P. 1
Citizenship in a Democratic Society

Citizenship in a Democratic Society

|Views: 1|Likes:
Published by Suvidutt Sundaram

More info:

Published by: Suvidutt Sundaram on Nov 21, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
download as DOC, PDF, TXT or read online from Scribd
See more
See less






Suvidutt M.S.
(This essay was originally written for the World Essay Competition 2009 conducted by CIPE & 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 27-9 1. THE OPENING WORDS Citizenship is closely coupled to the design of democracy making democracy as the alpha and citizenship the omega in the vocabulary of any modern polity. Democracy is the form of government in which supreme power is held by the people and exercised directly or through elected representatives. Though there is a distance between the theoretical democracy and its praxis, sans citizens there cannot be representation and democratic destiny 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 it cannot be alienated from the concerns of the community which ultimately secures the citizenry 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. With copious challenges democracy remains an "ongoing moral mission" wherever it flourishes but a meaning and a metaphor threads with it perpetually i.e. democracy epitomize 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 is a 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 in ancient Upanishadic parchments and in the gospel of St. Thomas, India, from antique times, 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 Prize and three Oscars for the film “Slumdog Millionare”. Contrasts and contradictions is the 1

truth of India today. The narrative of unfreedom challenges the pretences and privileges of 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 its freedom in 1947, the seeds of communal hostility and bloodshed of India-Pakistan partition bear deep scars of collective wound. Even now the republic plunges into religious malevolence, riots and chaos. India witnessed the betrayal of swaraj (selfgovernment) and secularism as envisaged by the founding fathers of our republic like Gandhiji, Nehru, Ambedkar etc. The self-reliance, as proclaimed by Gandhi has since then 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 Salman Rushdie and Tasleema Nasreen from the Islamic ghetto make the sociology of India incompatible with its freedom. Moreover, banning and burning of books, paintings and films 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 vision an 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 political mandate 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 and instability of coalition regime; parliamentary prorogues and walkouts; ‘No-confidencemotion’ and re-election tantrums, make the little man, the little paper, the little booth and the little mark cease to be of consequence. But it’s a happening truth in India. If this trend continues, no amount of rhetoric can justify for moving the juggernaut democracy into mortuary. 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 the rule of life and neglecting the poor citizens, marginalized people and the under privileged class 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 nexus of judiciary; forensic sleaze; archaic provisions; lack of proper infrastructure; faulty interpretations and accusations etc. have dominated as evils of the judicial terra firma. Democracy is quotidian partaking. Abject poverty, population explosion, inequality and discrimination; hatred and conflict; conservatism and ignorance; negative impacts of
1 2

“The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad”: by Fareed Zakaria. Ibid.


globalization; dearth of agricultural productivity, terrorism, drugs, HIV/AIDS, child labor, child marriage, dowry deaths, migration, ethnic and nationalist, degradation of natural resources, and religious extremism are widespread. But, policies fail to meet the challenges 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 humiliated India before the world nations. With the degeneration in the functioning of the Legislatures, the Executive and the Judiciary, and with the struggling economy, there is a feeling of despondency among the citizenry leading to civic passivity and cynicism. At the moment, though, it is a lethargic state with tired metabolism, India’s progress hasn’t retarded; 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 and never will” and India witnesses the same. It’s waiting for the youth to struggle for an unfinished 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 days from Aryan republics and Athenian Polis to liberal individualism and the new civic republicanism. The values of citizenship vary from country to country. However, “in many countries, representative democracy has been heavily criticized for its inability to protect citizens”3. Besides, governance, an overarching concept with many institutional dimensions and political manifestations, is conventionally understood as the way the state and its various institutions negotiate and mediate with people, markets and civil society, through laws, policies, regulation and finance. But the notion of governance underwent metamorphosis to exceed the conventional arena of the nation-state or government and is now increasingly influenced by market forces, civil-society processes and citizenoriented endeavors. 3.1. What is good citizenship for me? The Oxford Dictionary of Sociology4 explains citizenship: “In political and legal theory, citizenship refers to the rights and duties of the member of a nation-state or city. In some historical contexts, a citizen was any member of a city; that is, an urban collectivity which was relatively immune from the demands of a monarch of state…It is argued by historians 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 in the context of the modern state, notably during the French and American Revolutions, and gradually identified more with rights than obligations. In modern times citizenship

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.


refers conventionally to the various organizations which institutionalize these rights in the welfare state.” Sociologist T.H. Marshall defines citizenship as “a status, which is enjoyed by a person who is a full member of a community. Citizenship has three components: civil, political, and social. Civil rights are necessary for individual freedoms and are institutionalized in the law courts. Political citizenship guarantees the right to participate in the exercise of political power in the community, either by voting, or by holding political office. Social citizenship is the right to participate in an appropriate standard of living; this right is embodied in the welfare and educational systems of modern societies.”5 Any discourse on citizenship is appropriate only in the milieu of democracy and civil society, because citizenship is regarded as an elementary plank of democracy. A good citizen can be classified under two heads namely, legal and ethical or moral. Legally, a good citizen must pay tax; be loyal to his country, its heritage, symbols, and flag; vote in elections and exercise franchise; respect rule of law; obey all municipal laws; guard the resources etc. On purely ethical and moral ground, a good citizen is one who display trust in institutions, have patriotism and shows obedience; is well informed about the affairs of his community and the world; engages in public debate and political life; encourages respect for human rights; takes steps to combat injustice in civic life; conserves resources by practicing the three R's: Reduce, Re-use and Recycle; participates in national affairs; monitors hegemonic interests; knows how to make demands; promotes collective action and spirit; endorses participatory democracy in politics and at home; treat others equally etc. A good and active citizen must possess the trait of altruism. He must encourage people to work and toil together to solve problems; persuade people to respect differences; help to negotiate conflicts and foster tolerance; must be concerned about others woes, particularly poor, marginalized, deprived and disadvantaged; battle for others cause and is hopeful about change. 3.2. How to develop a sense of good citizenship in youth? “The spirit of democracy cannot be imposed from without. It has to come from within” – Mahatma Gandhi Promoting active citizenship among apolitical people is not an easy task. Citizenship does not just happen naturally in response to increased public space or political opportunity; it is more than voting or gratifying public obligations. Citizenship is not only choosing officials and using the system; it involves assembling and shaping the system’s structures and rules and beyond. The sense of citizenship can be inculcated in the minds of young through proper channeling from the childhood itself. Citizenship is cultured through education; through political socialization; by exposure to politics, public life, and day-to-day experiences and affairs. Education is the panacea for being a good citizen. But we seem to have lost ourselves parochially in today’s labyrinthine mad race. The virtues and values of

2005 Edition; Edited by John Scott and Gordon Marshall.


citizenship can be instilled in the child by explaining the difference between the traits of good and bad citizenship. A citizen mobilization through various religious, economical and social institutions can make a difference in the local community. Likewise, the sense of citizenship can be aroused in the youth by making them aware of their duties and responsibilities. The arousal of the citizenship spirit can be done in many ways. It can be by organizing a city campaign promoting the good qualities of citizenship; encouraging friends, neighbors and co-workers to deliver their best as responsible citizens; hosting drama on stage and street plays about the positive results of being a good citizens; conducting poetry, painting, elocution and essay competitions for children and adult as well on citizenship; posting banners, paintings and photos in streets; organizing workshops, awareness camps, symposiums and seminars; distributing pamphlets in bus stations and railway stations; sharing information about taxation, voting and voicing; promoting the inclusion of citizenship education in schools curriculum geared to help young people grow into responsible citizens. In this way, a sense of citizenship in youth can be developed. Apart from this, a new approach must be designed to “move beyond seeing the state as bestowing rights and demanding responsibilities of its subjects. In doing so, they aim to bridge the gap between citizen and the state by recasting citizenship as practiced rather than given… This recognizes the agency of citizens as ‘makers and shapers’ rather than as ‘users and choosers’…”6. Mass media can contribute tremendously. Internet is another medium, which can donate to free and speedy dissemination of information. Another neglected area of mass communication i.e. traditional or folk media can be revived and used as vehicles of effective social communication. In the Indian context, Harikatha, Kathakali and puppet shows have evolved as people’s medium; therefore through such medium the idea regarding citizenship and its role in participatory democracies can be propagated in the rural hamlets. Last but not the least, projecting and admiring the deeds of great role models like Father Damien, Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King etc. who being just citizens thrived lifelong rooting injustice everywhere and bringing about welfare to all, can also incite the spirit of citizenship in youth. 3.3. What is good governance? The World Bank defines governance as “the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources”. The World Bank stresses three different aspects of governance: a) the form of political regime b) the process by which authority is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources for development and c) the capacity of governments to design, formulate, and implement policies and discharge functions.7 Whereas, OECD8 defines governance as

Cornwall, A and Gaventa, J, “Bridging the Gap: Citizenship, Participation and Accountability” in PLA Notes (Notes on Participatory Learning and Action), International Institute for Environment and Development, February 2001. 7 (World Bank 1994) 8 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development


“the use of political authority and exercise of control in a society in relation to the management of its resources for social and economic development. This definition further stresses the role of public authorities in establishing the environment in which economic operators function and in determining the distribution of benefits as well as the nature of relationships between the ruler and the ruled”.9 Despite prudence in these definitions, they fail to address the structural causes of corruption, conflict, poverty, patriarchy, arms race and militarization. Finally, the UNDP sought to give a human face to governance and came out with democratic governance having political, economic and civic dimensions which was convincing to certain extent. Whatsoever, governance simply signifies various forms of power in various institutional arenas (both governmental and non-governmental) where public policies are formulated, legitimized and implemented. It implies means to participate in public policy and social processes, to claim human rights and to ensure inclusive citizenship. It also provides institutional and legal interfaces through which citizens mediate and interact with the state and seek accountability. Without the basic principles like ethics, accountability, transparency, complementation of rights and duties, and social responsibility, governance remain a terrain of power manipulations, policy rhetoric and bogus praxis. 3.4. How citizenship and good governance is connected? As governance connotes creation, legitimization and execution of public policies through both governmental and non-governmental agencies, it also implies partaking in public policy and social processes to ensure inclusive citizenship, gender equality, human rights, accountability and participatory politics. Some people believe that if all citizens jump into the decision making process with their diverse interests, it results in bedlam whereas others feel that accommodating diversity avoids conflict. How true the message of Martin Luther King is who said: “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” The citizen-centered approach, variously termed “co-governance” or “participatory governance”, seeks to enhance the functions of citizens through more direct forms of involvement. Citizens get engaged in national policymaking, constitutional and legal mandates, panjayathi raj (local self-governance), or democratic decentralization etc. that occurred in many developing countries including India, South Africa, Brazil and Bangladesh etc. Youth involvement with established institutions such as political parties, trade unions, or NGOs is the best route from contemplation to effective action. NGOs or voluntary organizations can serve as a bridge between the government and the people. It could be in laying a village road; keeping the streets clean; raising a battalion of barefoot doctors; promoting afforestation; educating the people against child marriage etc. With a view of concrete feat, individuals can engage actively in service at schools and hospitals; in blood or food donation; literacy or environmental campaigns. Even the young generation can engross with institutions run exclusively by youth like sporting or cultural organizations, or newspapers, websites, fanzines etc. which are inherently democratic and is a way of gaining visibility and respect for youth with impact.

(OECD 1995)


E-Governance ensures efficiency, promptness, convenience, transparency and better citizen-friendly interface. E-ticketing in Railways, e-pension scheme, e-immunization projects etc. are the multiple ramification of effective governance. Citizens can play a cardinal role in the new era of e-governance. E-governance is a strong tool for ensuring corruption-free administration. Slowly, but steadily, e-governance is percolating down to the bottom, enabling citizens to have a better and friendly rapport with the government, thereby ensuring a hassle-free life. 4. HOW CAN INDIA ENGAGE AND ENABLE YOUTH TO PARTICIPATE IN GOVERNANCE PROCESS? “The Youth of a Nation are the trustees of Posterity” – Benjamin Disraeli ‘Sybil’ (1845) bk.6, ch. 13 Youth, the armory of democracy and the power house of energy constitute the most creative segment of the society. They have chipped in the 1942 Quit India Movement and ascertained their mettle; they should further participate actively in political affairs and activism in order to extirpate the societal and systemic evils, and be the saviors of democracy. Unifying youth is the desideratum as they have the vision, compassion and dedication. Ours is a young country and the power of youth should be harnessed positively in order to make India even more potent. There are countless ways India can engage and enable youth to participate in governance process. E-governance, democratic decentralization, panjayathi raj, Citizen Action Group, Just and Democratic governance, Sovereign Rights Commission etc. are just the beginning. Systems must be devised which force leaders and officials to talk directly to citizens; create occasions for more denizens to get involved in decision making; arrange motivational modules to promote respect for differences, sovereignty and rights, and to inculcate sagacity of superior citizenship. With more ethical leaders, more citizens could be influenced; more information would be imparted; more economic resources are funded. The Indian government can coordinate, cooperate and consolidate youths to conscientious governance. A free and responsible media can aid in strengthening the modern youth republic profoundly. Today, wherever we go, discontent and despair darken the air and deadly hostility against the youth is writ large with acid ink. We must therefore resolve that youth must awake, arise and organize themselves in the following ways to have a share in the bona fide democracy. 4.1. Gandhian Model of Democracy Gandhi laid great emphasis on “Gram Swaraj” (Village self-government) in which village parliaments control village resources and decision-making. He described democracy as a series of concentric governments serving the village at the centre. Such grassroots empowerment nurtures an egalitarian economic system. Under Gandhian model of democracy, for handling of all local matters such as administration of justice, police, education, healthcare, land, water systems and forests, the common populace will 7

retain resources with local governments. They would then devolve a portion of their revenues to the state for higher level functions and coordination, but not to interfere in local matters. These hamlets with youth can also institute their sovereign rights to information, consultation, participation, and referendum. 4.2. Citizens Action Group Within any electoral constituency, a Citizens Action Group can be formed. Such a group should comprise, ideally, a cross section of citizens who would identify the common tribulations faced by them – garbage clearance, an effective transportation, pollution control, clean drinking water, a first aid clinic, a post office facility, crematorium, adult literacy, an emergency fund, monitoring Public Distribution System, canalizing the energies of the unemployed, ensuring pension security, family planning centers etc. These Citizens Groups should vote only for honest candidates who meet them at regular intervals, who take up issues and report on the progress. They can also ensure with alertness that criminal elements do not enter public offices. Self-regulation must be the key deterrent. Public Interest Litigations by these groups has to be welcomed. The mass media, NGOs, Lions, Rotarians, senior citizens, housewives, and professionals can all be roped into action. As a consequence, it would also bring about true integration cutting across precincts of language, region, religion, caste, class, etc. preserving civil society and making representatives accountable and pro-active in their task of good governance. 4.3. Just and Democratic governance The vision of Just and Democratic governance (JD Governance) enthused by the fights and factory of Mahatma Gandhi, Ambedkar, Rabindranath Tagore, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, for freedom, justice and dignity, is a hopeful choice. Such a perennial perspective plugged-in by the theoretical insights and mechanisms of Antonio Gramsci, Michel Foucault, Jurgen Habermas, John Rawls, Amartya Sen and John Gaventa could be implemented to pull the crowd of youth in governance process. Just and Democratic governance is based on democratization, human rights, justice, people’s participation, accountability and responsiveness. Citizens are at the centre of such a perspective working towards a transparent, effective and efficient institutional framework and the rule of law. Just and Democratic governance is the process of exercising different forms of power socially, politically, economically, legally and administratively within various institutional arenas, from family to governments, from local to global, for the realization rights, freedom and justice. Such a normative framework is bottomed on the ethics of human dignity and equality. The people’s planning process, participatory budgeting, citizen tribunals and social audits are a few innovative methods used in this approach. Just and Democratic governance guarantees people to observe, operate and outline the content and course of public policies and management. The core of such a perspective is the notion of social change through integrity, inclusiveness, camaraderie and transformative politics. 4.4. Sovereign Rights Commission 8

To bolster reforms, people must conceptualize a new institution – Sovereign Rights Commission – with the authority to direct referendums, hold public consultations, conduct opinion polls and based on that it will draft a new Constitution. Such commissions will function as the conscience keeper of the state, based on the values and wants of the society as a whole and youth may emerge with respectable accent within and without the system. 5. THE FINAL LEXIS It is not merely elections or universal adult franchise that delineates the process of democracy, rather it is the people and the ethical personas of political process that make democracy deliver. Democracy involves dignity, diversity, dissent and development. Unless even the last, least, lost or the littlest person can share or celebrate in the process of governance and growth, democracy remains a hypothesis. The youth of any nation is the hope, force and future of that particular society. Hence, the state should promote citizen-centered advocacy, defend their human rights, and mobilize people and civil society against arbitrary violations, so as to make the governance progression and public policies more humanistic and effective. The true conception of the administration of justice is that “the slightest concern of the smallest person is of the highest consideration to the state”. In the land of Buddha and Mahatma, democracy without humanism is a hoax; representation sans citizenry voice is a political abracadabra. Because citizens are the king in democracy!


You're Reading a Free Preview

/*********** DO NOT ALTER ANYTHING BELOW THIS LINE ! ************/ var s_code=s.t();if(s_code)document.write(s_code)//-->