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Citizenship in a Democratic Society

Citizenship in a Democratic Society

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Published by Suvidutt Sundaram

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Published by: Suvidutt Sundaram on Nov 21, 2012
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CITIZENSHIP IN A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY
Suvidutt M.S.
(This essay was originally written for the World Essay Competition 2009 conducted byCIPE & UNESCO)
“He who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a God” 
 – Aristotle,
‘Politics’ 
bk. 1, 1253a 27-91. THE OPENING WORDS
Citizenship is closely coupled to the design of democracy making democracy as the alphaand citizenship the omega in the vocabulary of any modern polity. Democracy is the formof government in which supreme power is held by the people and exercised directly or through elected representatives. Though there is a distance between the theoreticaldemocracy and its praxis, sans citizens there cannot be representation and democraticdestiny become a delusion.The ignorance of political affairs among the masses of a country results in the rise of tyranny and the fall of democracy. The right to govern belongs to every citizen and itcannot be alienated from the concerns of the community which ultimately secures thecitizenry justice, liberty, equality, dignity of the individual and the integrity of the nation.The grammar of politics and to have a voice in the governing process is the birthright of every member of a polity which is sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic. Withcopious challenges democracy remains an "ongoing moral mission" wherever itflourishes but a meaning and a metaphor threads with it perpetually i.e. democracyepitomize the visage of the people; the voice of its citizens.
2. THE MILIEU OF INDIAN DEMOCRACY
India is an idea that cannot exist without an exclamation mark. The biography of India isa dazzle for the historians and for the contemporaries as well. Stretching from the lap of mystic Himalayan ranges, inhabited by diverse people and animated by wisdom frozen inancient Upanishadic parchments and in the gospel of St. Thomas, India, from antiquetimes, has been a cradle of civilizations with divergent heritage, of military conquests and political empires making it as an Oriental wonder. It was a domicile for Greeks, Romans,Persians, Moguls and British influx over long periods which harvested a geo-political pluralism and cultural mosaic creating conditions for a polyphonic democracy of today.Homogeneity was not Indian. Variety and multiplicity is the heart and soul of India.From the passive resistance of the naked
 fakir 
‘Gandhi’ against the colonial empire to the Nehruvian socialism, the paradoxical nation has come a long way from the stereotype of  photogenic poverty and atavistic mannerisms to the winning of four Man Booker Prizeand three Oscars for the film “Slumdog Millionare”. Contrasts and contradictions is the1
 
truth of India today. The narrative of unfreedom challenges the pretences and privilegesof the functional anarchy of Indian democracy, its elasticity and energy, its passions and perversions, its size and substance.Indian State for more than six decades is kinetic mostly for its wrong reasons. Since itsfreedom in 1947, the seeds of communal hostility and bloodshed of India-Pakistan partition bear deep scars of collective wound. Even now the republic plunges intoreligious malevolence, riots and chaos. India witnessed the betrayal of 
 swaraj
(self-government) and secularism as envisaged by the founding fathers of our republic likeGandhiji, Nehru, Ambedkar etc. The self-reliance, as proclaimed by Gandhi has sincethen shattered. “In the recent decades, India has become not less democratic but it has become less tolerant, less secular, and less liberal”.
1
Declaring fatwa against SalmanRushdie and Tasleema Nasreen from the Islamic ghetto make the sociology of Indiaincompatible with its freedom. Moreover, banning and burning of books, paintings andfilms corroborates the bigotry of the fanatic few.Today, Indian politics has become a cesspool of corruption and criminality. Myopic politicians with tainted records and the lust for power have made statesmen with visionan endangered species. Gerrymandering, ‘identity politics’, rigging of poll booth,escalating poll violence, “bandit democracy”
2
, extravagant expenditure during election,mafia manipulation, boycott of ballot process, bribery and malpractice make the politicalmandate a mockery of democracy – a shocking and shameful reality of India!Furthermore, too many political parties have distorted the Indian democratic system.Projection of mirage manifestos and boasting empty promises of political parties; parliamentary groupism, pandemonium, puppetry and inveracity; political arithmetic andinstability of coalition regime; parliamentary prorogues and walkouts; ‘No-confidence-motion’ and re-election tantrums, make the little man, the little paper, the little booth andthe little mark cease to be of consequence. But it’s a happening truth in India. If this trendcontinues, no amount of rhetoric can justify for moving the juggernaut democracy intomortuary.Bureaucracy – the steel frame of India has become lethargic and unaccountable. Fraud, botulism syndrome, nepotism and red-tapism are deep rooted in the system. Apathy,arbitrariness, abuse of power, arrogance or bias of public servants and civil servants, lack of disclosing information etc. are evident. Disregard for the rule of law, breaching therule of life and neglecting the poor citizens, marginalized people and the under privilegedclass is a common Indian vista.Moreover, the Judiciary is also in distress. Judicial adventurism instead of activism; paper logging and pending of million litigations; unjustifiable contempt of court; political nexusof judiciary; forensic sleaze; archaic provisions; lack of proper infrastructure; faultyinterpretations and accusations etc. have dominated as evils of the judicial terra firma.Democracy is quotidian partaking. Abject poverty, population explosion, inequality anddiscrimination; hatred and conflict; conservatism and ignorance; negative impacts of 
1
“The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad”: by Fareed Zakaria.
2
Ibid.
2
 
globalization; dearth of agricultural productivity, terrorism, drugs, HIV/AIDS, childlabor, child marriage, dowry deaths, migration, ethnic and nationalist, degradation of natural resources, and religious extremism are widespread. But, policies fail to meet thechallenges of social, political and economic ills and evils of the Indian society.These pathological phenomena which have deadened democracy, paralyzed development,impaired every socio-economic value inscribed in the Constitution and have humiliatedIndia before the world nations. With the degeneration in the functioning of theLegislatures, the Executive and the Judiciary, and with the struggling economy, there is afeeling of despondency among the citizenry leading to civic passivity and cynicism. Atthe moment, though, it is a lethargic state with tired metabolism, India’s progress hasn’tretarded; it’s GDP hasn’t affected much even by the current global recession.Democracy as of today in India – is not the failure of an idea; it is the failure of its protagonists. I agree with Rousseau's saying that “true democracy has never existed andnever will” and India witnesses the same. It’s waiting for the youth to struggle for anunfinished agenda; for redeeming the tryst with destiny that Nehru made; and for establishing a democracy with sovereign, socialist, secular vision and valor.
3. CITIZENSHIP AND GOOD GOVERNANCE
The concepts of democracy, citizenship, and governance have traversed since the daysfrom Aryan republics and Athenian Polis to liberal individualism and the new civicrepublicanism. The values of citizenship vary from country to country. However, “inmany countries, representative democracy has been heavily criticized for its inability to protect citizens”
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.Besides, governance, an overarching concept with many institutionaldimensions and political manifestations, is conventionally understood as the way the stateand its various institutions negotiate and mediate with people, markets and civil society,through laws, policies, regulation and finance. But the notion of governance underwentmetamorphosis to exceed the conventional arena of the nation-state or government and isnow increasingly influenced by market forces, civil-society processes and citizen-oriented endeavors.
3.1.
What is good citizenship for me?
The Oxford Dictionary of Sociology
4
explains citizenship: “In political and legal theory,citizenship refers to the rights and duties of the member of a nation-state or city. In somehistorical contexts, a citizen was any member of a city; that is, an urban collectivitywhich was relatively immune from the demands of a monarch of state…It is argued byhistorians that citizenship has thus expanded with democratization to include a wider definition of the citizen regardless of sex, age, or ethnicity. The concept was revived inthe context of the modern state, notably during the French and American Revolutions,and gradually identified more with rights than obligations. In modern times citizenship
3
Pimbert, Michel and Tom Wakeford, “Overview—Deliberative Democracy and Citizen Empowerment” in PLA Notes (Notes on Participatory Learning and Action), International Institute for Environment and Development,February 2001.
4
2005 Edition; Edited by John Scott and Gordon Marshall.
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