The view has often been expressed that it is imperative that India has a democratic revolution; that India’s political system but not its Constitution needs to be changed; that it is not one or the other party that needs to be defeated but the entire ruling class because all parties, the bureaucracy, the judiciary and the media participate in the corrupt and decadent political culture that is destroying the nation; that the Constitution needs to be reappraised and the President’s role and some of its ignored directive principles need to be implemented …These views were considered as crazy wishful thinking at best or romanticized radical nonsense at worst. Are these views still nonsensical? Step back and take a dispassionate look at the state of the nation.
Even as this is being written, the following events are simultaneously occurring. The Union government is in the midst of one of the world’s biggest corruption scandals, the Spectrum G2 scam, the Commonwealth Games Corruption scandal and the Adarsh Housing corruption scandal. These corruption cases involve the active participation of leading politicians, bureaucrats, army officers, leading journalists and businessmen. The leading national opposition parties are involved in corruption cases in Karnataka and Kerala. Understandably the corrupt opposition and the corrupt media are in no position to take the fight against corruption to its logical conclusion. One senior Judge is being impeached and there are court cases alleging corruption by former Chief Justices of India. The government has appointed an individual facing charge of corruption in court to become the Central Vigilance Officer. There are large areas of the nation outside the government’s control where separatist or so-called revolutionary insurgents with foreign support are tearing the nation apart. There are fuzzy headed intellectuals, writers and liberal activists, many funded overtly or covertly by foreign sources, who promote the insurgents without a condemnatory word for the violent anti-democratic methods they employ to kill innocents or low paid police personnel. The gap between the rich and the poor has never been wider and it is widening every day. The corrupt, rich and venal ruling elite have stashed the largest amount of illegal money in foreign banks by any nation in the world. India ranks very high in corruption among the nations of the world. It ranks very low in providing basic human amenities to its people among the nations of the world.
So, does India desperately need radical reform of its system or does it not? Can India survive by pursuing its present path? If reform is needed, what shape should it take?
There are two basic reforms that suggest themselves.
First, the most basic and vital reform required is to first of all recover our lost identity as a people and as a nation. For centuries through history we have been Hindustan. The divide and rule policy of our former colonial masters, their ability to manipulate the best among our national leaders, and the consequent irrational division of the subcontinent that violated all established norms of nationhood, led to the creation of India and Pakistan. Today no Hindustanis remain. There are Hindus and Muslims, Northerners and Southerners, forward castes and backward castes – all claiming to be Indians but in fact unable to look beyond their petty linguistic, religious or caste identities. The problem of Kashmir is but just one result of the Partition. So, how might the Partition be undone? We must undo its spirit without altering the national boundaries or existing sovereignties of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. In other words, we must create our own version of a South Asian identity that allows common defence, common market and no visas among its member nations.
Secondly, we must implement our Constitution in letter and spirit and cease our false interpretation of it by which we have governed our nation these past six decades. Our Constitution is written and explicit. Only if the written text is ambiguous and open to different meanings might we consult legal authorities to interpret it. The views or intentions of the makers of the Constitution culled from the Constituent Assembly debates are irrelevant if the world’s longest written Constitution is clear and explicit in its text. Unfortunately our Constitution has been misinterpreted due to the personal whims and prejudices of our rulers from day one. Our Constitution is as presidential as is the French Constitution, allowing both the President and the Prime Minister active roles in determining governance. By a minor amendment that does not infringe upon the basic structure of the Constitution our President can acquire a political mandate that would be as popular as that of the American President. Parliament has simply to give legislatures fixed terms, render elections to parliament and state assemblies simultaneous, as was the practice in the early years after Independence, and make the election of the President, parliament and the assemblies concurrent. Thereby the voters who would vote for their MPs or MLAs would also know at the same time for which presidential candidate they would be voting because it would be new legislators with known affiliations who would elect the new President. It would be as happens in the United States.
Along with the reform that restores the rightful role of the President there are directive principles of the Constitution that have been brazenly ignored for the past many years. The directive principle to devolve power to the village panchayats that render villages akin to self governing republics implies self rule in the best traditions of a federal polity. The unimplemented Article that directs the creation of the Inter-State Council if acted upon would have clearly demarcated division of responsibility between the centre and the states and set up a mechanism to resolve disputes in the best traditions of a genuine federal polity. It is ridiculous for a continental sized nation like India, multi-lingual, multi-ethnic and multi-religious, to virtually deny its federal character and be governed accordingly. The basic principle of federalism is that problems that concern solely people in any given area should be addressed by those people without outside interference. That implies self rule for all. Devolution of power up to the village level would ensure genuine freedom for citizens. An executive President entrusted to preserve law and the Constitution would ensure national unity.
There are other less basic reforms that would naturally flow from these basic reforms if introduced. These need not be elaborated upon. The question is how might these reforms be introduced in order to preserve national integrity and security? Clearly, one cannot depend upon any section of the present political leadership in both the government and the opposition to deliver. The lead must come from civil society. Even those of its members who have up till now participated in our corrupt and flawed political system must read the writing on the wall and take the lead. The youth in particular have the biggest stake in the future. They must take the lead. India desperately needs a nationwide movement with an explicit agenda for radical democratic reform that transforms the nation’s prevalent political culture and system. Can such a movement occur? I believe it can. Societies like individuals have strong instincts for survival. Today an increasing number of people are beginning to recognize that the very survival of Indian democracy and the Indian Republic is at stake. One catalytic event can trigger the start of a movement for genuine reform. The current situation gives promise of creating several such catalytic events.