At the time the Indian Constitution came into force, one of its most appreciated aspects was the unhesitating universal suffrage it granted to the people. This was despite the fact that the vast majority was illiterate and unschooled in the democratic process. One of the reasons for the confidence reposed in them was the political maturity they had acquired during the freedom struggle and the ability of leaders like Mahatma Gandhi to communicate with them in terms they understood. The issues, then, were fundamental ones such as freedom, social justice, political equality, etc., easily explained and understood. The sincerity and patriotism of the leaders was never in doubt.
Things have changed today. For India to be a functional democracy, the general electorate needs to better understand the complexities of a modern and very diverse democracy. Fundamentally, no democracy can rise above the capabilities of its people. Unfortunately, the professional class of politicians that has emerged has consciously encouraged people to hand over power to them and lazily accept straightforward bribes in return as electoral handouts. They are made to overlook the long term dangers of making such concessions.
If the people were only more politically aware and knowledgeable, they would exercise better judgement. It should not just be about having things explained to them through catchwords and slogans, each interpreted by individuals according to their needs. A baseline needs to be established so that voters are qualified enough to exercise their franchise. This should be the concern of the establishment and various other sections of civil society such as academia, the media and social workers. At the present, the situation is abysmal, as borne out by social media interviews of the general public, in which there is lack of awareness even about why Republic Day and Independence Day are celebrated. Forget the poor and the under-privileged, even members of the middle class, who are supposedly well-educated (almost everybody is a graduate, at least), haven’t a clue. How then can they take a call on which policies are good for the nation? How desperately poor the quality of education must be that they do not know what every student of class seven or eight civics should have been taught? Some may claim that everybody is happy with the way things are, with the running of the country delegated to a political class that acts in the same way, irrespective of which party it belongs to. If that is the case then the people should stop complaining and accept the loss of their power and sovereignty. Let the dynasties and feudal lords prevail – become the serfs you were before!