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Explaining India’s Stability Paradox
|by Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle|
Thankfully the fast by social activist Anna Hazare is now over with a positive outcome particularly in coagulation of public opinion against corruption which should hopefully lead to action to constitutional action to contain it in the days ahead. For some days however there were fears expressed of anarchy in Delhi. These are now considered to be passé as a democratic solution has emerged strengthening institutions.
This peaceful outcome comes in stark contrast to recent images of tanks rumbling in cities of Syria, protesters storming Tahrir Square in Cairo and armoured cars deployed in London. India is chastised by many for being a soft liberal State facing myriad challenges from insurgency to terrorism to agitations the Anna Hazare one being the latest and perhaps the most wide spread in recent times.
Against this backdrop, India’s overall stability may appear a paradox, yet it reflects innate strength of the most populous democracy of all times nurtured by sturdy institutional pillars.
First and foremost remains the Indian Constitution, drafted by visionaries, it provides an ideal, “doctrine,” of sorts for a nation with multiple identities, religion, caste, ethnicity or language. The all encompassing document has served the nation well and has sufficient flexibility to accommodate amendments necessitated by changing times. The Armed Forces owe allegiance to the Constitution thus they have symbolized the highest degree of professionalism unmoved by politics of the hour, a rarity in the post colonial developing World marred by coup plots and extended periods of military rule. Thus the Constitution has proved seminal in more ways than one.
Of the three primary pillars of the state, legislature, executive and the judiciary, retaining a perfect balance remains the key to survival of modern democracies. India’s legislature comprising two houses of elected representatives the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha has been the amphitheatre of many historic debates the most seminal one in recent history was the one on the Indo US Nuclear Agreement which ended in a vote. There are many who may bemoan the histrionics that go on in both the houses, this is as much a result of television coverage of the proceedings as using the well as an arena for airing political differences.
Yet much serious parliamentary work takes place in preparatory meetings, committees and discussions which are away from the glare of publicity. The Bills some times passed in a jiffy may have been discussed by respective parliamentary committees threadbare. The members thus use the time of the house to address issues of common concern and no doubt for some plain personal or party promotion. However important bills which impact the state and society are extensively debated some times for inordinately long periods.
India’s executive follows a hierarchical political and bureaucracy structure in three levels, Centre, States and Districts with sufficient autonomy to carry out functions of delivery of governance to the masses. The all India services provide the common framework for functioning with political direction and well-established systems in place to run the State with minimal interjections. This is supported by independent bodies such as the Election Commission which has provided for free and fair elections. Then there are other bodies such as the Central Vigilance Commission and Comptroller and Auditor General’s office which are some times much reviled yet are able to provide an oversight over the State. The All India Civil Services and the Armed Forces provide the necessary managerial expertise in administration and security enabling continuity and credibility with internationally accepted norms of rights and governance.
Where the executive appears weak or is seen to have faltered the judiciary effectively steps in to apply correctives. Some are based on petitions filed by the aggrieved, others in public interest while in some cases suo motu notice is taken by courts when the executive is seen to overstep limits. An independent judiciary remains a strong pillar of the Indian state ensuring equity and balance.
This triad is supported by a vibrant fourth estate. An independent media has been India’s strength over a period. The Press faced a dark patch during Emergency (1975-77) and having learnt from the past has strived to expose the truth through some fearless journalism. Today with an explosion of the electronic media, it is facing another crisis of balancing commercial interests to fund media houses with its core duty of speaking, “truth to power.” Despite many imperfections during this evolutionary stage from the print to online mainstream and social media the Indian Press will continue to provide transparency and probity so essential in a modern nation state.
The emergence of a vibrant civil society led by the middle class could be one of the defining trends in India’s stability story in the beginning of the 21st Century. It is taking up slack that arms of the state have not been able to fulfill, point to errors of commission and omission and drive change. While the methods of agitation employed or crass deriding of institutions by some may be reviling but the new civil society movement should be able to sensitize the state to perform its duties with greater diligence.
Underpinning India’s solidity is its economy driven by factors such as high savings rate over 20 percent for the past three decades or more. Contrast this with that in America where it has never exceeded above 12 percent in the last six decades and remained dangerously below 5 percent in the past decade. India’s GINI index which denotes degree of inequality is five points better than China and four point points the United States. The tax base in the country is growing at 15 percent which will facilitate growth, while corruption given the momentum provided by civil society watch dogs is bound to come down. There is an entrepreneurial private industry and business class which is becoming globally relevant. Above all are a sense of family values and puritanical traditions which continue to remain largely in tact in the post modern era.
At the same time there are immense challenges of security, of sustained growth and a large number of impoverished, uneducated and unemployed. Their outpourings may come on the streets but the state has the flexibility and resilience to prevent anarchy of the Arab Springs and Violet revolutions. Above all Indians today are taking a civilisational view drawing strength from heritage of leading prosperity for centuries. This will dictate the trajectory of success for India in the decades ahead.
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09/02/2011 18:04 PM
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