Matters have been compounded for the civil society activists by the fact that their panel for the deliberations with the government on the draft of the Lokpal Bill had the father son duo of Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan, no representative from the Dalits and Adivasis and no woman. It was an arbitrarily constituted panel. Given that there are a number of deficiencies in the Jan Lokpal Bill draft that these people prepared there was criticism that others should have been included. Furthermore, there was a campaign to discredit the Bhushans with allegations surfacing that they were involved in bribing judges and in shady land deals. Even though the allegations regarding the integrity of the Bhushans have subsequently turned out to be false the debate regarding what is democracy still continues to rage.
There is no doubt that electoral democracy is robust in this country and the people participate in it with the belief that it provides a legitimate medium for addressing their life goals. Nevertheless there is also an underlying current of dissatisfaction with the way things are going and especially with the way the government and its agencies operate. Corruption is endemic and at almost every step the common people have to pay bribes. This is basically because the elected representatives have to spend huge sums of money to get elected and then they recover this money and earn a profit through corruption. That is why there is a reluctance on the part of the government to bring in a strong Lokpal Act and also to implement the many other good legislations that are there in the law books.
The problem basically is with the majoritarian system of first past the post elections that is currently in place in this country. Any civil society movement for an end to corruption always faces tremendous opposition from the vested interests. That is why it is difficult for such a movement to gain a large enough mass base to be able to win elections. This is the case in all countries following the first past the post system like the UK and the USA. Under the circumstances it is quite natural that people aggrieved by corruption or by development policies that affect their livelihoods should resort to extra parliamentary modes of political expression and take to the streets. Not only in India but in the USA and the UK also such mass movements are going on all the time. After all this is an integral part of the democratic process and is guaranteed through the right to the freedom of expression and the right to form associations. Eventually movements like these, including the one led by Anna Hazare try to influence the legislators and the government to govern justly. Thus, there may be criticism of the Jan Lokpal Bill movement for its strategies but it cannot be labeled as being undemocratic. In fact by mobilising the middle class to come onto the streets in such large numbers it has done a great service to making democracy more robust in this country.
Things might improve considerably if the system of proportional representation is adopted. Then it will become possible for smaller political associations to garner enough votes from many different small mass bases to make it to the law making bodies. This is so in Germany where the Green Party has made considerable inroads into the legislatures on the strength of a higher vote share. In fact for the first time a Green Party leader has become the Minister President of the German State of Baden Wurttemburg after the party emerged as the senior partner in the March 2011 elections in coalition with the Social Democratic Party. Not that the influence of money power in elections is completely wiped out, but at least this gives the marginal political actors a better chance of making it to the legislatures.
The other solution obviously is to take advantage of the institutions of local governance. Over the past two decades or so since the passage of the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution in 1993 establishing the third tier of governance the political participation of the citizens has increased considerably. Especially so in rural area where the constituencies are very small. Even though money power plays a role here also it is possible for small mass organisations to impose the will of the people on the government. In Tribal areas where special provisions have been made to empower the village general body or Gram Sabha it is even possible to defy the state and central governments as has recently been proved by the rejection of the proposal to establish a wildlife sanctuary in the Katthivada forests in Alirajpur.
Ultimately democracy will be strengthened to the extent that the impunity of the state functionaries is curtailed. Also the development path that is to be taken by the country and globally too has to be decided in a more participatory manner than is being done at present. The financial-industrial-military complex holds sway globally and there is little that common people can do to break this stranglehold. Legislatures are not going to follow more sustainable modes of development on their own without substantial people's pressure. Thus, there is need for more such civil society movements to add a few more shades of colour to the practice of democracy in this country and worldwide.