As citizens of India, do we really appreciate the role of a citizen in a democracy? Why is this role so important? Generally, it is believed that the government rules the people who have to respect the political authority and obey it. They are there to be governed. But don’t you think that this is not so in a democracy?
The people who are citizens in a democratic system like India cannot and ought not to remain passive and treat themselves as governed. In fact, a democracy can be successful and vibrant only when citizens imbibe and reflect in their mindset, thinking and behaviour the basic values like equality, freedom, secularism, social justice, accountability and respect for all. They have to appreciate the opportunities for their desired roles and play proactive roles to actualize the goals of democracy.
Appreciation of Opportunities for Citizens’ Role The opportunities as democratic citizens are available in all democracies, but they vary from one democratic system to another. Indian democracy in the modern sense began after a long period of colonial rule. Although the democratic system started just after independence in 1947, its socio-cultural settings were and still are not in tune with the democratic culture. India is a vast multi-cultural, multi-lingual, truly plural society, which in many respects still carries the characteristics of traditionalism. At the same time, it is trying to absorb the values of modern democracy.
Even now many think that the government has to rule and do everything, and if things are not happening in an expected manner, it is only the government which is to be blamed. As you know, the democratic government in our country is run by the representatives chosen by us. In that sense, every citizen is responsible for how the governments function at different levels: national, state and local. And hence, every citizen has to play a critical role and use every opportunity for doing so. As Indian citizens are we doing it? Let us consider. Major opportunities for roles of citizens may be as follows:
- Participation: The key role of citizens in a democracy is to participate in public life. The most commonly observed opportunity of participation is exercising the right to vote during elections. And in order to vote wisely it is necessary that each citizen listens to and knows the views of different parties and candidates, and then makes his or her own decision on whom to vote for. It is also learnt that in many cases the percentage of voting is still low. The Election Commission is doing its best to educate the people about importance of participation in elections. Participation in a democratic polity, however, is not confined simply to participation in elections only. A vital form of participation comes through membership of political parties and more importantly, active membership in independent non-governmental organizations, that are known as “civil society organizations.” These organizations represent a variety of interests of different groups such as women, students, farmers, workers, doctors, teachers, business owners, religious believers, human rights activists. Such organizations and people’s movements help to bring political awareness about different issues among the people.
- Making the System Accountable: Participation in the political process is not enough. Citizens have to make the democratic system responsive and responsible. The Constitution makes the executive responsible to the legislature, but citizens are needed to ensure that the Parliamentarians, Members of State Legislatures and their representatives in Panchayati Raj and Municipal Institutions are accountable. The instruments created by the Right to Information Act, 2005 in our country enable citizens to play their role effectively. Citizens have an obligation to become informed about public issues, to watch carefully how their political leaders and representatives use their powers, and to express their own opinions and interests. When citizens find that the government is not living up to its promises; they can point it out through media, make recommendations and demands accountability from the government. If the government still fails to fulfill promises, citizens may protest, carry out peaceful satyagraha, civil disobedience or non-cooperation campaigns to make the government accountable.
- Fulfilling Obligations: We should realize that citizenship is more than voting or making the system accountable. Many people tend to regard democracy as a system where literally everything is allowed. And every person has the freedom to do whatever one desires. This often leads to a complete chaos that devastates the order of the society rather than improving it. In that way it leads to the opposite effects of democracy. A citizen has to accept that freedom is never absolute. If you have a right to do certain things, you have also the responsibility to ensure that your actions do not infringe upon the rights of others.