All nations have ups and downs. India is no exception. But right now in the sixty-seventh year of its Independence India is experiencing its worst year. It confronts a situation in which the survival of the democratic system and therefore of the Republic appears to be under threat. In 1975 an insecure and power-hungry Prime Minister threatened by loss of office imposed dictatorship through a fraudulent and unconstitutional Emergency. But the nation was not as threatened as it is today because the decline was limited to one individual and to a handful of blinded sycophants. For the rest, most of the officials and the people may have concurred with the regime but only because of fear. Their hearts and minds remained in the right places. Now India is witnessing a collapse of character and conduct that mocks the very spirit of a civilized democracy.
Consider a few random examples of current governance that illustrate the dangerous decline of the system.
The recent suspension of IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal is a scandal that first comes to mind. Why and how could such an incident occur? Very simply the deed was executed by the Chief Minister’s personal secretary who is an officer previously imprisoned for corruption and presently on bail challenged in the Supreme Court. Should an officer under these circumstances be posted in such a sensitive position? This is gross violation of basic democratic norms. An officer so protected by politicians and beholden to the government cannot possibly discharge his functions by observing rules of administration. That is why procedure was violated in suspending Ms. Nagpal.
In Haryana it was the other way around. An honest and conscientious officer, Mr. Ashok Khemka, was transferred for exposing the illegal actions of the state government and Mrs. Sonia Gandhi’s son-on-law while colluding in dubious land deals to rake in profits. After his transfer the officer presented a 100 page report justifying his action and demanding a suitable reply from the state government. None of course is forthcoming. Instead the ruling politicians of Haryana are accusing the officer of acting at the behest of opposition parties.
Lest the BJP gloat over these lapses by state governments administered by other parties, the record of the party’s own poster boy, Mr. Narendra Modi, who is being projected as a model of good governance, is no less questionable. The Additional Director-General of Gujarat Police, CID (Crime and Railways) Mr. PP Pandey had been named as a prime accused and proclaimed offender in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case. Mr. Pandey evaded arrest and absconded for three months. Finally he resurfaced and presented himself in court by being brought on a stretcher. In a subsequent visit to the court he arrived on a wheelchair feigning illness. After the court rejected his plea for anticipatory bail Mr. Pandey stood up from his wheelchair and sprinted to his car and vanished once again. The Gujarat police Chief has issued instructions for a vigilant lookout and ordered the police to apprehend Mr. Pandey.
What kind of farce was this? For a proclaimed offender who had already vanished once to evade arrest should not the police have kept him under close watch after he resurfaced? Is it believable that Mr. Pandey can disappear and remain untraced without the connivance of his police colleagues? That is not all. Worse is to follow. In violation of the rules of the All India Services and of the Gujarat Police Manual (GPM) Mr. Pandey as a proclaimed offender should have been immediately suspended. He remains unsuspended to this day. Perhaps the Gujarat government intends to utilize his cooperative services in a key post at a later date. The central government was equally derelict in not suspending him since Mr. Pandey belongs to an All India Service. Qualitatively how is this different from the gross violation of democratic norms all over the country?
Such examples can be cited from almost all the states of India.
The question arises, how can such violation of norms and lack of governance be checked? How can the conduct of politicians and officials be improved to ensure that laws are observed and proper governance is delivered?
The answer is simple.
We should take a leaf from the British when they ruled India. Discipline and improved conduct can be achieved by just one cardinal rule. Every officer, every politician in power, quite simply must be compelled to strictly adhere to procedure. There is self correction in the system provided all procedures and democratic norms laid down in procedure are observed. Is it too difficult to focus on the observance of procedure in all governance? Perhaps in the prevailing context it is too difficult. That is why the distortion in our system resulting from ignoring the explicit and written directives of our Constitution must be ended. In other words the observance of all laws and procedure in governance could be ensured if the President of India were to discharge the responsibilities assigned to the post in our Constitution.
At present in gross violation of the Constitution’s written text the President is expected to behave like a titular head without any executive responsibility. This happens because of the glaring misinterpretation of the Constitution in our political system as it presently prevails. As the only public official entrusted by our Constitution to preserve and protect the Constitution and all its laws, is the President sufficiently armed to discharge this duty? Obviously he is not. The President would require adequate staff to monitor the administration and observe official orders, postings and transfers of officials to ensure that administrative procedure and laws are being observed. As the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces the President similarly would require adequate staff to monitor administration related to the Defence forces. Why is this not being done? Regardless of Article 74 and the 42nd Amendment that require the President to follow the advice tendered by the Council of Ministers, Article 53 (1) still empowers the President to govern “directly” if he so desires. As the sole official under oath to preserve and protect all laws the President clearly cannot be stopped from initiating action to discharge this function by any minister. Why, then, does our political system not provide the President with the staff and secretariat required to discharge the duty of preserving and protecting laws? The President has more than sufficient rooms to accommodate offices.
Consider this. Rashtrapati Bhavan is the largest presidential palace in the world. It has 340 rooms built on 350 acres. Although the President’s own salary is a modest Rs. 1.5 lakhs, the annual expenditure on the maintenance of Rashtrapati Bhavan is 1 billion dollars that is around Rs. 100 crore. This does not include the additional expenditure incurred by entertaining guests and hosting social functions the year around. The electricity bill which is 6 to 7 crore annually is also not included in this figure. In addition the President has official residences in two other states, Andhra and Himachal Pradesh, entailing extra expenditure. Are tax payers incurring this huge expenditure merely for the satisfaction of seeing our President take the salute once a year on Republic Day parades? Or for seeing the President read out a speech prepared for him by others? Sadly enough, no party seeks systemic reform. Inexplicably, even President Pranab Mukherjee seems content with the status quo. Does the fact of the Swiss government communicating that it will cooperate with the Indian government to provide full details of the Rs. 70 lakh crore Indian money stashed in secret Swiss bank accounts inhibit Indian politicians from undertaking systemic reform and clean up corruption?
If our politicians are serious about bringing democracy and governance back on the rails they must earnestly review the Constitution and introduce systemic reform in conformity with its written provisions. It is much later than what most people realize. If some such radical systemic reform does no occur very soon, one shudders to contemplate the condition of Independent India on its 68th birthday.
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