The fable of Democracy

The 73rd and 74th Constitution Amendments ingrain in our systems Direct Democracy. It is imagined that we will sit in little circles in the local club or Ward office or primary school and talk about civic amenities, poverty-alleviation, infrastructure, civil works, irrigation, malls, slums putting on our Rational Citizen masks.

Khanna Uncle from down the road would argue vehemently and circulate a briefing paper on dogs shitting on the road, and Radha the Tamilian household help would vociferously defend the encroachments of the illegal tenements of Tamil ghetto, and I would prepare a status report on the power crisis in the area with suggestions on how to tackle the deficit. The way we used to sit in a circle in school and college and discussed issues, and formulated agenda and felt quite pleased that so-n-so had won the election over so-n-so-else.

Similarly the Constitutional imagination of a panchayat is that the thakur and the yadav, the Gowda and the Dalit women and the Brahmin and the landless labourer will discuss agriculture and rural economy with equal vigour. And the Panchayat will take an equitous decision, communicate with the Block level panchayat, who will coordinate plans with other panchayats and consolidate the vision of participatory decision-making. And the State Governments would be pleased to meet the autonomous citizen glowing in emancipation and grant funds for them to realise the true meaning of democratic citizenship.

Of course, it is hackneyed to add that the wife of a landless labourer is not easily going to speak out against the moneylender to whom her jewellery are pawned. But one might also think whether a citizen really wants to auto-govern, or whether she is more or less happy with some authoritarian governing, as long the powercuts aren't too long, and there are good schools and roads. Where we read our democracy fable wrong, possibly, is in this imagination of the citizen as separate, complete agent. To think this agent votes for the guy that her husband votes for, to think that this agent will not always be sure what she thinks of the matter in concern, to think that some of us 'complete citizens' may be mesmerised by a political speech of a handsome man- somewhat taints the fable of democracy.

In any event, how did we come to presuming in people a natural desire for participatory governance? Do our families take participatory decisions -our schools, our colleges, our caste panchayats, our development authorities, our corporations? Then why do we feed ourselves this fable that outside of our social lives, professional lives, family lives, communal lives, whatever little self we have left will be yearning for active participation, for equality, transparency and the whole hog?

Unequal people become equal, autonomous, complete citizens in the tale of democracy.... and panchayats live on to tell tales of eloped lovers, forbidden village wells and stripped women sarpanches.


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