ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Election Campaigns and the Public as Spectators

The prevalent public discourse around elections seeks to curtail the active agency of the masses.

 

With the announcement of the schedule for general elections, campaigning by the ruling alliance as well as the opposition parties has begun to gather steam. The nature and content of these campaigns, however, will determine which questions will occupy the centre stage from the point of view of the general electorate and whether these elections will prove to be a platform for expressing the genuine concerns of the masses. In a representative democracy, elections are an occasion for collective deliberation over the questions that have a bearing on reorienting society along democratic lines and the government’s responsiveness to such questions. However, the election campaigns in recent times have fallen short of being vehicles for such a deliberation as they have been conducted and projected as if they were a spectacle or spectator sport. This deviation from the deliberative thrust in the exercise of elections has lent its support to two tendencies, namely, presidentialisation and municipalisation, that necessarily seek to undermine the substance of democracy. 

Presidentialisation entails a singular focus on the prime ministerial candidate or the “face’’ of the party or coalition, which reduces the electoral debate and competition to a personality contest. Municipalisation entails a narrow focus on the performance or attributes of the candidates at the constituency level. One may argue that the latter is consistent with the principles of representative democracy and its origins are to be traced in the discourse of decentralisation, unlike the earlier one which has obvious centralising-authoritarian pulls. However, both these trends contribute in different ways to the enfeeblement of masses by curtailing their democratic agency. In the case of presidentialisation, people are expected to vest their authority in a strong central leader and the parameters of choice are the skills, competence, and limitations of the individual leader. We have seen the public discussion revolving around the decisiveness or oratorship of a leader and lack of it in the other, or the civility or intellect of a leader and their absence in the other. At the immediate level, this means that there is no space for voters to question or counter the policies or the programmatic vision of the ruling party, or interrogate the alternative proposed by the opposition. At a larger level, turning elections into a personality contest would ensure a policy continuum favourable to the hegemonic forces in society and economy, and thereby the capacity of the voters to alter power relations is negated for all practical purposes. What is the meaning of a democracy without this capacity?

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Updated On : 26th Mar, 2019

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