January 23, 2021
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'Contempt Of Representative Democracy'

'Contempt Of Representative Democracy'

Pratap Bhanu Mehta in the Indian Express:

Most of us are as aghast as any of the agitators about the evasions of government. But it does not follow that creating a draconian new institution that diminishes everything from the Prime Minister’s Office to the Supreme Court is a solution. The net result of a “Lokpal” will be to weaken the authority of even other well-functioning institutions. No agitation focuses on sensible, manageable reform of representative institutions; all agitative energies are premised on bypassing them. Perhaps some version of a Lokpal is desirable. But reasonable people can disagree over this matter. To many of us, this proposal seems like the way we approached educational reform: if BA is not good quality, introduce MA; since MA does not work, have MPhil; since we can’t trust our PhDs, have a further NET exam, endlessly deferring to new institutions at the top of the food chain without attending to basics. We should, as citizens, not be subject to the moral coercion of a fast-unto-death on this issue.

But the claim that the “people” are not represented by elected representatives, but are represented by their self-appointed guardians is disturbing. In a democracy, one ought to freely express views. But anyone who claims to be the “authentic” voice of the people is treading on very thin ice indeed. It is a form of Jacobinism that is intoxicated with its own certainties about the people. It is not willing to subject itself to an accountability, least of all to the only mechanism we know of designating representatives: elections. The demand that a Jan Lokpal Bill be drafted jointly by the government and a self-appointed committee of public virtue is absurd. Most of us sharply disagree with elected government on matters even more important than corruption. But no matter how cogent our arguments, it does not give us the right to say that our virtue entitles us to dictate policy to a representative process.

Read the full piece at the Indian Express

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