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Public Participation in India

by Aparna Ravikumar

The participation of the Indian public in political affairs is a story much like any other. It has gone through a series of ups and downs that stretch across history and spill into the current days. The first major act of public participation in modern India took shape in the form of the freedom struggle. The freedom movement gave the extremely diverse population the identity of being an Indian. The idea of India took the nation and its people by storm, forcing a frenzied participation in the political sphere. It gave hope of better economic and social status to the average Indian, motivating his participation in the freedom struggle. Poets and lawyers marched with the poor and hungry, their minds captured by the single, powerful idea of a free India. The stroke of the midnight hour, however, brought with it a far uglier struggle for dominance. The partition again forced frenzied public participation- this time in a horrific, violent manner. The drafting of the constitution lead to the public actively participating in the process of policy-making. The public engaged actively in several critical policy decisions, like the drawing up of the Indian map based on the linguistic factors, Hindi becoming the official language of the nation and other such debates.

Once the glow of the nationalist sentiment wore away, people steadily withdrew from the public space. Public participation dropped drastically, fueled by cynicism at the government’s operations. The government has now come to be viewed as a distant ‘ruler’, and not as the people’s representative that exists to serve the people. The absence of the public from the political sphere has allowed the people in power to slack off and engage in actions that allow them to maximize monetary gain. Lack of public participation has severely disrupted the system of checks and balances that prevents people in government from misusing their power. Economic divides between the ‘elites’ and the ‘aam admi’ prevent the public from unifying as a single voice to check the rampant corruption in the political system.

However, it is not all bad news. The anti-corruption movement that began in 2011 again catapulted the people into the public sphere, bringing the idea of India back to the center stage. The ‘movement’ however, was too short lived to provoke major changes in the working of the government. This should not discourage the citizen as changes in public policy and the operations of the government can be effected only over long years of sustained public participation. Engaging in the working of local municipalities is a small step that every citizen can take in order to return power to the voice of the citizen.  

The changing nature of public participation in India was covered by Mr Mohandas Pai in the B.CLIP class. 

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