In a democracy, there should be no difference between citizens and activists because any active, alert or concerned citizen is automatically an activist. Indeed, each citizen must be aware of what is happening around him, what its impact is and what impact he can have in society.
Professor Jagdeep Chokkar, co-founder of the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), which focuses on electoral and political reforms, spoke on the topic “Civic Elections and Citizen Activism” on the occasion of the 8th anniversary of la RTI Katta (now online). He said political activity is an ongoing process, one of the goals of which is elections. Therefore, the role of citizens should be continued and should not be limited to voting. He called for participatory democracy.
However, Professor Chokkar said that most citizens lack “constitutional literacy” because they are “innocent or ignorant”. He also said that while most people will tell you that they are the ones who elect the government, it is relevant to really ask for the freedom to vote for the candidate they want.
Emphasizing that a candidate is whoever the political party has chosen, Professor Chokkar said: âWhen India became independent, a large number of political candidates ran as independents (36 won the elections of Lok Sabha in 1952) but the figure for the last election fell to a dismal four. So, do you contribute to a healthy democracy by electing a candidate because the choice of a voter is pre-constrained by the choices made by a given set of political parties? Thus, candidates backed by political parties have a better chance of winning elections over time. The political parties themselves have set this limit for the citizens. ”
Elaborating on the other role of elected officials, he wondered about what elected officials do after being elected when a bill is tabled.
“Are they not supposed to come back to people to inform them of the contents of the bill and to get comments?” However, the elect are powerless because they have no choice. Their respective political party gives them the whip, and they must respect it, otherwise they risk suspension. Our country is a dynamic democracy, but are the pillars of democracy democratic? No political party is democratic. Our democracy is hollow; it’s superficial.
Speaking about how municipal elections are essential, Prof Chokkar said that citizen accountability begins with municipal elections because civic body issues are very close to citizens. Whether it is roads, electricity, or law and order, it is directly connected to them and therefore they need to be aware of what is going on. He said they should ask themselves who they are voting for.
While ADR conducts electoral vigils for almost all state assemblies and parliamentary elections in collaboration with the National Election Watch (NEW), Professor Chokkar lamented: âUnfortunately, ADR is not able conduct electoral watch for municipal elections, such as general assembly and general elections as they are too widespread and we lack adequate funds and resources.
However, he suggested that there should also be city-level election watches so that information about each candidate is made public so that the individual citizen is better informed about who to vote for.
Professor Chokkar said: âNo one has the right to tell anyone to vote. The voter must not be ill-informed, ill-informed, ill-informed or partially informed. He should have enough information to allow him to make a choice.
He also mentioned that the powers conferred on local self-government would only materialize with the constitutional literacy of the citizens.
Professor Chokkar recalled that even before the seed of the Right to Information Act (RTI) was sown in this country, ADR had filed a lawsuit to increase transparency and accountability in the the country’s political and electoral system, in which “we had used the term right to information, 35 times.”
Lamenting that âwe are a nation of advisers, not actors,â he urged every activist to let go of his ego because everyone thinks he or she is only doing their best. He said an activist citizen should be a model citizen himself if people are to believe in his campaigns for the public good.
RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar launched âRTI Kattaâ online on January 5, 2021. RTI Katta’s goal is to empower people through discussions among themselves. It is an umbrella organization where participants gain insight into various issues.
âSeveral people respond to a person’s request, which results in a healthier and more relevant solution rather than an RTI expert providing the answer. In addition, it builds confidence in the RTI movement, which the government repeatedly scuttles through various circulars and amendments, ” Kumbhar said.