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Reshaping Democracy

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India’s democracy is ever evolving, overcoming obstacles that emerge from its many economic and social challenges, as well as regional, sectarian and ethnic diversity. It has been seen over the years that voters have exhibited extraordinary maturity in selecting governments while keeping all these factors in mind and transcending them when required. The nature of the challenges has also been changing and politicians and parties have not always been able to keep pace. Gone are the days, for instance, when public opinion was shaped by speeches at rallies – today, social media has a disproportionate share in influencing people’s minds. Radical beliefs and incendiary ideologies have found many suitable platforms to proliferate across, staying well ahead of conventional regulatory mechanisms.

The Election Commission needs to examine these new challenges and see if changes are required in regulation of political activity as well as conduct of elections. In the meanwhile, a sure way for the public to keep things in hand is to vote for leaders they know well from their past record and performance. They need to be wary of individuals and parties that use ‘algorithm’ type analysis of trends to literally ‘scam’ their way into power. Like the ‘phishers’ of the internet, they will have long gone by the time people recognise the fraud. By then, another scam would be in place. One can only imagine what those who shamelessly lie and cheat while asking for votes would do once they acquire power.

The effort also should be made to stay out of the traditional traps of caste and community. Whatever their support base, politicians’ commitment to the public good should be transparent and attestable – never more than now. Unfortunately, not enough leaders fall in this category.

At the same time, noble and honourable persons often find themselves shunted out of politics very quickly, which is why they avoid participation, even maintain a discreet distance. The best counter to that is to organise, in the beginning, as groups with common interests. The Anna Hazare mobilisation was one such that had raised great hopes but was hijacked and then betrayed by Arvind Kejriwal and his cohorts. People have begun to distrust such activism and the latest muscular protests by ‘farmers’ have further strengthened their skepticism. Even so, civil society should not lose heart and must build up from the local community level, identify priorities and closely examine contestants’ credentials. This would help people rise above mere party affiliations and focus on the right person. Otherwise, there is always the recourse to ‘NOTA’.