While switching television channels, one would notice advertisements more than the actual content of the channels. So last night while traversing over various news channels, I got hooked to an ad by a cellular company colloquially defining democracy. In the ad people are asked by a political class to suggest whether they should form government or not. People desperately voted and at the end of the ad, the protagonist comes with a bright smile and a punch line, “agar aap janta ki sunengey to janta aapki sunegi… issi ko kehte hai democracy (If you will listen to people, people will listen to you. This is Democracy).” While the ad has been impressively created and somehow it is able to reflect the current mood of the nation, it really leaves you with questions whether it is feasible to ask proportionate level of janta every time before taking a crucial decision or even the possibility of a desirable outcome is in question in a process which is keenly aware of its own shortcomings. The other question which crops up with the issue is how a representative or participatory democracy can afford to give opportunity for individual participation.
Belying all these contradictions of democracy, Aam Aadmi Party is going to form government after a political referendum established the mood of Delhi voters in their favour. In a political referendum AAP had asked the voters of Delhi to send their opinion on whether AAP should form government by taking unconditional support from Congress, against whom AAP had ferociously campaigned in the recently held Delhi assembly elections. The referendum, unique of its kind AAP held out 280 janasabhas in Delhi, in which 257 said YES to government formation and 23 said NO to forming government. Later on, the political affair committee in a crucial meeting decided to form the government, obeying and trusting the people’s informal mandate to form government.
Is it really a democratic process and does this kind of referendum echo people’s opinion? Has AAP done something exceptional or has it followed what it has promised?
If the whole episode of rise of AAP as a political force is viewed through the objective lens of evolving democratic politics, we will find that it has brought back in the question of citizen participation and citizen control over decision making beyond political forum called election. After all a democracy is about citizens, and as Ashutosh Varshney has mentioned in his article Politics unusual in Indian Express that AAP is trying what may be called politics of citizenship; which in turn means deepening roots of democracy, institutions, governance, and accountability. By the so called drama (meticulously crafted term by Congress and BJP) of public referendum, AAP has brought in an unconventional model where people suddenly get a chance to device a government which has not got an absolute mandate. In other terms, voters of Delhi had precisely voted different parties with different vote percentage, however not giving mandate to any party to form government. Therefore instead of allowing parties to rearrange political mandate by different crafts of horse trading as done throughout the history of Indian politics, AAP asked people to decide their fate by bringing in their opinion. Ultimately it was people who did not give AAP complete mandate and have thrown them to the political arena without sufficient number. So AAP returned the mandate to the people and asked them to refurbish their faith on a government formed by outside support.
AAP achieved two things from this process of people’s participation in decision making, even though the process has its shortcomings: first it consolidated the faith of people who have voted for them for a change of government. People were once again made accountable for their future, by giving consent to or rejecting the proposed government. Secondly, people’s participation in decision making has been used as a strategy for reducing political uncertainty and role ambiguity. The role of people as a supreme decision maker is putting the uncertain and biased media and opposition groups to complete silence. The tacit handling of the situation will also help AAP gain the faith as well as trust of non AAP voters, who opted for Congress or for a different party. On the issue of desired result, the process seems to have generated the kind of result, pre poll surveys and post poll opinions had shown in the past. Therefore, it must be considered effective given the lack of alternative arrangement.
Bringing in transparency in decision making and improving citizen’s satisfaction by involving them is a crucial discourse of decentralization. In the process of participation, it was impossible to cover almost all the citizens, but the attempt was to consider maximum feasible number of people in a given time frame representing the mood and beliefs. It is therefore a first step towards creating transparency which in turn creates trust between the citizens and their leaders. AAP by preferring this informal referendum has exactly achieved the kind of institutional as well as structural framework they have envisioned in their manifesto advocating decentralization and self rule, and at the end of the day it is the people of Delhi who remain winners.
By Aam Aadmi PartyFOX 52 SVG derivative (Official website) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons