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

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Initiatives and Referendums

The Next Step in Indian Democracy

In India's representative democracy, people select their representatives once in fi ve years to make laws and policies on their behalf. Limiting the participation of people to voting once in fi ve years makes the elected representatives unresponsive to the people who have elected them. Initiatives and referendums provide a political mechanism to ensure that citizens' voices can provide a counterbalance to a legislature unresponsive to peoples' interests. They are instruments of direct democracy in which people vote directly on issues of policy and lawmaking. These instruments, however, are not meant to replace representative democracy, but to complement it and to help maintain its responsiveness to the people.

The history of independent India is the chronicle of an experiment, the test of democracy. While many other nations that gained independence from colonial rule around the same time descended into dictatorships and military rule, India, despite its size and diversity, has remained a d­emocracy. And while we rightfully pride ourselves on this democratic achievement, this should not make us overlook that much remains amiss with Indian democracy. So let us use the o­ccasion of the celebration of 60 years of Parliament to reflect more deeply on the problems and challenges that face Indian democracy, and try to evolve what could be “next steps” for a deeper and more engaged democracy.

Today, the political class faces a crisis of legitimacy with more and more scams crawling out of the woodwork, with Parliament becoming the site of disorder and chaos, with frequent disruptions, and newspaper headlines telling us that each disrupted day of Parliament costs the exchequer Rs 2 crore. While many of these concerns have been aired by the media and by parliamentarians themselves on the 60th anniversary of Parliament, a deeper question needs to be asked: how democratic, actually, is Indian democracy?

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