The Changing Norms of Citizen Participation in Governance.
The norms of citizens participation in governance have changed over time. Traditional concepts of democracy involved direct participation by citizens in policy-making.
In the current modern context, citizen’s participation has become more indirect and is through representation. However, research by behavioral specialists has discovered levels of participation to be faulty and half-hearted.
The actual participation in representative democracies usually rests with the influential and, Thus, new norms of participation must ensure that all classes of people are adequately represented in the political process in a participatory democracy.
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The concept of participation takes the form of ’empowerment’ when it is understood in context of opportunities available to the unprivileged and disadvantaged sections to engage in the political process.
This would allow them a better and decent control over the various resources available in the society.
The Indian Constitution’s 73rd and 74th amendments have allowed new ways for the political parties and citizens to participate in the democratic process.
A positive step in this direction has been the recent trend of ‘Panchayati Raj‘ in India. Since they began, they have provided a platform for the rural poor to actively participate in governance at the rural levels.
It is important to note that the voices in favor of increasing citizen’s participation from various sections of the society have been due to the perceived failure of bureaucracy in fulfilling policy needs, especially in the rural areas.
Participation is essential for effective governance. The need to increase the involve-merit of citizens in administrative decision-making has been growing steadily.
Several factors contributed to this trend. First, people were becoming indifferent towards their administration. Second, traditional modes available to the people for putting their views in response to administrative decisions were not adequate.
The overall trend of increasing citizen’s participation has been a part of the bigger process of making the state more representative, responsive and accountable.
Some important benefits of citizen’s participation in administration are as follows:
- Better understanding between the people and their governments that further results in a more integrated society.
- It promotes a feeling amongst the citizens that they, in unison, control the government. This also makes the government more moral in its thinking.
- Lends legitimacy to the government, which. in turn, promotes a general feeling of obedience in the citizens, making them more law abiding.
- Inadequate citizen’s participation makes the government less representative, responsive and more authoritarian.
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There are several factors that make it imperative for people’s participation in public administration.
Many practical issues faced by the administration now-a-days seldom have ready-made solutions. Besides, while addressing one particular problem by way of a solution, another new issue comes up that needs to be tackled further.
It is interesting to note that even though administration officials feel the need to involve the citizens to help in their decision-making process, they are unable to find the right way to involve them.
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From another perspective, citizen’s participation in administration is not without obstacles. One of the main obstacles in this process is that most of the society usually possesses very little power to initiate the participation on its own.
This further leads to its passiveness. Another obstacle is the situation called ‘co-option’ that was articulated by the thinker named Selznick.
People’s participation does not always lead to leaders representing their constituencies.
Instead they get into an illegal alliance with the local administration that further silences them.
Representatives begin representing their own selfish interests rather then the interest of their constituency when interacting with the administration.
It has also been observed that citizen’s participation may actually be counter productive and result in unnecessary delays and red-tapism if it is not executed in the right direction in the first place.
Thus, it becomes imperative not only to select the right citizen’s representatives but also to educate the society at large about the attitude about participation, in order for the participation process to be effective and fruitful.
One needs to ensure that under the cover of people’s participation, the actual developmental programs etc. are not undermined and harmed. Local vested interested should be firmly kept out.
Thus, participation of citizens in administration becomes a fundamental political process in making the public administration more representative, responsive and accountable to the people/society at large.