In a democracy, elections are often touted as ‘the power in the hands of masses’. Elections are denoted as the festival of freedom, where people can exercise their right and fulfill their aspirations. Free and fair elections are one of the foundations of democracy. But, today, elections have been mechanized to the extent that they are even fought on algorithms. Democracy has been reduced to elections, undermining other aspects of it. An election is supposed to be treated as means and not as an end in itself.
In India, election time is probably the only time; masses participate in what is called a democratic process of choosing representatives. Therefore, can we say that democracy is a five-yearly affair? Or Is this how democracy works? Certainly not! Democracy is like iron, you leave it, and it corrodes. It is a constant process of engaging and disengaging. But, how will this process start when the process is flawed? In India, elections do not represent the will of the people. In almost every case media moulds the voters’ decisions. Media is considered as the voice of the people but is now gradually becoming a mouthpiece for parties. It elicits assent for various unpopular decisions of the government. Elections are increasingly becoming fact-free and fake news is slyly finding prominence.
Behavioural studies of voters are being done in order to swing votes. What happened in the US and the UK is just the tip of the iceberg. When such methods are used to manipulate voters, how do we say that we have free elections? Freedom is a foundational aspect of democracy. When one is voting on manufactured will, it raises questions on the legitimacy of the elected government. Subsequently, the questions arise, why does democracy fail to meet our expectations? Why is it that we end up choosing mediocre politicians who serve their interest? Why is it that we have failed to stop lawbreakers from becoming lawmakers? These questions could be summed up under two broad problems. First, our political system has failed to evolve with the changing times. Second, voting pattern, one might argue that the draconian practice of separate electorates started by the British, is still prevalent in the country in various forms.
The present political system is highly degraded. It is rife with problems like criminalization of politics, use of extensive money and muscle power in elections, lack of transparency in party funding especially after the introduction of electoral bonds, political parties are out of the ambit of RTI, etc. Some of these problems could be solved by introducing simple and yet crucial reforms like placing an upper limit on election expenditure, sources of income of political parties must be put in the public domain. NOTA(None of the Above) should be given teeth. Presently, it is the right of a person not to choose anyone but it should be made the right to reject. NOTA can help bring in the right candidates and in turn, can also flush out criminals from politics. But, these reforms alone cannot bring the true democracy we desire. For that to happen, the voting pattern of people needs to change. Voting should become issue-based rather than emotion and caste-based. To inculcate the idea of democracy in our society, people could be given democratic education. It would help in ingraining democratic culture in society. Democratic education would help generate a culture of deliberation and debate. It would help in the cultivation of values like justice, equality, and the common good. Democratic education along with political education can go a long way in shaping future leaders. Political education will make people take the right decisions based on their knowledge of how the system works and how they can by making the right decisions shape their and country’s future. One might also argue that only those who pass political education examination should be given a right to vote. For those who are illiterate, the exam can be conducted orally and in regional language. It could be a fair point given the fact that it will lead to awareness vis-à-vis how democracy works. But it will entail abandoning universal adult franchise.
In the end, it could be said that democracy can be what people desire. It is like Aladdin’s lamp, the more you rub, the more wishes are granted.