ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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In Search of a Morally Sensitive Democracy


Among the students of democracy, there is a dominant trend that seeks to focus on an assessment, particularly of liberal democracy, keeping in view two main aspects: the substantive and the procedural. The procedural aspect involves constitutional guarantees, which in turn offer every citizen an equal right to participate in the political spaces that are formally open to the former without distinction. The core concern of procedural democracy is that a right-bearing citizen by virtue of their right to participate in such spaces enjoys equal worth, particularly in the electoral arena. To put simply, the right to vote carries equal value inasmuch as it has the power to decide the electoral fate of the candidate. Citizens enjoy these rights not because they belong to a particular region or religion, or speak a particular language, but because they have been bestowed with this opportunity by the Constitution. Several constitutional provisions enable a citizen not only to vote, but also to express their authentic voice in the formulation of public policies that have bearing not just on their particular interest as individuals, but on the general welfare of the public.

Democracy as an open space, thus, in constitutional terms, enables an individual citizen to exist in the country without anyone’s permission, patronage, or sympathy. Citizens, in an ideal situation, thus, do not have any need to exist in the country with anyone’s courtesy or favour. Put differently, citizenship is not based on any kind of structural hierarchy.

However, the democratic practice in the Indian context evolved into something that has been exactly opposite to the spirit of liberal democracy. The focus of political and electoral mobilisation, particularly by some political parties, has shifted from the need to promote an enlightened individual citizen to sliding down to group mobilisation based on caste and religious community. Such parties with a communal, sectarian orientation have sought to dissolve individual citizens into the “constraining” logic of specific communities. This has been done with one single purpose, that of creating a political majority based on religion. Put differently, the particularisation of voters is a logically necessary condition to create and consolidate a party’s political identity as the party of the majority community; majority that is ethnic rather than democratic.

The political project that involves the dissolution of individual or individuated citizens into the specific framework of either caste or religion, is carried out less with passive indifference and more with intense feelings of hatred for a person who belongs to minority. Such reduction of a person to minoritisation is morally coercive. It is offensive to the extent that it denies members from the community an opportunity for self-realisation as enlightened citizens.

Democracy as an open political space, therefore, is only the necessary or initial condition inasmuch as it allows a person to exercise their right to participate in such spaces. But the constitutional provision for open spaces, though necessary, is not enough for the self-realisation of a person enjoying equal worth and civic attention. It does not guarantee a citizen equal worth and equal civic attention. Every citizen who is a constitutive part of the open space called democracy has to be embedded with ethical readiness to acknowledge the other’s moral need of equal worth.

Ethical readiness to share the value space is fundamentally necessary for a sensitive democracy. Democratic space has to be hospitable rather than hostile. In such a democracy, a particular member does not face their reduction to an object of hatred or repulsion or contempt. While it is true that members of these communities have been exercising their right to vote, one cannot say with a fair degree of confidence that the members belonging to these social groups have been able to express their voice, which is necessary to mark their vibrant presence both in the institutional as well as public spaces. However, it would not be an exaggeration to make an observation that they seem to have gone under the “siege.”

The democratic practice of the last two decades makes an Indian quite sceptical about its capacity to become morally sensitive to the ethical need of a citizen to be an equally worthy being. Hence, one needs to reaffirm the following point: What is important for democracy and its members is not just the politically open space, but the common space that has to be shared by its constitutive members with equal dignity and respect. Sharing universal values of dignity and mutual respect are necessary democratic aspiration and assertion for every member of the political community. The emergence and consolidation of political community needs to be premised over the creation of ethical community. This can happen through sharing the basic framework of moral values, such as dignity and mutual respect. Such values are best protected by creating a moral solidarity rather than a dominant desire to create political majority based on ethnicity.

Updated On : 31st Oct, 2019


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