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Undemocratic Initiatives

One of the most vital attributes of democracy is the consent of the majority to permit an elected government to function with abiding respect for the people’s choices and preferences. Elections constitute but one facet of the means to determine the will of the majority. A truly democratic administration has to constantly bear in mind the need to evince respect for the will of the people in all its actions and at all times. India is not the only democracy in the world where rulers often tend to forget that the democratic process does not conclude with the counting of votes after an election to determine which political party has secured the mandate of the majority. The principle must be kept in mind at all times, and the respect for the majority will must be a permanent reckoning in the thinking and actions of the rulers. True, there are many so-called democracies in Africa that worry about majority opinion only at the time of elections. Thereafter, the system swiftly gets metamorphosed to some form of oligarchy or dictatorship. Things are definitely somewhat better in India, but the signs of a sinister move towards dictatorial or at least non-democratic modalities of governance are beginning to rear their ugly heads.
One such undemocratic move was the very recent decision of the Union government to hand over the Kaziranga Game Sanctuary, the Rang Ghar and the Shiva Doul of Shivasagar to the private sector for management. The people of Assam received this as an announcement made over television by the Union government. It was as though the Centre was just casually telling the people of Assam what it intended to do with certain historical and archaeological monuments of the State as well as its largest game sanctuary. In a democracy, it is not enough to just tell the people what the government was about to do with some of the most cherished treasures of the State. In a democracy, it is essential to seek the consent of the people about such important decisions relating to the State’s property. The announcement about the decision to hand over these properties of the State was made in a manner to suggest that the game sanctuary, the Rang Ghar and the temple were the personal properties of someone in the corridors of power to be disposed of according to his wishes, and that the people of Assam could have no say in the matter. Someone must have realized the mistake soon enough, since there was remarkable urgency to claim that the Kaziranga Game Sanctuary was not included in the list of items to be made over to the private sector (for proper maintenance). In any case, if these properties of the State had suffered due to inefficient management by government officers in charge of them, the officers concerned should have been pulled up and disciplined and even dismissed if necessary. They could have been replaced by others along with the warning that they too would be dismissed in the same way if their performance was not up to the mark. And the proper course of action for a democratic government on such a vital issue would have been to let the public know what the administration had in mind and to seek public opinion on the government’s intentions. It was not for the government to commit a fait accompli in respect of vital public property and merely inform the people of Assam that some important public properties were being handed over to the private sector for maintenance. The beneficiary in this case—Jungle Travels India—has even gone to the extent of pretending that Assam did not exist in the map of India or the awareness of the people elsewhere until the Jungle Travels came along in 1989. This is a piece of fiction that has to be firmly and swiftly repudiated by the people. People elsewhere must be reminded in clear terms that Assam has been in existence in maps and atlases for a few centuries longer than Jungle Travels, which is only 29 years old.

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Ankur Kalita