Strengthening Democracy Through A Bottom-Up Approach
We are all used to criticising the political elites of our country for our socio-economic problems. However, in simply criticising them we tend to overlook the absence of public unity and of well-structured and empowered institutions. This absence opens up the possibility for the power bearers to adopt a clandestine mutually beneficial behavior among themselves, while outwardly they engage us (the public) in meaningless debates on the merits or demerits of one narrative over another.
Of course, the people of a country never hold one uniform ideology, and thus public opinion is always divided. This is just how it should be too, as we are all individuals with unique experiences and aspirations. In a democratic polity, this is the very reason why there are political parties. Political parties represent different groups’ aspirations and opinions. But to make sure that this system of representation works, public opinion itself must have a zeal and zest that provide enough force to make the changes that it wants.
Thus, without a proper public base, simply hurling criticism at elite forces for underperforming, gerrymandering and compromising on constitutional principles does not matter in the end. Rather, it seems like a convenient way of abdicating responsibility.
To make sure we truly reap the benefits of democracy, we need to get empowered from the bottom. For this reason, scholars, journalists and civil society at large should make people aware of the importance of local bodies and raise their voices for getting their rights. Empowered local bodies are the means by which grass-roots politics will be able to take roots.
Democracy is the name of public engagement in the affairs of governance. It is relatively easier for people to find a competent and honest person from their surroundings rather than from their larger constituencies. They are also much more likely to know their local representative personally. Moreover, when the demand for the right people at the local level goes up, newer people will emerge into politics, as contesting in local body elections does not require large sums of money for the campaign. Elite politicians spending hoards of money on their campaigns but proving to be unapproachable will be gradually swept out of the system, as more and more people will demand results in exchange of their support.
At the end of the day, democracy is a process, not a destination. As long as people stay involved in trying to make it work, it has a chance. True functioning democracies do not allow people to take a back seat and merely criticise their representatives. They take a proactive role in the system itself. After all, the government is representative of, and answerable to, the people. The people must be aware of this fact.