Representation ‘for’ or ‘of’ the People

Dr. Asangba Tzüdir

When Plato wrote the Republic in about 375 BC, an evidently pressing concern for him was the desire for power and its dangers for both individuals and societies. It was because some thirty years earlier, his city-state, Athens, the greatest democracy in the ancient Greek world had lost a catastrophic war to its rival, the militaristic oligarchy Sparta. In its aftermath, the Athenian democracy suffered an oligarchic coup supported by Sparta bringing in a contest between democracy and oligarchy from a matter of foreign affairs to one of pressing domestic concern.

 

After the coup, the restored democracy executed Plato’s teacher Socrates. Events as such led Plato to conclude that neither democracy nor oligarchy, nor any other existing order, could bring happiness or political stability for its citizens, because all of them were founded on the inherently corrupting desire for power.

 

For Plato, the immediate was attributed to the failings of Athenian democracy. Democracy of their times was different from democracy today. It accorded all the citizens the opportunity for equal political participation where most of the offices were accorded by lot; key decisions were made by the Assembly but where every citizen were given the right to speak; and without any professional judges or prosecutors, it was up to ordinary citizens to bring indictments and decide trials as jurists. This form of political equality created rivalry in the pursuit of power as people competed for influence bringing tension between the few rich and the poor majority.

 

This form of tension brings us to the central question of ‘representation’ especially in a situation of power struggle. A fundamental problem to it lies in the social institutions, where society and its associated ‘social arrangements’ can ‘corrupt’ even the ‘pure individual.’ Contextually, the events leading to the formation of CCNTHCO and the imposition of bandh and the response of the people have clearly shown that those who claim to represent the people ignored the “general will” of the people.

 

This once again begs one to think about whether the various tribes and civil society organizations are representing for the people or simply a representation of the people. The latter seems to be the case where not only the ‘will’ of the people is claimed but also their claim to representation. Sadly, today’s so called ‘democracy’ lies in the hands of a ‘privileged’ few. So long as the ‘general will’ is not represented, the support of the people will elude any decision taken without the ‘will’ and the consent of the people. The ‘general will’ though should not be the ‘will of the majority’ but an all encompassing one.

 

Looking at the scenario today, those who are supposed to represent or carry forth the voice of the people sadly finds co-opted by the government or those in positions of authority and therefore the ‘general will’ of the people finds either ignored or misplaced.

 

Needless to say, but going back to the Athenian form of democracy is not desirable nor an ideal situation considering the existing social structure which is sure to create knee-jerk reactions. Hence, for well-being of the people and for political and social stability, a lot needs to be addressed on the issue of representation beginning with a process of re-orientation in order to create a shift from ‘representation of the people’ to a ‘representation for the people.’ At the end, it is wrong to change or even try to change or impose something on the people without their consent.

 

(Dr. Asangba Tzudir writes a weekly guest editorial to The Morung Express. Comments can be mailed to asangtz@gmail.com)