Compulsory voting – an analysis

November 21, 2012

With great power comes great responsibility – Uncle Ben, Spiderman

This is one of my favourite quotes and I think it applies here. The gift of the Greeks, Democracy, is very old and highly experimented concept. The fact that almost all Democracies vary in their implementation is a testimony to this. But the core values of a Democracy remain the same everywhere. In the Athenian Democracy (One of the first and most well documented Democracy) it was held that every citizen has a duty to participate in decision-making. The key word here is “duty” and not “a right”. This core value has is the basis on which Democracy as a concept grew. This value is central to the success of any form of Democracy else the “people’s power” will never be expressed. Without the participation of the people there can be no legitimacy to the power conferred upon a representative.

The average voter turnout in India is around 55% and it was 58% in the 2008 General Elections. Before analysing this lets talk about the significance of voter turnout. There has been a lot of debate about the meaning of higher or lower voter turnout. High voter turnout is often considered to be desirable, but many argue that it might be coerced, fabricated or due to threat of violence like in 2005 Iraq elections or the 2002 Saddam Hussein’s referendum claiming 100% participation. On the other hand, low turnout is a reflection of indifference by the public and may not accurately reflect the “will of the people”. However, it has been argued low turnout reflects the contentment of the public about the likely winners, so as long as there is Right to vote a low turnout is still legitimate. These arguments made by experts are in effort to generalise things across all cultures. But, there is always local factors which will decide the optimum turnout required to get a legitimate government. I am no expert but I think 55% is hardly that number. Another concern is the socio-economic status of the voters, i.e., their income and their literacy. Some statistics might help us in further discussion

In 1988 the voter turnout was 62% but the breakup of the population was as follows. Non-literate voter turnout was 57%, Up to middle school voters turnout was 83%, College educated voters turnout was 57% and Post-graduate voters turnout was 41%. This has not changed even today for example, in the National Election Study findings as reported in Alam (2004), the average turnout amongst the college educated in the 1971 elections was 61% This was 6% above the national average turnout of 55%. For the same elections, the average turnout reported for the non-literate was 51.5%, 3.5% below the national average turnout of 55%. This had changed in the 1996 elections with the college educated voters reporting a turnout of 55% (2% less than 1988 election as mentioned above). This was 5% below the national average turnout of 60%, where as for the same elections the turnout reported by the non-literate respondents was 60.5%, 0.5% above the national average turnout of 55%.

This trend is suggesting that as literacy is increasing the voter turnout is decreasing. Turning to the debate about the voter turnout, here in India there is no dictator like coercion or threat of violence. The cases of poll booth capture and rowdy elements forcing people to vote for them are region specific and very few to become a major factor. The other argument was that people are content with the likely winners so they wont vote. The public opinion about politics and politicians leads us to believe in the contrary. I would deny even this argument and conclude that people do not vote because of indifference and disenchantment. There is no real motivation in the public to vote.

One more statistic to consider here is that in any given State there are on average 3 parties at least contesting elections. In some States like Manipur, Goa, Himachal Pradesh there are mainly two political parties. Where as Andhra Pradesh as 6 parties, Tamil Nadu, Assam Bihar have 4 parties and Maharashtra has 6 parties. So a national average of 3 candidates per constituency can be safely made. So, to win an election that candidate has to get 1/3rd plus one vote of the 55% of the voters who have turned up to vote, which is about 18.5% of the total electorate. Even if only two candidates are contesting you will need only 28% of the total electorate to win. Clearly this will not reflect the majority in any way. Besides, it is easy to coerce such a small percentage of people by various means (money, caste, religion, language, force, etc). Hence my argument, low voter turnout in India is a sign of bad Democratic practices.

Once we have established that voter turnout is important, we can now proceed to the central argument of this article, Compulsory Voting. A word of caution though. The reasons behind low voter turnout are very complex and will take many pages to discuss. I will discuss the compulsory voting not as the solution but rather give the positives and negatives. I will try to shed light on the complex problems while I discuss this main issue.

Compulsory voting is not a new Idea. There are many countries that have enforced it. They are Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Luxembourg, Nauru, Peru, Singapore and Uruguay. Schaffhausen, a canton (like a State) in Switzerland has also enforced compulsory voting. Lets see what are the arguments for this system

  • There is a high level of legitimacy to the elected candidate. He does not under-represent any section of the society because almost everyone has voted and different sections (economic and social) of people give power to this representative which would mean that he would not be biased towards one particular group, say his caste or religion.
  • It can be argued that due to compulsory voting the influence of external factors such as weather, transport, restrictive employers in villages, etc will be minimised. Countries with compulsory voting generally hold elections on a Saturday or Sunday. Postal and pre-poll voting is provided to people who cannot vote on polling day, and mobile voting booths may also be taken to old age homes and hospitals to cater for immobilized citizens. Belgian voters can vote in an embassy if they are abroad or can empower another voter to cast the vote in their name; the voter must give a “permission to vote” and carry a copy of the eID card and their own on the actual elections.
  • If voters do not want to support any given choice, they may cast blank votes or, if provided, choose “None of the Above” option. This ensures there is no possibility that the person has been intimidated or prevented from voting should they wish to. The Election Commission of India told the Supreme Court in 2009 that it wishes to add such an option but the government is generally opposed to this. The “Right to Reject”, though looks logical, has practical problems. There are many variations and in one if the none of the above is 50% of the total voter turnout then the elections must be held again. But given the mentality of Indians and their attitude towards politics they might purposefully vote None of the above because they were forced to vote in the first place. Careful debate is necessary in this case. This article gives a lot to think about.
  • Compulsory voting may encourage voters to research the candidates’ political positions more thoroughly. We have become so lazy and detached from politics that we don’t even know who are contesting from our constituencies. Hence, if voting is compulsory at least an effort will be made to know about the candidates and many people will engage is discussions about the merits of each candidate. Since they are voting anyway, they will at least try to vote for the better person
  • A result of this setup is that it is therefore more difficult for extremist or special interest groups to vote themselves into power or to influence mainstream candidates. The logic here is that since everyone will vote, you cannot win an election based on just one group of people. Hence, your election propaganda will have to include a broad base. Hence you will be unable to play divide and rule card as easily as you used to. This will lead to greater integration of the population because that will be in the interest of the politician. This might also reduce the role of money in elections.
  • The increased participation in voting will in some way motivate many to engage in other political activities and take interest in the National matters and not just be a mute spectator. It acts like civil education and political stimulation, which creates a better informed population.

Coming to the arguments against the system,

  • Voting, it is argued, is more of a right than a duty. It is argued that compulsory voting may infringe on other rights of the citizens such as religious rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses allow them to practice their religion. In their religion they are not to involve in politics and forcing them to vote would be equivalent to taking away their rights. However, an exception can always be made in such cases while forming the law. Or they can always use blank vote to escape from such a predicament.
  • Most US legal scholars argue that right to speech and expression also inherently includes the right to not speak and subsequently the right to NOT vote. However, in the Indian constitution every fundamental right is accompanied by reasonable restrictions on these rights. Meaning that under certain “reasonable” conditions one must give up their fundamental right to the “greater good”. Same concept can be applied to this argument too.
  • Donkey votes. As mentioned above, people may vote at random simply to fulfill legal requirements either because they have no interest or they do not have any preference. Donkey votes may account for 1-2 % of the votes in this system, which may affect the electoral process. Similarly, citizens may vote with a complete absence of knowledge of any of the candidates or deliberately skew their ballot to slow the polling process or disrupt the election.
  • Principled non-voters. A group of people who see the government as “gang of thieves writ large” (Murray Rothbard) will not vote on principle.
  • In general, this system is seen by many as a coercion and hence against the democratic principles. Former Australian opposition leader, Mark Latham, urged Australians to hand in blank votes for the 2010 election. He stated the government should not force citizens to vote or threaten them with a fine.

After seeing the various arguments we will quickly go over the checks on the people who will not vote. We can look at the various countries who follow the system. Belgian voters who repeatedly fail to vote in elections may be subject to disenfranchisement, meaning that they will lose the right to vote. Singapore voters who fail to vote in a general election or presidential election will be subjected to disenfranchisement until a valid reason is given or a fine is paid.Goods and services provided by public offices may be denied to those failing to vote in Peru and Greece. In Brazil, a person who fails to vote in an election is are barred from obtaining a passport until after they have voted in the two most recent elections. This method might be particularly effective given that Brazil too is a developing nation. If a Bolivian voter fails to participate in an election, the person may be denied withdrawal of the salary from the bank for three months. Other countries impose a nominal fine for non-voters. This method of penalties does give support to the argument that this system is coercive. But this must be seen as a positive motivator and there should be the option to register a blank vote which will make sure you are not coerced into choosing a candidate whom you don’t approve of.

Also, there can be legitimate reasons to not being able to vote. In Australia and Brazil, providing a legitimate reason for not voting (such as being sick or outside the country) is accepted. In Argentina, those who were ill on voting day are excused by requesting a doctor to prove their condition; those over 500 km (310 mi) away from their voting place are also excused by asking for a certificate at a police station near where they are. Such measures will save people who have genuine reasons. Thus the laws must be carefully drafted taking into the account every possible scenario. We can use the experience of the countries who have implemented this system and implement it with context sensitivity.

In conclusion I say this – This is not the best system to counter the problem of voters’ motivational issues. But this has produced good results in terms of voter turnout which averages about 90% in the countries with compulsory voting. Taking the immediate need to reform the attitudes of citizens towards politics and the above mentioned benefits like increased involvement of public in politics and minimization of role of money and vote bank politics, this system can help us. This will also sort out other related problems like names missing from electoral rolls, logistical factors that prevent people from voting, etc. As an experiment this can be introduced in the Local Government elections like Village Panchayat and Municipal Corporation elections. This would act as a testing ground and will also improve our responses to the general and state level elections.


Democracy and India

July 4, 2012

In 326 BC Alexander the Great invaded India but he had to abandon his campaign in between on account of his soldiers demands to return back to their homes. Many have written about his conquests but one we are interested in written by Arrian called “Anabasis of Alexander”. Here, in this treatise he talks about India as Alexander and his troops saw it. In a particular account he talks about how the troops met “free and independent” Indians during their conquest. One example is that of “Nysa” which, according to him, is a city at the border of modern Afghanistan and Pakistan. This city was ruled by a president named Aculphis and a council of 300 and not by a monarch. Nysa was supposed to be an Oligarchy and a single city state. Apart from this, he talks about the Malli or Malhi clan of the modern Multan and Punjab area and calls it Mallian republic comprising of multitude of cities. There is also the mention of Sabarcae or Sambastai which is said to be consisting of 60,000 foot soldiers and 500 Chariots and was estimated to be even larger than the Greek Polis. This was corroborated by historians like Rufus and Siculus. So, the conclusion I wish to draw from these facts is that at least in the North-Western part of  India, Republicanism and Democracy was the norm. But, if we move two decades ahead we will then meet Megasthenes who served as Greek Ambassador to the court of Chandragupta Maurya. He travelled all the way to Patna and from his accounts it becomes clear that the entire northern part of India had republics.

Let me take a small break here and clarify two things here. In today’s world, Democracy means a government that is chosen by the people of that land. Republic, again in today’s sense, is representative democracy with an elected head of state like President who serves only for a limited term unlike that of UK where the head of the state is a Monarch. Republics may not be truly democratic and they sometimes can be oligarchic. The philosophy of republicanism it self is long and often confusing and hence we will use only the reduced modern meaning of it.

The use of Greek accounts is necessary because the Origin of Democracy is often credited to them. So, accounts from their historians show that the idea was not necessarily spread to the far east but had been developed on their own in India. Anyway, now we turn to our own sources, the Indian sources. Three important sources are quoted in this context, Panini’s work of Sanskrit Grammar Ashtadhyai, Kautilya’s Arthasastra and the Pali Canon. These describe ganas and sanghas that were either single cities or ones with larger expanse, even bigger than the Greek Polis. There is of course difference of opinion about the nature of these Republics. Many scholars argue that these were not truly democratic but oligarchic (meaning a small group of people, wealthy and powerful, controlling the affairs). But, there is lack of hard evidence to get to a conclusion since there is much research that needs to be done. But, many Indologists around the world and many Indian scholars do believe that Republics co-existed with Dynasties as long ago as 500 BC.

First purpose of this article was to make amply clear that Democracy was not thrust down our throats but had been part of our culture and heritage, and having done that we can now move to the second purpose of this article, understand it in a better sense. Aristotle says, “In a Democracy the poor will have more power than the rich, because there are more of them, and the will of the majority is supreme”. The true essence of democracy is contained in this statement. This statement speaks of the purpose and working of democracy in its most basic sense. There are two types of democracies, direct and indirect or representative. In direct democracy, every stake holder is present for deliberations and voting. This is possible only in small population like a village or city. In more populous areas, like in our country, we practice indirect or representative democracy. In this form of democracy, a group of people elect one person to represent them in the deliberation and voting process of policy formation and execution.

The working of democracy is very simple. Let me take India as the example and explain it. Currently in India we have three tiers of democracy. One at the center, one at state and the last at local level (village and city). Lets take central government as reference and the same thing can be extended to the state government as well. The local government differs slightly in its working. The whole country is divided into 543 parts consisting of roughly equal population. These parts are called constituencies (same is the case in the state where they will be state constituencies). Every constituency will have a seat in the Parliament and for the same elections are conducted. This means, all the eligible voters in that constituency will elect, by means of voting, one person to fill the post of “Member of Parliament(MP)” from that constituency. This elected MP is a representative of all the people from that constituency. By rough calculations one MP represents about 22 lakh people. Same is applied to the States where the elected representative will be called “Member of Legislative Assembly(MLA)”. Also, if you live in a village you will elect a Panchayat member and if you live in a city you will elect a Corporator for your ward. In essence, you as a citizen will be represented by three different people in the three level of democracies in India.

What one needs to understand here is that the representative is elected by you and he is duty bound to fulfill your demands and wish as a community (not individual wishes). As a community of voters you tell that representative of your demands and your opinions about the policies under discussion in the Parliament and Assemblies and the representative must voice the same there. Of course, a representative is also a leader and in that capacity he will have to right to make certain decisions against the tide but more often than not, he must and should have the confidence of the people of his constituency. When you consider the Parliament or Lok Sabha in particular you will see 545 members sitting there and deliberating and deciding the policies again by voting on the bills. What you must actually see is that these MPs are actually voicing the opinions of 100 crore Indians and voting FOR these 100 crore people. Same applies to State Assemblies and that of Panchayat and Corporation meetings. Elections is the greatest power given to the citizens where by they are free to elect a good and honest leader.

After the elections what next? Are we helpless for the next 5 years? The answer is no. There are many more mechanisms available to the citizens to exercise accountability and control over these representatives. One logical method is to approach these representatives directly. Many employ this method and go to their representatives with grievances and have them addressed. This can be called a pressure group. But this is not organised at all. Everyone goes to them individually and sometimes they go to bribe these representatives for personal gains like educational seat, jobs, contracts, etc. What needs to be done instead is that the people of the constituency must form association and make a formal request to the representative with the backing of all the people in the form of signature sheet, digital or otherwise. This adds weightage to the request and the representative will take it seriously since he too wishes to get re-elected. This is a better and organised and effective way than a haphazard, short-lived and violent protest. When it comes to local government such association are already provided in the form of ward meetings in cities and gram sabhas in the villages. Here each and every person may take part and give their input and the Panchayat and Municipality will have to take these inputs seriously.

So, next question will be how we can control the bigger things like affecting the policy in a positive way? For this we will have to take a bit of time out and read. Read about the mechanisms with which the legislature and executive (that means the MPs and Ministers) can be made accountable to the public. Many number of mechanisms exist when it comes to the Parliament. There are mechanisms like Short Duration Discussion, Zero Hour, Question Hour, various Motions and Parliamentary Committees. To explain all of them will take a long write up so let me take one example. Many will be familiar with Question Hour and Zero Hour. These are the time periods during which the MPs can ask questions to the government about any and everything related to policies and implementations. So, say we are not getting proper ration supply in our area then we can, through our pressure groups, request our representative to ask this particular question in the Parliament. By this we can effectively take part in Policy implementation process. Here, imagination is the key and you can achieve great results with proper approach. To investigate a corruption you can request that a Parliamentary committee be set up and report be submitted in the public domain for everyone to read. Thereby you are effecting control and accountability. Apart from these above methods, you always have the Judiciary to help you with your problems. This goes on to show that Democracy is a PROCESS and not an EVENT. People cannot vote and forget, they must constantly keep up with their representatives and make sure your opinion, in its full strength, reaches to him as regularly as possible.

There is a concept of “Recall” which does not exist in India. Here, a non-performing representative can be called back, or sacked, before the completion of his term if majority of the people agree. This makes sure that the representative will be continuously responsible to his people else he will lose his job. Earlier mentioned pressure groups exist currently. Many of the associations of farmers, Rights Activists like Anna Hazara and his group of supporters and very recently the signature campaign conducted by Aamir Khan of Satyamev Jayate. These have definitely have had effects on the policy decisions and implementations of the same. But these, as I mentioned earlier, are not well organized. For example, in almost all elections the typical voters turnout will be around 50%. In each constituency, lets take best case scenario and say that only two people are competing. So, if a person gets 26% of the entire votes in that constituency he will win the election. Similarly when the pressure groups are created there is not enough participation by the people and they fail to generate good results. So, when only 50% people bother to participate in the process do the rest of the people really have the right to question the government?

This actually points to an inherent moral corruption of general populace where they are not ready to take the responsibility but want to enjoy the rights. This same corruption is carried by the representative of such population and he too will try and avoid his responsibilities. Besides, how much pressure can the 26% of people who elected his can apply? The most popular response to these statements is that every representative is corrupt and nothing is going to change anyway so why waste time. If that is the case then why complain? Why the double standards? When you wont work honestly and take the responsibility then why talk about others who are doing the exact same thing? I think it is clear from my above discussion that we have to continuously engage ourselves in Democracy. Abraham Lincoln said, “Democracy is a government of the people, by the people and for the people”. Every citizen is part of this big system and the system will be only as efficient as its parts. When half of its parts stop functioning then how can you expect the system to perform?

So, I reject the response that all politicians are corrupt. Its actually the reverse. All voters are corrupt. We have become greedy and have developed apathy towards everything. How many have a working knowledge of the constitution? How many have understood the potential of RTI, heck how many know what is RTI? How many consider Politicians to be aliens who have no connection with the general public. How many see them as Masters and not as representatives? How many read the bills in the public domain and make suggestions and comments on the same? Of course the web and papers and books are filled with what representatives and politicians do not do. How many pages highlight what the people do not do? How can we say we are in democracy if we act as helpless as the person who is under monarchy? People under the rule of a Monarch need not work, but people in democracy are the rulers of themselves and they have to work, a LOT. These may seem far fetched and romantic notions, “These things wont work anymore” they say these days. But guess what? They said the same things even before; when men, women and children fought for freedom. But the children grew up and went to their deaths with heads high and poetry on their mouths and then the world took them seriously. What people say cannot be done can be done after a motivation session. But in the long run it takes faith in one self and hard work towards the purpose at hand.

In conclusion I would say this, Democracy is a participatory form of government which requires people involved to actively and deliberately participate and develop keen interest in the affairs of their nation and region. Lot of literature is available where people can learn about the government and their own role in it. Unless you take personal interest in the government I think you do not have the right to criticize it. Besides, even if you do criticize you must do constructive criticism where you provide an alternative solution to that particular problem and to do this we need a working knowledge of the government. To develop this we must first get involved in the government and develop general interest in its affairs. That is the only way in which a democracy can truly become successful else it is always doomed to failure. I leave you with one last quote that will sum up my last few paragraphs

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried” – Winston Churchill


Value of Life

April 22, 2012

When you read some news or hear about some incidents this thought comes to mind, What is the value of a person’s life?

Two security guards were killed and the District Collector was kidnapped by Maoists. This is following the kidnap of a politician and a couple of Italian Tourists by the same group. Fact.

When you commit a murder, no matter whom you murder, you will get the same punishment. This stems from the “Rule of Law” propounded by A V Dicey in 1885 to apply to all societies. It has three main characteristics

  • The rights of individuals are determined by legal rule and not the arbitrary behaviour of authorities.
  • There can be no punishment unless a court decides there has been a breach of law.
  • Everyone, regardless of your position in society, is subject to the law.

This in principle states that everyone is equal and will be punished only by the court of law and only when the said person has breached the laws of that land. So, it inherently says all lives are equal. Fact.

 

These principles seem utopian and that is the reason why we see atrocities in the society but maybe they are not so idealistic or impractical as they are construed to be. Coming back to the first fact, the Maoists chose to kidnap politicians, foreigners and bureaucrats and not just anyone. This clearly shows that their lives are more valuable to the people of this country than say of a petty farmer. Agreed, these are the people who will effect change in larger way and others are guests in our country. Does that mean the farmer can be left to die? Maoists who claim to fight for such petty farmers dont value their lives that much too. Neither do they value the life of a bureaucrat who is trying to improve the lives of the same people for whom these Maoists claim to be fighting for. In midst of all this, what value do you give to the lives of those guards who were killed. Media conducted the interview of the family of the abducted collector  and even published a statement made by his wife. I still dont know if those guards had wives or kids. The guards’ families must sure have lost all hopes since parents have lost sons and their hopes of future. Just because they signed up for a job in which they will put their bodies between bullets and the person they are protecting, do they lose any and all kind of value for their lives? The collector’s school teacher’s statement is also in the news article but except the names of the guards, Kishun Kujur and Amjad Khan, I dont know whether they had wives, fathers, mothers, children, or did they go to school, were they bright students or not, did they have to deal with trauma of death in the family or whether they had Facebook accounts and if they updated it with any important viewpoints (All of which I know about the collector). I really dont know any of this and I have searched on the net but could not find much information on them. This is where we as people of this country fail

 

Considering different set of facts, we can now focus on the supporters of Maoists. Of course there will be difference of opinions in a large population and everyone would want their ideology to be propagated. But that does not mean that we must use means of violence and force it on others which is what these left wing extremists are doing. Over and above that they support the Islamist militancy and say that it must not be opposed since it is anti-US and anti-imperialist in nature. But then, isnt it also anti-human in nature? Regardless, kidnapping bureaucrats who have good reputations of helping the down trodden does not help us in believing that they are indeed fighting for the cause that they put out. They are in fact fighting for the ideologies rather than their goals (bringing peace to the people who are suffering at the hands of the present government). They have spread wide and far in the country yet they wont jump to action when an honest cop is killed protecting law by the hands of goons. They wont kill the leaders of land mafia who are cheating lakhs of poor people, but they will kill the police officers who are trying to maintain law and order citing one or two bad cops. Hindering the development of roads to remote location saying that they are being built to ease the travel of special forces to check the Maoists and then blaming the government for doing nothing for the poor is a definition of hypocrisy.

 

There is a lot to write about these two issues but much has been written, read and forgotten(bane of human mind). This is just a reminder to all that no one is absolutely right in a society. Compromises are a must to exist in a group, no matter how small that group is. When someone fails to compromise then the chaos starts. It can be absorbed by someone else’s compromise and even if they are adamant then the chaos grows bigger and slowly there is destruction, not just physical but also moral. When the chaos has stayed for a long period of time, thats when we must check for signs of corruption. Ideologies are means to achieve goals. But over the time, Maoists have forgotten that and are trying to impose their ideologies on everyone. In this long time we, the people of India, have forgotten too what democracy is for which we fought for so many years. I think that is the fault here. We fought for a long time for an ideology but we forgot the goals. It was not just those who formed the first government and wrote the constitution, but every citizen of that time had fought for Democracy. But they forgot, during that long struggle, both the meaning of Democracy and their ultimate goal of peace and prosperity. As a result, we are blaming the Maoists and they us. Both are wrong here and only when everyone realises this we will be able to attach the proper value to a life. Every life is precious.

 

 


Oath of an Indian citizen

March 28, 2012

sāre jahāñ se acchā hindostāñ hamārā

I recently watched a movie in which a Police officer takes his oath, so I began wondering about it. An oath, at the end of the day, is just words spoken out of your mouth. If you really put your heart behind it then only you will feel guilty when you break it or at least it will keep you from breaking it. The argument behind this conclusion is very long and I would like to write it down but not today. Today I want to write only about the result and its further application or else this post will become excruciatingly long. In short, as expected, the result was that these oaths are important and do certainly affect a lot of people who take them. My conclusion was that a reasonable person would definitely try to stay firm on his words till his so called “tipping point” beyond which he MIGHT, you know, break his promise. Lets not think about why and how he would break the promise, just focus on the fact that a promise generally works. And if that person is constantly reminded of his promise then he will make sure that he sticks to it. So, one of the logical branches of my thought process was the oath that a citizen of this country must take.

I have already posted about the Fundamental Duties of citizens of India long back. But this part of the Indian constitution is non-justiciable, meaning it cannot be forced on you. Basically you get a free ride and yet there are so many complaints that are tossed around. Anyway, coming to the point, I thought that a citizen must also take an oath just like any other public servant or public representative. Since the country gives you land, food, shelter and numerous rights it definitely makes sense to owe allegiance to it. That is, even the public must be bound by an oath. Some may argue that being a citizen means taking an oath of allegiance to the country. But I think not. You see, not everyone thinks that way. So, the solution is to make it explicit which will make sure that it is at least taken seriously. Hence, Oath of an Indian Citizen. So, its always good to see what the Constitution or the laws of the land have to say about it.

The Parliament of India passed the Citizenship Act in 1955, under Article 11 of the Constitution of India, where by it provided ways in which a person could become citizen of this country (Later on it has been amended many times, latest being in 2005). It is mentioned in this Act that those who acquire citizenship through Registration or Naturalization (Details can be found here) must take the “Oath of Allegiance” before they are provided with the citizenship. The oath reads as below

I, [name] do solemnly affirm (or swear) that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of India and fulfil my duties as a citizen of India. 

It clearly calls for understanding the laws of this land and honouring the Constitution and fulfilling the duties as a citizen. As this Act was passed by the people who also took part in the making of the Constitution I think we must consider that this oath is the bare minimum that every citizen in this country must follow.

 

Satyameva Jayate

My school days reminded me of another word, Pledge. The most simple way to point out the difference between a pledge and an oath is that an oath is generally associated with GOD. They are not something that can be easily broken. Pledge is somewhat more personal and does not has any spiritual overtone. Anyway, coming back to the matter at hand, I came across the pledge I used to recite everyday before the school started. Its called “indian National Pledge” and generally recited in Schools and during celebrations of Independence day and Republic day. It is rumoured to be written by Swami Vivekananda (need source) and it reads as below

India is my country and all Indians are my brothers and sisters. I love my country and I am proud of its rich and varied heritage. I shall always strive to be worthy of it.

I shall give my parents, teachers and elders respect and treat everyone with courtesy.

To my country and my people, I pledge my devotion. 

Jai Hind

This pledge was adopted by the schools on Republic Day of 1965 on the advice of the Central Advisory Board in Education which came up with this idea in its 31st meeting held on October 10th and 11th, 1964 in Bangalore.

This, I think, has always inspired me as a kid. Every morning I used to raise my right hand and recite this and I would feel proud. You know that feeling when you see yourself from a third person’s point of view and that person is jealous because he is not Indian, I am 😀 . Its silly, but still I believe that pledge has made impact on a lot of people. This is one of the reason for the conclusion I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post. This particular pledge has everything that will make the child who understands it and recites it from his heart a better citizen of tomorrow. It is relevant even now and it has many components of Fundamental Duties embedded in it. Now that I have become a citizen, the oath I take must include more. Of course, it can never be exhaustive but it must have the essentials. I am not going to write an oath and ask everyone to use it. Everyone has a different “tipping point”. Hence, you alone must write your own oath. I have provided two examples and in those are embedded the core values to be followed by every citizen. Write an oath for yourself which includes the above and add to it what you feel is relevant and recite it everyday. Again, it need not be exhaustive, but what ever is written must come from the heart. When it is from your heart, you will always follow it and give all you have to stand on your words

I, as a citizen of India, solemnly swear that I will uphold the Constitution and the laws of India.

I will fulfill my duties as laid down in Article 51A of the Constitution of India.

I shall love and cherish my country and strive to be a worthy citizen and shall perform my work with truthfulness and honesty.

I shall rise above all religious and linguistic prejudices and protect my country, its freedom and its integrity.

To my country and my people, I owe my devotion.

Jai Hind.

 

Would definitely love to see more and more people make their own oaths and follow them. I think in today’s trying times with all the drama of corruption and scams on one side and the harsh reality of poverty and deaths on the other, every citizen must rise up to the challenge and for once stop blaming the “Government”. In democracy everyone is a part of the government and the duties of a citizen does not end once he has voted. They just change and we must adopt to them and keep working towards a better future.