By Nikita Bishnoi:
We still live in a world of rulers and subjects. Whether this an evolutionary trait or a matter of social order as some political philosophers may theorise is still a matter of research. Before democracy came, freebies formed an integral part of day to day public interaction of the ruler. These freebies were given as a gift, not demanding favours in return since the dynastic ruler was wealthy and powerful.
In today’s context, freebies still form an integral part of the public interaction only that the interaction is more prevalent before ‘elections’. We still seem to regard our leaders as rulers. We still regard the people who represent us as all-powerful generous dukes! This decreases their accountability towards the people of India. ‘Candies’ in the form of freebies prove to be a vote charmer.
In recent elections that took place in several states, anything from a mixer grinder to gold and television sets proved to be a candy for the people who want a king, not a leader or representative. Be it J. Jayalalithaa or M. Karunanidhi, for example, both boasted proudly of their generosity towards poverty-stricken subjects of their ‘rule’. Why should we blame only these two when the news of seized cash and freebies comes from everywhere in the country during elections. Be it Bihar, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh or any other part of the country, votes in return for money has become a common phenomenon. Only that sometimes cash or freebies of any form is caught by the police and sometimes it is not. Moreover, there are very less or no accounts of gift candies given to the people by the ‘elected party’ after the elections.
Are we people holding bowls in our palms for the all-powerful ‘rulers’ to pour in some sparkling candy to charm us? Have we become so ignorant enough to realise that the power to rule has been switched from the king to the voter with the advent of democracy in India?
Who Is At Fault?
In a democracy, a government is shaped by the people. A leader in power can be done away with in the next election. If none of the options suit the voter, the power to vote ‘NOTA’ or ‘none of the above’ lies in the hands of the voter. It would not be wrong to say that the people rule in the world’s largest democracy. But by accepting freebies, are we not proving ourselves to be corrupt? By making the favour of voting for money and gifts, are we not responsible for degrading the system of governance? The truth is, we are at fault for the decline of our system. Therefore, people should be held accountable for the cycle of bad governance.
Are We Guilty?
Distributing money for votes is a punishable, corrupt practice and so is accepting money. Acceptance of money to vote for a candidate is a corrupt practice of bribery under Section 123 (1) of The Representation of the People Act, 1951. It is also an offence under Section 171-B of the Indian Penal Code and is punishable with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year or with fine or both.
Unfortunately, very little is done to punish the people who “accept” this form of bribe to cast their vote. If candidates fighting elections are criticised for illegitimate ways to win elections, why not people who play their role in this corrupt practice by accepting freebies and money?
Can A Poor Or Middle-Class Candidate Win Elections?
If the support of the majority can be ‘earned’ by spending money, the victory has nothing to do with party manifestoes, agendas or ideologies. Social work and public service, then, do not seem to be the rational logic for public support. In such a case a poor or middle-class candidate who cannot shower money has almost no chances of winning an election. Moreover, we might be losing an able leader at the hands of our own system! This not only ceases the chances of the ‘not so privileged individuals’ becoming the leaders of tomorrow but also degrades the value of ‘social work’ and ‘public service’.
When the elected ones know that it is freebies and not governance that made them victorious, they will make little efforts to improve the administration. With this, more and more candidates are motivated not to break this vicious cycle of spending money before elections, corruption during governance and then spending money again during the next elections.
On A Final Note…
In a democracy, rights and duties cannot be separated. One can’t just enjoy a good governing system without shaping it. The problem is, we do not realise that we are not the victims but the culprits of the bad system that we complain and boast so much about! The choice is with us, whether to long for the candies of ‘freebies and illegitimate money’ or to long for candies of ‘good governance and accountability’.