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How technology can combat ‘street veto’

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In any democratic society, the essence of governance lies in representing the will and aspirations of all the citizens. Yet, even in today's digital age, the voices of the many can often be drowned out by a few motivated and resourceful groups.

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In any democratic society, the essence of governance lies in representing the will and aspirations of all the citizens. Yet, even in today's digital age, the voices of the many can often be drowned out by a few motivated and resourceful groups. These groups can manipulate socio-political discourse and render the views of the majority section inconsequential by using the “”. 

One example of such a Street Veto is the Indian Government taking back the three Farm Acts (Farm Bills) after being forced to do so by a section of society that forcefully occupied an important National Highway and indulged in violence in the National Capital. The majority's views remained unnoticed on such an important issue.

Another similar example of using a Street Veto is the protest against the copper smelter plant in Thoothukudi. There too, a section of society used street protests and violence to achieve its objective. The majority's views remained unknown or unnoticed.

Understanding how and why this occurs is crucial for safeguarding the integrity of democratic processes and ensuring that the voices of all citizens matter.

At the heart of this issue is continuing with the old and traditional model of citizen engagement which mostly happens only at the time of elections. This traditional model of engagement leaves a glaring gap in the democratic process—a gap that bad actors exploit to hijack socio-political discourse and suppress the views of the majority.

Consequently, the majority finds itself sidelined, with no effective means to express itself or counteract the influence of these motivated sections. This phenomenon underscores the urgent need to redefine how we engage citizens and empower them to express their views and opinions beyond the confines of election cycles.

The consequences of this model are profound. Not only does it undermine the legitimacy of democratic processes, but it also erodes trust in institutions and fosters a climate of division and polarisation. In essence, by relegating citizen engagement to the margins of electoral politics, we inadvertently create fertile ground for the manipulation of public opinion and the suppression of mainstream voices.

So, how do we break free from this cycle of disengagement and strengthen the democratic narrative for all the citizens? The answer lies in reimagining citizen engagement as a continuous and inclusive process that extends beyond the EVMs. By leveraging digital technologies and participatory platforms, we can create spaces for citizens to engage in ongoing dialogue, share their perspectives, and actively shape the policies that affect their lives.

This shift towards continuous citizen engagement holds the key to countering the influence of bad actors and amplifying the voices of all citizens. By providing citizens with platforms for meaningful participation, we empower them to assert their collective will and hold decision-makers accountable to their constituents.

Moreover, by fostering a culture of transparency and openness, we can build resilience against misinformation and ensure that public discourse is guided by facts and informed debate.

The imperative to rethink citizen engagement is not merely a matter of democratic principle—it is a practical necessity for the survival of democracy itself. As we confront the challenges of the 21st century, where resourceful bad actors can hijack the socio-political discourse and can even leave the State crippled, we need tools and platforms to listen to the popular view and to keep the bad actors at bay. By embracing continuous citizen engagement, we can build a more resilient democracy—one that is truly of the people, by the people, and for the people.

The traditional model of engaging citizens only once a few years has created a vacuum in democratic discourse, allowing bad actors to manipulate public opinion and suppress popular views.

To address this challenge, we must embrace a new paradigm of continuous citizen engagement—one that empowers all citizens to participate in socio-political issues and ensures that their voices are heard year-round. Only then can we truly achieve the promise of democracy and build a more just and equitable society for all.

The author is CEO, PoGoSo Social. Views are personal.

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Ajay Sharma
Ajay Sharma
Ajay Sharma is CEO of PoGoSo Social, an online platform aimed at improving citizen engagements.
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