There has been criticism of the civil society members protesting against corruption. Some criticism is justified. There has been praise of the members. Some praise is justified. But although the judgment of the members may be questionable their motives are not considered suspect. They are articulating the widespread public revulsion against brazen corruption. But are they not missing the wood for the trees?
Corruption is not the cause of the national malaise. It is the result. It is the symptom of the basic malaise in our system which negates effective governance.
Lack of governance has led to insurgencies, terrorism, crime, communalism and absence of law and order. The public does not respond to some of these crises because their results are not immediately visible although these weaken and destroy the nation as much as corruption. There is a common thread running through all these crises. These occur because the law of the land is violated. The law is violated because of ineffective governance. Ineffective governance results from a weak executive. The challenge before civil society is to create an executive that effectively deals with all these problems by ensuring that laws are upheld.
|Civil society has a potential mass support. It has the issue. It lacks the appropriate agenda. India needs a systemic change. It can be accomplished not be changing the Constitution but by observing it. That is what the struggle should be all about.
The creation of the Lokpal is not the answer. The concept of the Lokpal envisaged by civil society members violates existing constitutional norms and has no chance of obtaining parliamentary approval. The problem is wider than corruption and the rot goes deeper.
For an effective remedy India should draw a lesson from post World War II France.
In 1949 France adopted its post war constitution. It created a parliamentary system with a weak prime minister. There was great instability. Governments changed frequently. France was beset with problems accentuated by its inability to successfully withdraw from its colony in Algeria. In desperation the nation turned to its war time hero, General De Gaulle. De Gaulle insisted upon changing the constitution to allow effective governance. He got his way. In October 1958 the Fifth Republic of France was created with a new constitution that enhanced the powers of the President to allow effective governance. France diagnosed the problem and adopted the remedy.
Is it not time that India did the same? France has one religion and one language. India has all the major religions of the world and over a dozen languages. Roughly India is five times bigger than France in area with a population that is seventeen times as much. India’s density of population is thrice as much as that of France. Far greater than the Algerian crisis in France are the problems confronting India. The government is battling with terrorism, insurgencies, separatism, foreign infiltration, corruption and crime. Does not India require an effective executive that can address these problems? Can any Prime Minister and cabinet that are part of coalition governments, forever under threat of being toppled by realignment among the multiple parties governing different states, ever provide effective governance? It is time to get real.
Ironically, while the Jan Lokpal would be outside the constitutional framework there exists within the present Constitution an office more powerful than one envisaged by Team Hazare. To utilize that office neither laws nor the Constitution need change. The Constitution needs to be observed. This powerful unutilized office of course is that of the President of India. Article 53 (1) of the Constitution states that executive power is vested in the President, which may be exercised 'either directly or through officers subordinate' to the President. Even the 42nd and 43rd Amendments to Article 74 (1) perversely introduced to curb the President’s powers apply only to steps initiated by the cabinet. Nowhere does the Constitution prevent the President from taking the initiative in other matters. Nowhere in the Constitution is it stated that the President is merely a titular head. There are occasions when the cabinet’s advice may neither be sought nor tendered.
By invoking Article 78 (a) the President can order the Prime Minister to periodically communicate 'all decisions of the affairs of the Union and proposals for legislation'. By invoking Article 78 (c) the President can direct the cabinet to consider any subject not discussed by it. By invoking Article 86 (1) and (2) the President can address both Houses of Parliament and offer advice. By invoking Article 263 the President can urge Parliament to give substance to the dormant Inter-State Council for settling disputes between States and the Centre to give teeth to India’s federalism. The President can monitor the appointment, transfer, promotion and demotion of all government officials implemented in the President’s name to ensure that these are done according to prevalent rules and laws. All this the President can perform within the Constitution. The President can sanction prosecution of the Prime Minister. Why should civil society hanker after a Lokpal outside the constitutional framework that would be much less powerful?
Mr. Anna Hazare has acquired a following among the urban middle class. Baba Ramdev has followers in rural India. To succeed, ‘India’s Second Freedom’ would require commitment far above that to any individual or institution. All would have to join hands. Civil society has a potential mass support. It has the issue. It lacks the appropriate agenda. One would urge its members to reappraise their demand and widen its scope. India needs a systemic change. It can be accomplished not be changing the Constitution but by observing it. That is what the struggle should be all about.
In her recent visit to the capital Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Ms Jayalalithaa advocated a strong executive that could effectively address the problems of corruption, security and foreign policy. She was voicing the opinion of most thinking people.
One urges civil society to heed given advice because of two factors.
- First, the silent crisis in India is much graver than what most people believe.
- Secondly, there is no constitutional remedy except that of allowing the President to function as its makers had dictated before their intent was distorted by Pandit Nehru who was mesmerized by the British political system.