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CIVIC RESPONSIBILITY , THE MISSING LINK IN INDIAN DEMOCRACY

— V.N.MUKUNDARAJAN



It has become fashionable to berate the government for lack of accountability and indifference to public opinion. Political democracy is a compact between the people and the elected representatives sealed and mediated by a written constitution. We expect the government to function in a transparent manner and promote the welfare of the people. There is little discussion about the civic responsibilities of citizens. Are not citizens accountable to one another? That is, are not the citizens expected to respect the rights of fellow citizens? Are we not supposed to refrain from behaviour which could make life difficult for others? We make a big fuss about the rule of law. We do not care to talk about the rule of civic responsibility that determines the quality of the rule of law. Governmental and citizen behaviour reinforce each other. The more transparent the government is, the more enlightened is the citizenry. The more indifferent, selfish and uncivil the public become, the more corrupt and opaque is the governance. It is the robustness of civic consciousness and the conscientious behaviour of the people that can save democracy from being hijacked by corrupt coteries, plutocracies and nepotistic cliques.

The Indian constitution is unsparing and uncompromising in setting out the caveats, rules, mandates, etc.

which the institutions of democracy are expected to obey. There is no doubt that the constitution makers expected the government, the legislature and the judiciary to demonstrate the highest sense of responsibility in discharging their duties. At the same time, the constitution has refrained from imposing burdensome civic rules on the people. For instance, it doesn’t compel the citizens to vote in elections. The citizens enjoy fundamental rights; they are not burdened by fundamental duties.

What are the basic components of civic sense that citizens must espouse and always uphold to demonstrate their concern for the law of the land and for the safety and comfort of their fellow citizens? Or what are the things they are not supposed to do?

They are not expected to drive recklessly on roads. They are not permitted to disobey traffic rules and abuse other road users. The citizens must not dirty public places. They should not talk loudly on their mobile phones in public places. They should not push and shove and try to jump queues whether it is at the bus stop, cinema theatre or place of worship. They should not cause noise pollution by playing loud music or bursting ear splitting crackers during festivals. The public are not expected to be rude towards vulnerable sections like women, children and old people. They are expected to avoid cruelty to animals and prevent destruction of nature. They are not supposed to evade the democratic responsibility of casting their votes on Election Day. They should not be indifferent to the local community of which they are a part. They are not allowed to harm the environment by irresponsible consumption and pollution. The people are not supposed to encourage corruption through bribing officials.

This list of civic duties is only illustrative and not exhaustive. Democracy is not merely about politics. Political democracy cannot mature without a vibrant social democracy. Enhanced social awareness and responsible social behaviour will make the political class and the rulers sit up and take notice. We are always asking what the government and the country will do for us. For a change, let us start asking what we can do to make governance more responsive and make the country more strong and prosperous. Public assets are not maintained properly in India not only because they are managed by governments. There is no sense of public ownership. For example, nobody owns roads, public parks, toilets, etc. Instead of expecting the government to maintain these, why not local communities take responsibility for their upkeep? A working arrangement can be thrashed out to forge a public-private partnership in this regard.

Voluntary activism has not struck roots in India. In the US, there are so many groups working for worthy social causes. Social solidarity and national unity gets strengthened when more and more people organize themselves to give back to society a part of what they have received from it. The restless energy of our children and youth can be channelled into nation-building initiatives if they are encouraged to volunteer for social activation that will help the poor and marginalized sections of the society.

The sky is the limit for social voluntarism. Why not help the traffic policeman to regulate traffic in a congested part of the city? Why not organize blood donation camps and prepare a network of blood donors and link them, to hospitals? What about teaching poor children in the slums? Why not adopt government schools for improving the educational standards of the children? Is it so difficult to collect books and writing materials to be donated to poor children? How about spreading awareness about health hazards like alcoholism and smoking? What about lending a helping hand when there is a natural calamity or accident?

The goals of social entrepreneurship and philanthropy can be best achieved through a partnership between the local communities, people’s representatives and government departments. Participatory democracy should not remain as an empty rhetoric. It can be actively pursued if only people realize that we are all bound to one another under a sense of collective citizenship.

Social cohesion is the bedrock of civilizational endurance. The more united and collectivised a society, the more peaceful and prosperous it becomes.

It is worth reiterating that people get the government they deserve. An indifferent and self-centred citizenry is a sure recipe for lawlessness and social chaos. An enlightened citizenry is the best bet against misgovernance. Civic activism will raise the expectations of the people and keep the rulers on their toes. Citizens of this country, awake, arise and perform your civic duties. You have nothing to lose except your lethargy and apathy.


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