Do we have a Democracy that does not Exist?

Image Source: Rohan Khaunte

The democratic exercise in Goa has raised several uncomfortable questions. Goa has a Government that most Goans have not elected. We have a Chief Minister, who even with all his Charisma and dexterity, is one not elected by the people. Those who fought against both Congress and BJP now are supporting the BJP much against the wishes of their electorate. Situation seems to convey a discomforting sense that democracy is no more. It is being killed in its very functioning. We seem to have moved into an afterlife of democracy. An era of Post-democracy has arrived. Democracy has been completely denuded and hollowed out and autocratic oligarchy appears to be reigning in the garb of democracy. The power elite have overpowered democracy. People seem to have lost all power. We seem to only pretend that democracy exists. What we have today is too little representation and no democracy at all. Some of the victors who have won as representatives of the people, no longer are representing the people in a real sense. The representative democracy is dead. Our leaders have killed it. All parties as well as citizens are responsible for its death. It only shows that representative democracy could never really represent the people.

Democracy is tired and exhausted. We have completely depleted it of its meaning and power. It has metamorphosed into a leviathan. We are into a demonocracy. Tragically, it has become dangerous. It seems that democracy, market forces and power elite have fused into a single predatory force. Democracy in Goa has mutated and mirrors the same fate that it has reached elsewhere in our country. In Goa, people can only identify villains across all political parties in a post-election condition of our society. Everywhere, there are no heroes but only villains. The electoral victors and heroes soon become villains and Goans across all walks of life lost elections. Indeed, several among us seem to have lost all faith in democracy. Others seem to think that Democracy has lost all power to deliver justice. The coup on the electoral verdict in Goa, brought about through the proper channels of democracy, already indicates how democracy is eroded of its very being and essence. Fortunately, the jolt that we suffered in Goa has a side benefit. It has certainly awakened us who were otherwise drunk on the democracy that hid and masked exploitation of our people and destruction of environment and culture.

Therefore, ‘Azadi’ in India is not merely an empty slogan. We need Azadi from the abuse of democracy. In this context, the question ‘How can we save our democracy?’ becomes important. Perhaps, we have to reverse the outsourced democracy. Unfortunately, the representative democracy outsources the rule of the people into the hands of their elected representatives. Hence, democracy becomes the rule of ’the people’ through their representatives for their representatives. The kind of democracy that is being re-enacted in Goa as well as in our country has self-interests of the elected representatives written all over it. This means the subversion of people’s power is almost inscribed in the kind of democracy that is reigning in our country. Unfortunately, we are comfortable with the minimal democracy and only moan its abuse by the elected representatives. The manner in which things unfolded in Tamil Naidu, Goa and Manipur in recent days, have challenged us to seriously interrogate the kind of democracy that is being enacted in our country. This collapse of democracy is an opportunity to bring about course correction and restore the authentic rule of the people for the people and by the people. Maybe we have to agree that democracy needs Azadi in our country from the strangulation of our elected representatives and apathy of the citizens.

Does democracy deliver justice to all? This question can assist us to understand how our democracy is in need of Azadi. Justice that we are discussing here is mainly in the outcomes or deliveries of the functioning of the great democratic institutions, offices and elected persons. Amartya Sen, the Noble laureate, in his book, The Idea of Justice, makes a distinction between Niti and Naya. We Indians, feel that we get justice when our juridical institutions deliver Naya. Therefore, the vital question is: Does our democracy deliver us Naya? Have the outcomes of our elections and post-elections government formation in Goa given us Naya? Every Goan heart longs for naya-nit (Konkani word). Hence, the question becomes even sharp and compels us to ask: Has the exercise of democracy offers us a sense of naya-nit? Most Goans do not have an affirmative answer to this question. There appears to be an atmosphere of pain, sense of denial and betrayal felt intensely everywhere. There is a growing discontent with the outcomes of democratic exercise in Goa. There is a sense that we have a democracy that does not exist. That is why we might agree that our democracy stands in need of Azadi.

Democracy is a great blessing. We have to save it. It urgently requires reformation. The representative form of democracy has almost reached a saturation point. We seem to require a change. The sense of loss of sovereignty and several forms of disenfranchisement felt by the citizens both individually as well as collectively have to be addressed. Perhaps, it is time to debate the viability of participatory democracy. Maybe it is time that we strive to restore the supremacy of the citizen. The sovereignty granted by the constitution is hallowed and emptied out through a very functioning of democracy. We need to prevent the democracy from being a leviathan that is corroding the sovereignty of our citizenry. Undeniably, there are several blessings in democracy. What we urgently need is to find ways of checking its misuse. Perhaps, the right to reject all candidates needs to be enforced in such a way that if this vote for none of the candidates wins, then the respective candidates should stand disqualified to stand for elections for a considerable time. Maybe all elections have to be state funded to bring about a level playing field. Besides, the right to recall a misbehaving elected representative can be of great importance in the scenario like the one that faces us in Goa. It is only when these and other reforms that will empower the voters/ citizens are brought into the dance of democracy that we shall truly have Azadi.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao