Representative Governance in a Republican form of democracy is a kind of democratic setup wherein the people of a nation elect and choose their law-making representatives. The representatives so elected are entrusted by the citizens with the task of framing policies that are reflective of the will of the electorate.

The main purpose of a   Representative Government is to represent the public will, perception and the popular sentiment into policies. The representatives, thus, act on behalf of the people at large and remain accountable to the people for their activities as lawmakers.   Therefore, representative form of governance comes out as a device to bring to fore the popular will.

Bernard   Manin   in   “The   Principles   of   Representative Government” has deliberated on the postulate that the concept of representation has its origin around the Middle ages in the context of the church and in the context of cities in their relation to the king or the emperor. The idea, as Manin says, was to send out delegates having power to connect to those who appointed them in the first place and there lies the kernel of the concept of representation. This technique then got transferred and used for other purposes. 

Thomas Jefferson, in the United States Declaration of Independence   (1776),   highlights on the stipulation that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. This idea,   simply put, reflects the concept of representative governance. The cogent factors for constituting the representative form of government are that all citizens are regarded as equal and the vote of all citizens, which is the source of governing power, is assigned equal weight. In this sense, the views of all citizens carry the same strength and no one can impose his/her views on others.

The   Constitution of India has embraced the representative model of governance at all levels, i.e., local, State and the Union. Acknowledging the representative form of governance adopted by our   Constitution and the elected representatives being the instruments for conveying the popular will of the people, the Court in State of Bihar and another v. Bal Mukund Sah and others[1] has observed:¬

“…Besides providing a quasi-federal system in the country and envisaging the scheme for distribution of legislative powers between the   State and the center, it emphasizes the establishment of the rule of law. The form of Government envisaged under a parliamentary system of democracy is a representative democracy in which the people of the country are entitled to exercise their sovereignty through the legislature which is to be elected on the basis of adult franchise and to which the executive, namely, the Council of Ministers is responsible.  

The legislature has been acknowledged to be a nerve center of the State activities. It is through   parliament that elected representatives of the people ventilate people’s grievances.”

Thus perceived, the people are the sovereign since they exercise the power of adult franchise that ultimately builds the structure of representative democracy. That apart, every constituent of   the sovereign is entitled to air his/her grievances through their elected representatives. The twin idea establishes the cornerstone of the precept of accountability to the public because there rests the origin   of power and responsibility.

A representative form of government should not become a government by elites where the representatives so elected do nothing to give effect to the will of the sovereign. The elected representatives must not have an ulterior motive for representing their constituents and they should not misuse the popular mandate awarded to them by covertly transforming it into ‘own rule’.  The inherent value of public accountability can never be brushed aside.

Another ideal for representative governance is accessibility and approachability. Since responsiveness to the needs and demands of the people is the basic parameter for evaluating the effectiveness of representative governance, it is necessary that elected representatives develop a sense of belonging with their constituents.  

The sense of belonging has its limitation also. If the desire of the constituent is rational and draws strength from legal paradigms, it deserves to be given due acceptance but if the aspiration blows from some illogical or unacceptable proposition, the same should not be allowed any space.

It is because in a representative form of government,   aspirations  and desires are  canvassed and propounded on the bedrock of constitutional principles. Hence, we may say that inherent constitutional aspirations should   draw  inspiration from   the   Constitution.   There can never be sacrifice of constitutional conscience.

Be   it   remembered,   when   elected   representatives   and constitutional functionaries enter their office, they take oath to  bear   allegiance   to   the   Constitution   and   uphold  the Constitution. Thus, it is expected of them not only to remain alive to the provisions of the Constitution but also to concepts like   constitutionalism,   constitutional   objectivity   and constitutional   trust,   etc.   The   support   expressed   by   the sovereign in the form of votes cannot become an excuse to perform actions which fall foul to the Constitution or are ultra vires.

Though the elected representatives are expected to act as instruments of transforming popular will into policies and laws, yet they must do so within the contours of the Constitution. They must display constitutional objectivity as a standard of representative governance, for that is ingrained in the conceptual democratic majority which neither tolerates ideological fragmentation nor encourages any kind of utopian fantasy. It lays stress on realizable constitutional ideologies.


Govt of NCT of Delhi v. Union of India (2023)

[1] (2000) 4 SCC 640