens at the grassroots. The idea is that diversifying power among the citizens will make them actively participate in the local political affairs like roads, education, health, law and order etc. This will empower them to make key decisions and contribute to public affairs and policy making, not on a single election day, but every day.
(The author is a Young Professional working with Economic Advisory Council to Prime Minister. The views expressed are strictly personal)