Source: News Bharati English04 Aug 2015 17:24:36

Indian democracy at cross-roads - the Nation at stake

                                                                                                                                                            Dr. Sharad V.Khare  
Director, VISSR, Pune 


‘The tragedy of the nation is not a wrong action by bad people, (but) the silence of the good,’
 - A novelist

Narendra Modi’s assumption of political power as the Prime Minister of the country in May 2014 has raised an unprecedented storm for several reasons.  In fact it is not merely differences of political opinions or even ideologies; it is something far beyond party matters. It is not and in fact it was never, that corruption—economic or political was at the central focal aim. Is corruption something new in this country or in the world? In no way this is any justification, or belittling the efforts of those who have been fighting against it. All that is intended to submit is that the accused from all political shades are projecting themselves as heroes and icons. It will be important to remind everyone—the apt relevance of the beautiful observation made in one of his greatest novel, as mentioned above. 

The interesting situation is that those who have lost political power at the central government have been experiencing a harrowing period and sleepless nights. The alleged misdeeds which they might have committed are staring at them and the accused are surreptitiously expecting some sort of unthinkable pardon. It is also important to remember that the Bharatiya Janata Party and its then prime ministerial candidate Shri Narendra Modi have secured beyond doubt a powerful popular mandate from across the country by the electorate from all over India. The mess created by the preceding government—UPA, will need several years to clean-up and restore normalcy in every walk of life. The Indian electorate almost wiped out the INC and its ideology and clearly preferred a different political ideology, which is constitutionally established.

In view of the above, watching live TV proceedings of the Indian parliament of late has become a sort of nightmare for the students of academic democracy. Sooner or later the scenes are seen imitated ditto in the federating State legislative Houses in India. In no way I intend to commit any sort of contempt of parliament  but it has  become so undignified to watch such , unparliamentarily, indecent behavior of the parties on the  floor  of the  House , which itself amounts to  the contempt of the House  which warrants  urgent  and immediate review of the rules of the parliamentary  procedures.  If there already exist relevant rules of the House-functioning , and if the Speaker is empowered to take  necessary  disciplinary action against  those unruly  elements , why the  prolonged  tolerance  after  giving  repeatedly a long rope ?  In this particular case, undesirable behavioral pattern   on the floor of the House on the part of the now incumbent ruling party   (then in opposition) cannot become   a parliamentary precedent. How long would this ‘you too’ game continue? Such impasse must end somewhere, at the earliest. The various  functionaries  in  the  Indian parliamentary  system   must learn  to  introspect  and improve its  functioning even at the cost of self esteem for a while. At least they must be seen so doing.

The preceding analysis makes it imperative to discuss quite a few themes which are considered as enabling factors for the conduct of the Indian prestigious parliamentary democracy. Indian National Congress was primarily a king-pin of the freedom struggles, not only in the Indian context, but in several other regions in the British colonies elsewhere. It initiated the foundation of the Western/British model of parliamentary democracy (the West Minister model) in India. One has to understand that although the institution of parliamentary society   was not new to Indian polity, its newer modern face was a new one. The application of West Minister model to India by the INC weather   was a right decision or taken in an undue haste has since become a question mark. Was it an extension of the British colonial era?  The Macaulay influence  has  been such  that , even to raise  such a question amounts to ,  even today, reactionary and  regressive  psyche  akin  to bourgeois  mentality.  Modi Government’s  decision to wash off outdated and outlived British colonial  laws is considered to be a  step towards de-Macaulay an   process --- a process which could  and  should have  been commenced much earlier. The  British  legal framework  became  the final  word  in Indian  disputes on Indian soil  disregarding ,  even   to the  extent of  disrespecting the  indigenous  society  and  its own  parameters. Macaulay progenies in the British Raj promptly had become handy to the colonial rulers.  (Macaulay had described them as ‘black British’).  I am simply pointing the pitiable, submissive and subservient attitude of the English educated people who considered themselves as of progressive psyche and enjoyed the condemnation of everything Indian. These people described themselves as ‘secular’ subjects.

The British parliamentary culture per say is of very high order and had been the root-cause of the industrial revolution which certainly has brought about unprecedented transformation in the modern civilization. At the same time one cannot forget or ignore the impact of French Revolution or the American Revolution on international politics and affairs. Institutions were built, rule-books written, democratic practices proclaimed and electoral time-tables declared. Parliamentary democracy on West Minister model thrived in several regions under the erstwhile British colonial regimes. Political institutions  were instituted ,nourished, customs evolved  and  liberty  of all sorts  and  in all fields  of public life  and  administration cultivated with a  great  sense of judicious intentions .All these peculiarities happened in  the United Kingdom , United States , France , Germany and some  regions in Europe , and in India too. However this civil- liberty based political mechanism in the real sense of the term never took roots in the neighboring Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The  Indian scenario  since independence, in its initial period,  presented an encouraging and sanguine  future till the political onslaught of ‘constitutional emergency’  in 1975 ,  where under all civil liberties of the Indian citizens were suspended only to be restored by the Indian electorate once given a chance  in  1977. Thereafter the graph signaled descending order. The slide needs serious study and analysis. Of course, there have been many in the past. However, every newer incidence and context makes it obligatory to analyze anew.  Every newer analysis becomes path-finder for future.  Search light on a few aspects should guide the future.

i) Exaggeration,

ii) Overlapping roles of the Executive (in fact the helpless and unduly power-deprived executive), Judiciary and the Legislature,

iii) Insinuating arrogant present media,

iv) The curse of RTI—the blackmailer, and

v) The unruly irresponsible citizenry.

Exaggeration in every field of activity

Exaggeration in every field of activity and walk of life seems to be a serious challenge everybody is destined to face. Democracy, its meaning and interpretation, power and authority exercised at each tier by those who are empowered, is practiced with exaggeration and blowing things out of proportion. Democratic practice is interpreted as birth right of the people to block roads, traffic by throwing the traffic rules to utter winds ,  playing loud speakers as loud as possible during nights leaving  the people sleepless in the name of religious rights , disregarding even the  High Court orders in that  behalf by the individuals and local self government agencies.  Democratic rights of the elected representatives in the local self government agencies and of course at the highest level i.e. the parliament, are interpreted as (besides law-making), stalling the duly convened sessions of the Houses and settle political scores on the floor of the House. Does the rule book prescribe that   it is the right or duty of the elected representatives to create ruckus and physically hinder the others in the House and prevent them from discharging their parliamentary duty or exercise right of doing parliamentary business. I need not remind the people the scenes flashed on TV screens during the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly proceedings   a few years ago. There cannot be any justification All this means that the element of  ‘rationale’  required on the part of every participant of  democracy i.e. the citizen, seems to have dwindled, on the contrary , politics of  hypocrisy ,  exaggeration ,  impatience, disrespectfulness, lawlessness, mob rule psyche is seen on the rise. In fact, the concept of ‘sattyagraha’ adopted during the freedom struggle was  over-stretched after the independence and the  impact it has  had on the Indian politics since then  with reference to the decay in Indian politics  and  that needs to be studied and  probed further .A smallest  provocation or a deviation in  the routine   by   mistake  creates  a ruckus and someone is held at ransom or  the  workplace/office is  ransacked in  search of faux pas  of  justice. The best example in this behalf would be a near skirmish following a minor traffic accident on a road. Accident moment and the accident spot expose the vulnerability of the psyche and rationalism of the individuals are at loggerhead. In a railway train or a road transport bus, someone fails to secure a seat to occupy in a journey and finds that there are several claims on the same seat, he finds himself at loggerhead. It is felt that such apparently small incidences are pulse of the society which in turn reflects democratic ethos. Such situations indicate the trend of the minds of the individuals in the society. Small instances of this nature emit several signals .Exaggeration of every sort in every instance would lead one to such an inference. Media world is another area where exaggeration of the information as supplied to the listeners and the viewers, is seen to have been mischievously rampantly destroying the credibility of almost the major apparatus of the State craft. Does parliamentary democracy represent such a trend of its participating units? They might at least lay ahead trails of this sort.

Pillars of the Constitution:  Constitution unexplored:

Are the pillars tottering? The pillars of the Indian Constitution are seen mutually struggling to outwit the others on several occasions. The institutions are in-tact, some of the incumbents need scanning. Article 324 of the Constitution of India existed since the inception of the Constitution, but it assumed a powerful dimension only after Dr.T.N.Sheshan assumed the office as the Chief Election Commissioner of India (December 12, 1990 to 11th December,1996). The new CEC since then transformed the entire  scenario of elections to all the tiers of political administration in India by introducing  major electoral reforms to prevent electoral malpractices .The point is that the constitutional functionaries  do not seem to try out the subtle provisions empowering their  offices to discharge their public duties  and  services. The  CEC’s public performance was  an  unprecedented achievement  which perhaps  foresaw the future of Indian democracy  ( as if possibly in peril ) and laid  a profound path-finder forever.  Similarly , Article 315  which provides  for an independent administrative  machinery  for the  recruitment of civil  servants for the Union and State Governments  and  down below  the districts , talukas and village gram panchayats  in the States. The theme of the Article is yet to be tried. Perhaps, its own Dr.TN Sheshan is yet to arrive at for its legitimate application.

The standard of the efficiency of the civil service i.e. the public administration in India more often than not   seems to be dwindling. Right to guaranteed service has been enacted recently, therefore its performance-record is yet to be ascertained .The quality of public administration at times may defeat the mandated agenda of the party in power. Modi government has begun to revitalize the Union civil service .It is not so smooth affair. Delhi State Assembly electoral results have been an indicator of the unrest in the bureaucracy and how it can adversely affect the outcome. However Modi government is firm keeping in mind the experience of the ‘karma yogi Abhiyan’ conducted in Gujarat. Therefore it becomes very important that the system which governs the evolution of an efficient civil service has to be on top of the agenda of the party in power. It is the public administration which primarily deals with the development process and is responsible for to achieve it. Needless to say that, public administration, the social stratification and the political administration in the State craft are interwoven and that determines the quality of the civil service. The braid or the plaited cord of this sort yields the results. The famous saying goes that ‘people get the government they deserve’. It is this   cord that matters.

The causes of the decline, if it is so, even otherwise need a thorough study and analysis, in fact continuously and concurrently. There is always a talk of pillars under the constitution which primarily shoulder the democratic structure of a country. What about the foundation?  Everybody stares at the State with  legitimate  expectations  of  welfare policies, subsidies , free service , concessions  etc. to the  physically handicapped , economically weaker  sections , socially backward and deprived ones , and the  list of  expectants  grows fatter and fatter with the passage of time. The State seems to be under tremendous pressure.

The Government is blamed  for every mishap , accident, calamity, even a  natural calamity that  happens anywhere in the country , moreover  the reconstruction and the  recovery plans are expected  to be made at the State cost. Legislative debates  are conducted ultimately turning into  chaotic  turmoil  leading  to stalling  of the proceedings in the House and  finally  shouting walk-outs in a  free for all. Quite a few enthusiastic legal luminaries and Constitution-mongers ( ! ) occasionally  approach the judicial forums with a lethal weapon called  ‘P I L’ anaesthetizing  the near anemic Executive resulting into ‘nothing would happen’ mood. The sanity and the sanctity mourns that there are several judicial orders and pronouncements made whose effect is just not experienced.

The Executive sincerely plans to execute the fiats, but not the popular pressure but a vested interested coterie   makes it impossible to move ahead. The Executive is seen helpless. Then there are some schools of thought who believe that the judiciary is suffering from the attitude of ‘activism’, some others believe that it has lost its erstwhile intellectual glory and is not giving its full dues. Yet, it can be stated with certainty that judiciary still is the last hope for the Indian citizens as at present. Judicious and fairly independent judiciary at least at the higher echelons in fact shoulders the flag high. It is also importantly observed that in some instances, cunning individuals are found to have used judiciary as a legal device in favour and in the interest of somebody.

The points  raised above makes it imperative that the issue of the legal  administrative system ,the justice  system  and the British concept of rule of law  as it is in vogue  in India  need  a thorough review of all the matters  related to it. One needs to go into the genesis of the making of the Constituent Assembly itself which drafted the Constitution of India.

Overdoing media:

The frivolous examples which are given earlier aimed at pointing out the volatile psyche of those at the ground level the way in which the public mood slides. The slide  is the conclusion of the instigation by rumor mongering , falling prey to the twists of the facts , mischievously misleading and misquoting  the  events , even suppressing  the truth and initiating false  propaganda  as  a favor to some individual or ideology –all this happens  anywhere  and anytime and this  crusade ( ! ) is led by the media trials. The pitch of attack by the media against the Executive seems to be so venomously carried out and this is witnessed during the so called ‘free for all’ debates. The anchor is seen grabbing the driver’s seat, making irritating uncontrolled long preludes leaving little space for the invitees to speak.  Twist in the facts of the situations, seems to be the essence of the media operations. One can test a news clip on an electronic channel e.g. —the news reader reports  a  statement  issued  by  someone ,  the person whose  statement is reported too is telecast or broadcast  live as  a faux pan of fairness, but  the person is  seen making some different  statement , and the more  interesting thing is that the  news reader  continues  with  the propaganda  unfazed. It is felt that some of the electronic media people are found engaged in such an unethical practice. The entire domain of public life is suffering by this epidemic. There is a sizeable section of the people which feels that this trend must end lest some regulatory measures need to be adopted without infringing the freedom of the fourth estate. One can watch the way in which how the anchor despicably makes references to the constitutionally established high offices such the Prime Ministers, Chief Ministers or Ministers by singling out their names. 

Twists in facts , circulating  false information , leading questions, referring to the irrelevant  sources, use of  bad language full of arrogance and personal animosity  further  leading  to utter disrespect . News-clips in grammatically very ordinary, impolite, adulterated and crudely drafted language, misinterpretation, insubordination, affronting attitude while interviewing and reporting the story —all these features leave behind a trail of cynicism which is a dangerous signal for a healthy civil society and parliamentary democracy.

Comments made by the news readers or the anchors with no work experience of any socio-political issues do not match their age or competence in the field.  News first –as it is’ (leave alone nation first) which has to be the essence of journalism, seems to have lost sight of. Measures to curb such tactical news-making are required to be implemented to improve the status and credibility of the media world. Government and the Press Council of India need to join hands with each other in this regard. In fact internal working, service conditions of the salaried personnel of the world of journalism, the recruitment process of the journalists, their paper qualifications, working experience, their economic status, their cultural background their monthly salaries and socio-political pressures and most importantly managerial (from the owner of the publication group) pressures –all these factors need intense academic case studies in research at the University level. It is necessary to understand that unless the journalistic world is manned by highly educated, research oriented and rational news-persons, the situation is not going to be improved. Moreover, the news-persons need to acquire courage to resist the pressures of all sorts from the high managerial quarters within the publication group to maintain the freedom of the press.

Freedom of press does not mean unfettered license to abuse persons, humiliate them and institute media trial of the administrative machinery without going into the facts and figures, arriving at the sketchy half-truth or no truth at all (the best example in this regard is media painting Narendra Modi’s image as   responsible for Gujarat riots), the law in vogue, the statutory status report and the public interest involved. At times it is seen that the media proves itself as the hindering obstacle in the way of the government’s action plan or its time-table of carrying out the statutory probe. The question becomes whether the media world is a super legislature? Is it   a super Executive?  Is it a substitute   judiciary?

The unfettered media world in India seems to lead and pushing the public opinion to the brink and it is wondered how long this pressure could be borne by those who suffer. The  controversies or cases of abuse of power by persons  holding high offices or bureaucrats  causing losses to the state exchequer are  worth probing in depth ,thoroughly , but treating the  story  as an instrument of propaganda or  a weapon to spoil the career of the persons by maligning and carrying out a character-assassination programmed  must be subjected to judicial reference, and this is also in the public interest. One news- channel-agency probing into the drawbacks or fallacies of another agency can be experimented to correct it and clean-up the malpractices, can also be considered in the public interest.

Right to Information Act

Despite reservations about the very applicability of the Right to Information Act, I want to make it clear that I am not against the RTI Act. We are concerned with the way in which it is used by the people as an instrument to mutually black mail to settle their scores outside in the public view. It is important to examine whether the said Act infringes upon the privacy of the individual citizen?  Is there any clash between privacy of the individual and public interest? Are there limitations of the public interest? Is national security above public interest or vice-versa? Primacy of the individual, does it run against the State? These are quite a few questions which have been discussed by political thinkers several times all over the world .There seems to be no finality in this. The discussion continues and must continue for the maintenance of a healthy civil society. The question mark is whether the RTI weakens the authority of the Executive of the State or whether it is a clean-up process? Does it notionally instigate the media persons? Does it affect the structure of the society? Can information so collected be a parallel office establishment of the State?

These questions need rational search?

Building a nation is not work of a day or two, nor one generation or two. We cannot afford to forget that India is not merely a State, it is also a ‘nation’ with a continuous long past. The pillars, the agencies, the apparatus, the structure, the inputs—all are engaged in the nation building process. Each of the above is required to aim at strengthening the nation as well as the State.

The Nation must fail if its constituents i.e. the citizen, fails. A successful nation is composed of a good, efficient citizenry. It is not a flock of animals. Making a good citizen is not an easy task. Several generations together have to spend on the task. The process of making a good citizen involves the past history of the society. History is the roots of the society. This statement is not applicable to India alone; it equally applies to every country in the world.

The pseudo-rationalists, atheists and ‘desi’ Machiavellians must understand that to talk of the past or remember the customs and the traditions, is not anti-human or uncivilized pattern of behavior. This lot is perhaps the last remnant of Macaulay. They need to be weeded out.

The ‘pradhan sevak’   Shri Narendra Modi, is on the job for a resurgent India.