We can justly take pride in the fact that India has remained a democracy during all the sixty six years of her existence as an independent nation, Indira Gandhi's brief flirtation with authoritarianism during the Emergency notwithstanding. Not many of the new democracies in the world can boast of such a consistent track record. As for the countries in our immediate neighbourhood, the less said, the better.
However, it will have to be admitted that there have been, and continue to be, serious contestations in our polity with respect to the nature, conduct and meaning of democracy. Also, there are unmistakable signs of a deep-seated frustration among the populace, which feels disempowered and marginalised, even as the sovereignty of the people is acknowledged as the basic principle of our system of governance. Ironically, the indigenous institutions and structures of self governance, which were able to withstand the onslaught of a succession of foreign invaders and centuries of subjugation by a harsh colonial rule, are becoming increasingly irrelevant in our democratic set up.
The feeling of disempowerment and marginalisation of the people has to a large extent been engendered by the growing disconnect between them and their elected representatives who legislate and exercise executive power in their name. It is only when the elections are on the horizon that elected people's representatives, as well as those who aspire to replace them, seek to reconnect with the people, condescending to display a degree of sensitivity to their unmet expectations and aspirations. Sadly, the issue of including the hoi polloi in the process of decision-making and governance at the grassroots level does not figure on the political agenda even in such fraught times.