As somebody engaged in the domain of culture, I have often asked myself whether voting and exercising one’s right of choosing a government within a democracy only a matter of ritualism. Is voting only an object that deserves to be commoditized, packaged and sold to the citizens in order to keep the hype of democracy alive or is there something sacred about casting a vote? I have ended up coming back to the same answer again and again, which I fear many of my contemporaries may find an overtly optimist perspective in dark times in India’s political life.
I tend to remind myself of the tremendous struggle that the common people of this nation engaged in, the big and small sacrifices they made, the moments when they rose above themselves and put the nation’s freedom before anything, when their eyes had the dream of making India a nation that was truly democratic, egalitarian and secular. This makes me tell myself that casting oneself is much more than just a routine, a ritual to be mechanically performed, a dispassionate, alienated compulsion- it ought to be seen as a creative process that demands one to be creative and critical, responsible and foresighted, parochial and wide missioned, it demands us to be self-reflexive and critical simultaneously.
In a democracy it may often seem like the citizen becomes active only once in a span of five years and in between he has no control- but the question that we need to ask is whether as voters it is possible to educate ourselves in a way that our ideas, opinions and questions matter? Is it possible that there is a culture that nourishes the cultured, educated, responsible and interrogating voter, who does not think himself a cog in the wheel called democracy but an integral component that administrates and builds it? If we do not create an ambience that nourishes an awakened citizenry, it is impossible for us to convey to our representatives that we matter, that we take count of all their actions, that they must deliver their election agendas and that we will hold them responsible. We have often not thought that asking such a question is important for the wellbeing of a democracy; we have forgotten that the basis of democracy is an awakened citizenry.
The awareness, the education, the spirit of asking questions, holding the government accountable and looking at one’s political discretion as of critical importance is very important if we are remain a democracy in the true sense. Democracy as a mode of engaging with the world demands responsibility, it demands the nurturance of agency, the ability to think in a responsible manner and to be critical of everything around- no doubt this requires education and awakening. But educating the citizenry is an uphill task and there are many challenges to it.
In times of the expansion and massive place occupied by social media in our lives, what is the biggest challenge is the responsibility of rescuing the reader/viewer/consumer from the plague of false propaganda or ‘Fake News’. We find ourselves in an ambience wherein we are increasingly hallucinated by social media and any sensational, communal, hatred filled message spreads like open fire. How a mature and vigilant mind should be created who does not become a victim of false propaganda and fake news and truly news the art of good decision making? Moreover, we find ourselves in an age where politicians have turned themselves into brands and this often stops us for making informed choices for democracy because of the danger of being seduced by brands. We become consumers of political brands in the same way as we consume junk food, designer clothes or pop culture. We are asked to choose leaders in the way we choose bags, cosmetics and clothes. It is the personality cult that is normalised and narcissist politics has become all pervasive.
The relationship between a voter and a political leader is reduced into being one between a consumer/buyer and his product. This is indeed a vicious cycle and there is an enhanced responsibility for us to restore a good culture of democracy. How should we look at the challenges of caste and religion beyond the confines of narrow politics of identity? It is indeed important that we educate ourselves and rebuild the much important bond between society and the greater democratic culture. As we find ourselves in these election times, these concerns emerge even more strongly.