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With logjam in MCD, grassroots democracy in Capital turns dysfunctional

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By Sidharth Mishra

It’s been almost a year that the Municipal Corporation of Delhi’s elected wing has remained in suspended animation. The last elected house completed its term on March 31 last year but elections could not be held due to an amendment which was to be brought in the MCD Act.

Even after the passage of the Act, thereafter holding of the elections and declaration of the results, the elected wing is still to get functional in the absence of a Mayor. Competitive politics of a new genus has ensured that attempts to elect a Mayor has been thwarted repeatedly. Again an attempt is likely to be made on February 16 to elect Mayor with no guarantee that election process would get completed.

In the meanwhile, one wonders how many in the city have missed the elected members of the corporation. The hue and cry over fund deficits have died down, the Budget has been passed by the executive wing and nobody has actually complained. The maintenance of civic services too has remained at the same levels, if not better, as under the elected wing.

The question may arise, if the corporation for all these months could function without the elected the representatives, where is the need to have them. Elected representatives come at a huge cost, which in their absence could be used in providing greater civic services.

However, in a democracy this is not desirable. Besides the traditional core functions of municipalities, today municipal governance also includes development functions like planning for economic development and social justice, urban poverty alleviation programs, and promotion of cultural, educational, and aesthetic aspects.

In addition to the legally assigned functions, the sectoral departments of the state government often assign unilaterally, and on an agency basis, various functions such as family planning, nutrition and slum improvement, disease and Epidemic control among others. These functions are best discharged with people’s participation thus the concept of democracy at grass roots.

The dictionary meaning of grassroots democracy is a tendency towards designing political processes that shift as much decision-making authority as practical to the organization's lowest geographic or social level of organization. In the case of the national Capital, the municipal bodies are the cutting edge of administration.

But what happens if grassroots democracy becomes dysfunctional. Shawn Rosenberg is a Canadian author, academic and a researcher and Professor of Political Science & Psychological Science at University of California, Irvine, at conference in Lisbon in 2019 said, “Human brains are not built for self-rule…democracy is devouring itself.” While his reference was to certain events in other parts of the world, are we witnessing a similar situation here in the national Capital?

Prof Rosenberg argues, citizens have to participate actively and meaningfully for self-governance. Democracy entails listening to and respecting different points-of-views, and finding peaceful, dialogical means for negotiated agreements. Mutual respect and trust amongst citizens—social capital—is critical for such a meaningful and thoughtful participation, says Rosenberg.

Mutual participation and the desire to work putting heads together is something which has been missing in the governance of the national Capital for almost a decade now. Confrontation between the head of administration, that is the Lieutenant Governor and the head of government, which is the Chief Minister which has had very damaging repercussions on the functioning of Delhi as an administrative unit.

The complete focus having shifted to political one-upmanship, governance through the models of citizen participation has not just taken a backseat but suspended in many an instances. There are several indicators to that, one being that after decades, Delhi Transport Corporation’s buses have once again become part of a killer fleet. One hopes that on February 16, the desire for meaningful participation in grassroots democracy pervades the environment.  

(First Published in The Morning Standard)  


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