NVD: Inclusive and Qualitative Participation
In any self-respecting democracy, the National Voters’ Day is a sacred day ~ well, it ought to be a sacred day. This is the day when the Voter is supposed to get her ultimate say in the direction country ought to take, in the affairs of the nation and in who she feels is qualified to manage the country on her behalf. Unless this is facilitated and the Voter makes full use of this facilitation by exercising her right and duty, democracy is just another exercise in futility and vacuous theatrics. There are two aspects of the National Voters’ Day, I would like to underscore today: (1) the importance of the Voter and the imperatives of voting, and (2) The uniqueness of democracy as a system of governance and a culture of a people, which hinges on the Voter and her right and duty to vote.
On the first score, let me do some plain speaking. If the Voter is considered simply as a means to garner majority votes, then we insult both the Voter and the very essence of democracy. In other words, the Voter is not meant to be herded like cattle on Election Day and persuaded to vote for this or that candidate through unethical means. As a natural corollary, it is imperative that the environment is created for the Voter to be educated and engaged in what’s happening around her as well as allowed to use her realities and experiences to help her decide what she hopes to gain by voting. Side by side, it is also very imperative that the Voter exercises her right and duty so that her life and her future are not abdicated by elements that have little or no interest in serving her and the nation. Yes, the National Voters’ Day is sacred because it reminds us of, and underscores, our rights and duties as citizens of a democracy that has emerged as a system, a way of life, to centre-stage the individual, as well as to bind and raise the nation as a shelter for all citizens.
On the second score ~ a democracy that alienates, marginalizes, suppresses and oppresses its citizens, except on Election Day, is a reality in several countries and it can happen to any country, any time hence it is imperative that the Voter prevents such a catastrophe. It is the Voter, who must shoulder the main responsibility of preserving and promoting the unique characteristics of democracy as a system and culture of governance, as well as a culture of the people’s day-to-day interface in all spheres and aspects of human activities. This is too grave a matter to leave solely in the hands of Governments and political parties, whose focus is more on power plays than on what matters to the governed. It is said that the Government’s power emanates from the will of the people. The National Voters’ Day is also a reminder that we need to exercise the will of the people without fear or favour to preserve the uniqueness of democracy as a system of governance and a culture of a people so that the human spirit is never stifled and human dignity upheld.
Today we are observing the National Voters’ Day on the theme Inclusiveness and Qualitative Participation. I feel the need to underscore another issue based on the theme. What are our perspectives and definitions of “Inclusiveness: and Qualitative Participation”? Let us look at how elections are conducted in Nagaland. It is a general practice here that village councils, as well as family, clan, tribal and range unions, all men-only clubs, do the selection and endorsement of candidates ~ women are totally excluded from this decision-making process. Does this practice, this process, strike you as “Inclusive” and “Qualitative Participation”? In fact, this practice, this process, negates the very essence and ethos of modern democracy. For one, by excluding a major segment of Voters – women – by the virtue of their sex in the decision-making process, the electoral democracy here is incomplete hence fructuous, Secondly, this practice, this process, negates the very principle of one-person-one-vote because once the village councils, and/or the family, clan, tribal and range unions select and endorse a candidate, all within that jurisdiction is expected, even compelled, to vote for that candidate alone. And to add insult to injury, in a number of areas in Nagaland, a few so-called leaders, or even selected youths, are entrusted to vote in the place of all voters of that area.
Unless this practice is stopped, I see no point in getting into a academic discussion on “Inclusiveness and Qualitative Participation” vis-à-vis Voters’ rights and duties in the democratic process. Yes, we can quote our cultural and traditional practices of democracy vis-à-vis Article 371(A) of the Indian Constitution but we must also note that election to the Parliament and the State Assemblies that are conducted by the Election Commission of India are not done under the purview of Article 371 (A). Having come thus far in all aspects and spheres of modern human activities, it is time for us to draw the lines between the cultural and the traditional and the modern and the constitutional. Perhaps drawing this line would help us emerge from the development and other quagmires we are drowning in. It then is the responsibility and the constitutional obligation of the Election Commission of Nagaland to ensure that no Voter is excluded from the electoral process on the basis of sex or any other consideration, if inclusiveness is to be achieved and our democracy made more vibrant. It is equally the responsibility of the citizens and the Voters, to ensure that none of us are excluded from exercising our right and shouldering our duty on the basis of cultural and traditional biases and prejudices that differentiates and discriminates.
All this can happen only when we strive for qualitative participation, which connotes awareness of, and education and engagement in things that are happening to us and around us. But this qualitative participation again is dependent on inclusiveness. The two are inextricably linked to each other and must be worked at side-by-side. It is not too difficult a task if what I have said earlier is kept in mind: (1) the importance of the Voter and the imperatives of voting, and (2) the uniqueness of democracy, as a system of governance and a culture of a people, which is tied to the Voter and her right and duty to vote. Ultimately, it all depends on how we look at democracy and our place in it, as well as how we perceive ourselves and the place of democracy in our lives. This should help us realize and acknowledge how sacred the National Voters’ Day is and more so our rights and duties in exercising our votes in the larger scheme of respecting the essence, the ethos and the practice of democracy as crucial to uphold the human spirit and human dignity.
(Speech delivered at National Voter’s Day celebration organised by Dimapur district administration)