Who ‘rules’ in a democracy?

A humble plea to Indian media: don’t say ruler. Elected parties govern, monarchs rule.

ByAbhinandan Sekhri
Who ‘rules’ in a democracy?
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This is an appeal to all our friends in the news media to stop using the words “rule” and “ruling” while talking about governments and political parties.

Here are some random examples that are currently showing up in newspapers and on television:

“The ruling Trinamool Congress in Bengal has…”.

“Tarun Gogoi has ruled Assam for the past 3 terms…”.

“In the 5 years of XYZ party’s rule…”.

Except India is a democracy in which people are elected to positions of governance. We haven’t had a ruler since 1947 because “to rule” is to exercise ultimate power or authority; the way kings and queens do in a monarchy. What happens in a parliamentary democracy is that we have not ruling but governing parties.

Newspapers, TV channels and magazines are the primary drivers of not just information, but also of how conversations are conducted, how arguments are made and also what language is accepted. News professionals determine the direction of a “narrative”, which will remain subject to pulls and pressures depending on which political grouping feels wronged by the story of the day or week. But that’s not all. Journalists also legitimize the political vocabulary and the conventions that are born of it.

Language is important.  Words describe and define relationships. A single word establishes power equations. And if we use it often enough, we internalize it too, as news professionals and more importantly as citizens. The word “rule” has done enough damage. Words used frequently and unselfconsciously are etched by a society into its spirit. We are servile enough to power as it is.Let’s take this one step to change that.

We have elections happening in Bengal and Assam right now. Next month, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and Kerala go to the polls. If you’ve been reading about the elections and watching TV, you will come across “ruling party” or “Congress/BJP ruled” state or some form of rule in every other line or report. And I hope you cringe when you hear it. Let’s stop rewinding to the time when we were subjects, rather than participants in country’s governance. It will help us redefine our relationship with power and the citizenry’s too.

We are not ruled. We are governed. There are no ruling parties, there are governing parties. An alliance is administering a state, not ruling it. We were ruled for long enough. Not anymore. Hell, I’ll even hashtag it if it helps: #NoMoreRulers.

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Complaining about the media is easy and often justified. But hey, it’s the model that’s flawed.

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