Prize Winning Speech Delivered at Debate Competition in Maharaja Agrasen College (2)

The topic for today’s debate is that, “More political power to the civil society is not a threat to democracy” and I, Saif Ahmad Khan, will speak for the motion. The terms democracy, civil society and threat can have umpteen interpretations but for argument’s sake I’ll keep the scope of these terms restricted and India centric. Democracy is a system of government where people elect officials via elections. The entire system rests on three planks: legislature, executive and judiciary. Civil Society is a term which is a bit ambiguous in nature but it can be easily construed as nothing but the citizens of a country. Threat, in the context of this debate would mean subversion of democracy.

The first argument which is put forth to stop the civil society from being granted more political power is that it would lead to multiple power centres which will facilitate anarchy. The response to this argument is enshrined in the Directive Principles of State Policy jotted down in the Indian Constitution. The Directives instruct the State to decentralize power by creating more institutions which function in consonance with another and transfer more and more decision making power to the people.

India is a representative democracy and not a direct democracy like Switzerland where people decide on all legislative and executive decisions on their own through referendums. Why can’t India have a similar system? It can be done by means of a constitutional amendment by the Union Parliament under Article 368.  Is it violative of the basic structure of the Constitution? Certainly not! The basic structure of the Indian Constitution suggests that India should be a democracy, not necessarily a representative parliamentary democracy. So there is ample scope of India moving from a representative democracy where we authorize a few bunch of people to act on our behalf to a direct democracy where we act on our own. This is strengthening and enhancement of Indian democracy and not its subversion.

I do agree that the present system provides citizens with many powers.  These include the power to elect. Certain civil society institutions like the NAC have also been institutionalized as extra-constitutional bodies. We have trade unions, NGO’s, human rights and environmental groups to lobby and press for civil rights. We have to our disposal judicious solutions but one thing is for sure that no set of rules and regulations are enough because the world is ever changing and human wants never ending. When NGO’s came, people said they would replace the Government. It didn’t happen. When RTI came, people said it would make government functioning impossible. It didn’t happen. When PIL’s came people said Judiciary would become most powerful? It didn’t happen. And most importantly when the British were asked to leave, they said, if we ever leave India, it would become a land of snake charmers. Instead of that we became the second fastest growing economy in the world. 

Yes, there is some scope for mis-utilization but that cannot be the premise to dump an idea whose time has come. We need to bring reforms and we need to make the entire system more accountable but for that we also need to become more powerful politically. 

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