Democracy is a like a muscle; in order to keep it fit, it has to be trained regularly, not just running round on the day of elections. But that is exactly what is happening. That is why, libertarian politics is called electionised, not democratized. The irony is that the voters or citizens are supposed to be sovereign and custodians of democracy, but they flex their muscles only on the day of elections. The right and opportunity to vote once in every five years is what the voters have got, and until the next elections they are helpless bystanders in the political or governance process. Hence they feel let down, become cynical and take to unlawful actions to vent their frustration and alienation. The ruling elite begin to worry and try to pacify them, dance around them during elections, and thus the cycle of alienation-allurement-alienation continues. There is another cycle of voters’ alienation, the cycle which feeds on itself. The more the voters withdraw from public participation excepting voting, the more leaders/their representatives ignore them: the more irresponsible and untrustworthy the leaders become, the voters withdraw in anger and helplessness.

The leaders who are basically the representatives of the voters or to be politically correct, citizens, (we use voters as they are active and structural part of a democracy), wonder why their voters do not like them and how they would win them back to continue in power. But it is not happening leading to weakening of democracies and absence of good governance. Voters Party attempts to explore options of making democracies vibrant, effective and people- friendly by structurally engaging voters; as a matter of fact, restoring the primacy of voters in a democracy.

In order to do so, we need to appreciate the place of voters in a genuine democracy. Woodrow Wilson the noble laureate, 28th president of United States said, “a democratic republic cannot endure unless a great many of its citizens stand ready and willing to sacrifice for the nation if need be. He complimented the citizens’ role and said, “The American Constitution has functioned well, most of the time, because conscientious men and women have given it flesh”. Another renowned and popular president of United States, John, F. Kennedy had said, American constitutional democracy requires the dedication of an attentive, knowledgeable, and reflective citizenry”.

Democracy is based on a few assumptions vis-à-vis the voters which must be observed and tested occasionally to see if they are working truly or not. First, government is people’s creation, not their masters. Thus, if people/voters are sovereign, it their responsibility to take upon their shoulders the task of seeing that the order, justice and freedom are maintained. The second assumption is that citizens/voters would undertake responsibility for the ordinary functioning of the civil social order and manage their own affairs. Thus the success of democratic political structure is a function of voters politically and socially engaged on a daily basis; voters serving on school boards, taking part in neighbourhood activities, protecting common resources, petitioning legislatures, supporting the government in different ways etc. The Third assumption is, the citizens in a democracy would enjoy certain rights-political, social, economic and human, some of which are fundamental and cannot be violated.

The above assumptions are based on rights and responsibilities. The rights-approach undergirds liberalism, whereas the responsibility approach relates to communitarianism. Both approaches, in combination, define democracies. It is universally agreed and believed that the well-being of a democracy depends upon the informed and effective participation of citizens (voters) concerned with preservation of individual rights and promotion of common goods. But, there has to be a third assumption that becomes both glue and the gear for rights and responsibilities. That is reward. Compared to libertarian (rights-based), and communitarian (responsibility- based), this approach is pragmatic (reward-based). This approach needs elaborate discussion across democracies and integrated into political structure. Without concretely defining and providing for reward for voters in the political system, voters shun politics beyond voting and democracy wanes. Voters cannot be made to stay away from politics as Adele Stevenson profoundly said, “citizens are the ruler as well as the ruled, the law-givers as well as law-abiding, the beginning and end in democracy”.

Let us now discuss all the three types of assumptions- Rights, Responsibilities and Rewards. The first type needs no elaboration as rights are written into a constitution, and they have to be given. Of course, there are social, economic, cultural and even political obstacles to accessing rights. For instance, women are equal to men in law, but cannot secure the equal status because of social and cultural impediments; likewise child labor is banned, getting free education is the right of a child, but the children, out of school, languish as child labourers. But violations of rights are due to social anomalies, economic deprivation, political inefficiency etc. which can be corrected. Rights are entitlements, constitutional guaranties, and the state has to give it to the voters/citizens. On the other hand, responsibility is a Voters’ domain; the onus is on them to deliver it. This is a major part of democratic political system and the governance process that is forgotten. In all democracies, mainly the developing ones, a mighty effort has to be launched to make the voters aware of the principle of democratic governance, and of their responsibilities to their neighbors, the society, the state and the country.

There is a contradiction that we, voters are living with. On the one hand, we recognize that the freedom we cherish cannot be secured unless we take part in public life, in our own self-governance. On the other hand, we resist doing so preferring instead to pursue our own interest and private lives. Interestingly, we are glued to a libertarian democracy where we are concerned about our own rights, not responsibilities. We are not embracing a communitarianism that emphasizes responsibilities in terms of civic habits, common good over personal desires, mutual support, group action, generation of social capital etc. The communitarian or responsibility-approach is conspicuous by its absence from democracies. Voters are not active beyond voting, they are not engaged in social and political action. A handful of those belonging to political parties are into various protest activities. But common voters do not go to political meetings except in times of elections, do not join neighborhood activities, do not contact public officials, do not join advocacy groups, nor do they take part in boycott, picketing, demonstrations, nor express opinions in public fora etc. They are not into mutual support or compassionate action like attending to an accident-victim, or saving man or a woman from violent attacks. Few people bother to report or a mend a water tap leaking, or illegal felling of trees, or garbage thrown into public place and so on.

The above sad situation begs the question, why are the compassionate actions, civic duties not done? Was it always like this? Or they are declining? We may look at the source of inspiration for such acts of common good. Earlier, they were taught in schools, families and religions. Modern civilization, increasingly influenced by materialism, social atomization has lessened the influence of schools and families. Role of religion has become controversial. More so in India as we followed a nebulous concept called secularism, partly out of Marxist influence, that pushed religions out of public domain. This is, of course, a separate and intensive discussion we need not engage here, suffice it to say that, religions hardly inspire compassion, common good, and responsibility any more.

So, how do we make the voters maintain their responsibilities: engage in politics, participate in social and political life? That can only be done by rewarding them. Modern civilization does not offer many inducements to performance of duties, except perhaps monetary payment. There must be rewards for good behavior, for performing civic responsibilities, respect for law, civility, and civic-mindedness etc. What are rewards for voters? Effectively none. How can we ask the voters to vote every election- local, state, national, ask them to perform their social and political actions, and civic duties without any reward whatsoever? Look at the rest of the performers in a democracy- the legislature, judiciary, and executive- Councillors, MLAs, MPs, Ministers, judges, bureaucrats, any service providers, government or private, receive cash rewards. In fact, the so-called people’s representatives get good salaries, pension for life besides lots of perks and privileges. Voters get nothing when they are supposed to defend and maintain democracies and everyone else in the system. Is it not an absurdity that voters, the custodians of democracy, are left high and dry after each election?

The old moralistic argument that voters must be moved by patriotism, and attachment to the Constitution not by money, no longer holds. If democracy has to be viewed as way of life, which it is, a civic culture in which voters creatively participate in public life beyond voting, then we must get the voters involved and reward them, in monetary terms, like anyone else in the system. Voters get some money into their accounts every month for being actively participatory and responsible. The money has to be judiciously calculated and linked to good conduct like that of any other salaried functionary. For instance, if any voter is committing an unlawful act, or is accused of dereliction of his civic duties, (s)he should be punished like any other salaried functionary that includes cutting down, suspension and withdrawal of money to his accounts. Such a practice and a provision would largely contribute to good governance and better law and order situation.

The other reward is voters must have power, both constitutional-political and relational power. The first type of power will enable voters to recall their representatives if they are found to be corrupt or irresponsible, to co-decision making by participating in various bodies, for instance police-public cooperation body, and to co-legislation on certain important matters, through referendum. The details of such powers could be worked out. The second type is relational, which enables the voters to do certain things, if power is seen as an enabler. For instance, the voters could have powers to build social capital, run social bodies clubs, neighborhood groups, without government interfering or controlling them, such social innovations are caught in bureaucracy. That must end. Finally, for good governance, and a viable and vibrant democracy, there is no substitute to engaging voters in politics on a daily basis and rewarding them with purse and power. That is precisely what the Voters Party intends to do.

 
 
 
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