State and its subjects
May 8, 2021
Right until 1991 India was a majorly state-controlled nation with the governments wielding strong influence on our lifestyles. From scooters, icecream, watches, tractors and even entertainment(golden days of Doordarshan!) all was under strict control of the state. A major change in government’s role came in with the economy opening up post-LPG reforms of 1991 wherein a strategic shift started happening from a controller to that of a facilitator and an enabler. This change slowly pervaded all our spheres of life and with the advent of communication revolution, rise in per capita income and slow waning away of an imperialistic mindset, Indians became more vocal and assertive of their freedom and rights.This facilitating role of the governments was accepted by all and the past 25 years have strengthened this new reality. Still, for the past few years the there has been a steady increase in the cacophony of voices opposing the centralist ideology. Whether such voices have been raised on merit or sponsored by vested interests is a debate for yet another day. What we need to focus is that with the rotation of Article 370, the introduction of Citizenship Amendment Act and certain pro-government decisions by the Supreme Court ensured that a large citizenry of India accepted a greater role of the state in their personal matters.This role of the state has suddenly been magnified by the advent of coronavirus in India. With the imposition of lockdowns and its strict enforcement by the administration, the authority of state mechanisms has been strengthened. People on their part have also accepted this increased intervention for drastic matters require drastic solutions. This is indeed a clear example of state-citizen contract wherein a citizen gives up certain rights to avail security from the state apparatus. But right now we stand at an inflexion point and therefore we need to be very careful indeed.This increased caution comes in from the proven fact that power once gained becomes very hard to give up. We have seen the police wield the ‘danda’ and the district authorities imposing harshest of measures over the citizens. This has been cheered up by the majority of people and has boosted the confidence of the enforcing authorities. When this aura of supremacy enters into the heads of those whom we have handed our power buttons, whether elected or selected, it is difficult to maintain a power balance in the state-citizen relationship. If left unchecked, the citizen is sure to become a subject of the state.To prevent such a catastrophe, it is good to look back at history and learn our lessons. When Britishers entered India they slowly gained acceptability and then grabbed power, ending up with ruling us for almost 200 years. What helped us gain back our freedom was an open expression of our rights in clear ways. Once we voiced our opinions it became increasingly hard for the Britishers to rule with impunity. Surely, Mahatma Gandhi taught us that there is great power in thought conveyed effectively to the masses.Today, we are certainly not in a situation as it existed pre-independence but with the advent of coronavirus certain imperialistic tendencies of the state may be aroused. Therefore, as citizens of this great nation, it is our role to hold the governments accountable for their actions. The government on its part should also promote dialogue and ensure a participatory democracy wherein transparency, accountability and wellbeing of the citizens should be its highest priority. It is heartening to see that majority of people in powerful positions are well aware and pro-citizen measures are high on agenda even amidst the challenging war-like situation due to coronavirus.Digital means such as social media, open public platforms are our greatest tools to reach out and voice our opinions to the government. We all should use it effectively wherein it must be ensured to offer constructive criticism rather than useless hate-mongering or blind-following of public figures. India is fighting a war and this requires us all to be more rational and live up to the ideals enshrined in our Constitution. It means that we condemn the atrocities of the state and at the same time appreciate the great role being played by the authorities in this war against coronavirus. If we win this war and emerge out of it with a humbler, yet effective, state authorities it will surely be a great testament to our constitutional values and further strengthen the roots of the largest democracy in the world. Let us all be citizens of this great nation, not its subjects.