Case of Guards Looting the Treasury – Fault Lines of Polity
Its historic deliberations were drawing to a close – deliberations that built the constitutional architecture of Indian polity. Wise men had discussed and debated for over two years to draft the guidelines for the future governance of free India. The Constituent Assembly was holding on January 24, 1950 its last session to adopt the Constitution of India.
A scholarly, quiet man who had sat listening to the deliberations of the wise, lacking the aura of Nehruvian charisma (and flamboyance) stood up to address the House. He wasn’t thinking of the present but the future of the polity. He knew India and also frailties of human nature. His name was Dr. Rajendra Prasad. Yes, the same man who had presided over the Constituent Assembly proceedings day after day.
Voice of Sanity Lost in Wilderness
Addressing the House he submitted – a longish submission, which I crave your indulgence to quote because it contained profound wisdom which, if listened to and acted upon, would have saved us the agony to live with a deeply flawed polity:
“There are only two regrets which I must share with the honorable Members. I would have liked to have some qualifications laid down for members of the Legislatures. It is anomalous that we should insist upon high qualifications for those who administer or help in administering the law but none for those who made it except that they are elected. A law giver requires intellectual equipment but even more than that capacity to take a balanced view of things to act independently and above all to be true to those fundamental things of life – in one word – to have character (Hear, hear). It is not possible to devise any yardstick for measuring the moral qualities of a man and so long as that is not possible, our Constitution will remain defective.
The other regret is that we have not been able to draw up our first Constitution of a free Bharat in an Indian language. The difficulties in both cases were practical and proved insurmountable. But that does not make the regret any the less poignant.
We have prepared a democratic Constitution. But successful working of democratic institutions requires in those who have to work them willingness to respect the viewpoints of others, capacity for compromise and accommodation. Many things which cannot be written in a Constitution are done by conventions. Let me hope that we shall show those capacities and develop those conventions. The way in which we have been able to draw this Constitution without taking recourse to voting and to divisions in Lobbies strengthens that hope.
Whatever the Constitution may or may not provide, the welfare of the country will depend upon the way in which the country is administered. That will depend upon the men who administer it. It is a trite saying that a country can have only the Government it deserves. Our Constitution has provision in it which appear to some to be objectionable from one point or another. We must admit that the defects are inherent in the situation in the country and the people at large. If the people, who are elected are capable men of character and integrity, they would be able to make the best even of a defective Constitution. If they are lacking in these, the Constitution cannot help the country. After all, a Constitution like a machine is a lifeless thing. It acquires life because of the men who control it and operate it and India needs today nothing more than a set of honest men who will have the interest of the country before them. There is a fissiparous tendency arising out of various elements in our life. We have communal differences, caste differences, language differences, provincial differences and so forth. It requires men of strong character, men of vision, men who will not sacrifice the interests of the country at large for the sake of smaller groups and areas and who will rise over the prejudices which are born of these differences.
We can only hope that the country will throw up such men in abundance. I can say this from the experience of the struggle that we have had during the period of the freedom movement that new occasions throw up new men; not once but almost on every occasion when all leading men in the Congress were clapped into prison suddenly without having the time to leave instructions to others and even to make plans for carrying on their campaigns, people arose from amongst the masses who were able to continue and conduct the campaigns with intelligence, with initiative, with capacity for organization which nobody suspected they possessed.
I have no doubt that when the country needs men of character, they will be coming up and the masses will throw them up. Let not those who have served in the past therefore rest on their oars, saying that they have done their part and now has come the time for them to enjoy the fruits of their labors. No such time comes to anyone who is really earnest about his work.
In India today I feel that the work that confronts us is even more difficult than the work which we had when we were engaged in the struggle. We did not have then any conflicting claims to reconcile, no loaves and fishes to distribute, no powers to share. We have all these now, and the temptations are really great. Pray to God that we shall have the wisdom and the strength to rise above them, and to serve the country which we have succeeded in liberating.
Mahatma Gandhi laid stress on the purity of the methods which had to be pursued for attaining our ends. Let us not forget that this teaching has eternal value and was not intended only for the period of stress and struggle but has as much authority and value today as it ever had before. We have a tendency to blame others for everything that goes wrong and not to introspect and try to see it we have any share in it or not. It is very much easier to scan one’s own actions and motives if one is inclined to do so than to appraise correctly the actions and motives of others. I shall only hope that all those whose good fortune it may be to work this Constitution in future will remember that it was a unique victory which we achieved by the unique method taught to us by the Father of the Nation, and it is up to us to preserve and protect the independence that we have won and to make it really bear fruit for the man in the street. Let us launch on this new enterprise of running our Independent Republic with confidence, with truth and non-violence and above all with heart within and God overhead.
Before I close, I must express my thanks to all the Members of this august Assembly from whom I have received not only courtesy but, if I may say so, also their respect and affection. Sitting in the Chair and watching the proceedings from day to day. I have realized as nobody else could have, with what zeal and devotion the members of the Drafting Committee and especially its Chairman, Dr. Ambedkar in spite of his indifferent health, have worked. (Cheers). We could never make a decision which was or could be ever so right as when we put him on the Drafting Committee and made him its Chairman. He has not only justified his selection but has added luster to the work which he has done. In this connection, it would be invidious to make any distinction as among the other members of the Committee. I know they have all worked with the same zeal and devotion as its Chairman, and they deserve the thanks of the country.”
The man was listened to with attention. His compatriots, however, chose to disregard his wise counsel. The result was Act no. 43 of 1951, the Representation of the People Act, 1951 under whose aegis the first and thereafter all future elections of Lok Sabha were held. It didn’t stipulate any sane and sensible provisions in the form of safeguards to ensure that politics doesn’t become the proverbial last resort of scoundrels. And the result is that all the country’s leading rogues and rascals are politicians and most of them Members of Parliament. Before examining this entirely unforeseen but most unfortunate phenomenon, let’s have look at some implications of the electoral system that we evolved.
First Past The Post System
In a parliamentary democracy a Government is formed when it is chosen by the majority i.e., the candidate that gets the majority votes wins the election. But in India it is not necessary that the winning candidate gets the majority vote 50%. Such a system is known as FPTP system. The multiplicity of parties in India has resulted in the majority of legislators getting elected on a minority vote i.e., they do not represent the will and consent of the majority.
There are States where 85% to 90% of the legislators have won on a minority vote (i.e., by having obtained less than 50% of the votes cast). In many cases candidates have won by getting less than 20% of the total votes cast in their constituency. To quote a few examples: in Uttar Pradesh, over the last three assembly elections an average of only 11% legislators won on a majority vote. In other words, almost 90% legislators won on a minority vote. The same proportion is valid for most other States except perhaps Tamil Nadu. Shouldn’t there be re-election in such cases?
The Tarkunde committee spoke of the possibility of adopting the mixed system – a combination of the Proportional Representation and plurality system. The Law Commission of India proposed one major change that the “list system” in addition to the ‘first-past-the-post-system” being followed presently and the removal of parties securing less than 5% votes. None of these suggestions was accepted because its beneficiaries are opposed to it. And the major one is the Indian National Congress.
In order to remove the flaws present in the FPTP system the procedure of alternative voting should be adopted which has been suggested by the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution.
Multiplicity of Parties
Adding to the confusion is the mushrooming of regional parties, most of which represent rule of regional satraps as reigning dynasties. The clamor in Andhra Pradesh for anointing the political novice son of the late Chief Minister as the next CM was symptomatic of this wide-spread problem. Our recent political history is replete with instances of dynastic successions. Led by the redoubtable Nehru-Indira Gandhi-Rajeev-Sonia-Rahul, this virus of late has been contracted by practically every state satrap: Lalu-Rabri and Paswans in Bihar, Patnayaks in Orissa, Badals in Punjab, Abdullahs and Sayeeds in J&K, Pawars and Thakerays in Maharashtra, Goudas in Karnataka, Mulayam clan and Mayawati dalit rule in U.P., and Karunanidhi clan in TN. The examples are endless on both sides of the national political divide represented by the Indian National Congress and Bhartiya Janata Party.
The oft repeated, specious argument that one should not object to a politician’s son being a politician when there is no objection to a doctor’ son becoming doctor, engineer’s son being engineer etc., does not hold much water. The objections are not just based on the sons/daughters/nephews/wives joining politics but more importantly, on the complete absence of any due process and the walkover awarded to these star politicians. It is almost akin to a business or a monarchical succession. Obviously, it is at the cost of other more deserving leaders.
It seems that all the leaders belonging to these parties have a right to succeed to their parent’s chair. This system can be compared to the law of primogeniture of the ancient times i.e., the right of the son to succeed his father’s throne. This system has actually made the election/political system like a family business whether or not he/she has the required qualifications. The extensive practice of this system has denied people the right of equal opportunity to contest elections. Today, we seem to be living in an indirect monarchy and still call ourselves as the world’s largest democracy.
Criminalization of Polity
When the Labour Government introduced the India Independence bill in British Parliament, expectedly the Tories opposed it. Their spokesman – that dyed-in-wool imperialist, Sir Winston Churchill made a statement that was deeply wounding to our self-pride. He was understandably ridiculed by our leadership. Churchill had said:
“Power will go to rascals, rogues, freebooters. All leaders will be of low caliber and men of straw. They'll have sweet tongues and silly hearts. . .They will fight amongst themselves for power and the two countries will be lost in political squabbles. . . . A day would come when even air & water will be taxed.”
Tell me, sixty years hence, was Churchill very wrong or dead right? Was his prognosis – howsoever hurting to our self-pride then as now – not accurate enough? And, above all, wasn’t that wise man – Dr Rajendra Prasad – right who advised us in 1950 on the eve of adopting the Constitution, to prescribe strict qualifications for those who will be our law makers?
Today, it is an all too well known that all political parties without any exception, take the help of criminal elements to dominate the election scene in India. And this disconcerting process is influencing the mind and the will of the people both to gain the majority to rule the country for personal gain. Our polity is in hands of the criminals. Our present system of Governance is dominated by the following four deadly components:
The influence of muscle power in Indian politics has been a fact of life for a long time. As early as in 1977, the National Police Commission headed by Dharam Vira (whose report the Government refuses to make public) observed:
“The manner in which different political parties have functioned, particularly on the eve of periodic elections, involves the free use of musclemen and ‘Dadas’ to influence the attitude and conduct of sizable sections of the electorate. The Panchayat elections, like other elections in the recent past, have demonstrated once again that there can be no sanity in India as long as politics continues to be based on caste”
The politicians are thriving today on the basis of muscle power provided by criminals. The common people who constitute the voters are in most cases too reluctant to take measures that would curtail the criminal activities. Once the political aspect joins the criminal elements the nexus becomes extremely dangerous. Many of politicians chose muscle power to gain vote bank in the country and operate on the assumption that, if they are unable to generate faith in the community, they must generate fear instead.
The elections to Parliament and State Legislatures are indeed an expensive business and it is a widely accepted fact that huge election expenditure is the root cause for corruption in India. A candidate has to spend crores of rupees to get elected and even if he gets elected, the total salary he gets during his tenure as an MP/MLA will be meager compared to his election expenses. How can he bridge the gap between the income and expenses? Publicly through donations and secretly through illegal means. All told, the system has to generate around Rs 5,000 crore in a five year cycle or Rs 1,000 crore on average each year. Where is this money to come from? Only criminal activity can generate such large sums of untaxed funds. That is why you have criminals in politics. They have money and muscle, so they win and help others in their party win as well.
Criminals and strongmen have, over the years, become a standing feature of our politics. Their ill-gotten wealth provides easy campaign cash, and they often control constituencies with strong caste or religious loyalties. Indian police are kept under tight political control, and are prevented from taking on politically-connected gangsters. Indian cops have been known to file false cases against opponents of the ruling dispensation. The courts move slowly, if at all, against those who are charged.
Nothing perhaps illustrates better the real political malaise of Indian electioneering than the case of Mukhtar Ansari. He is perhaps the most celebrated (or shall we say infamous?) of a group of “Robin Hood” bosses who gained prominence in the 1990s.
Ironically enough, he was the grandson of an early president of the Indian National Congress. He is criminal politician from Maunath Bhanjan in Eastern Uttar Pradesh. Dan Morrison of The New York Times in a dispatch on February 1, 2012 characterizes him as "the man to see if you needed money for your daughter’s wedding (a crushing burden on poor families) or a government posting for your son. It's said his influence kept the power flowing – and the electric looms running – in the textile-producing districts around Ghazipur when others endured extended blackouts. In the assembly, he and his opponents battled with rhetoric; on the street they fought with guns for control of lucrative government contracts.”
Mayawati became chief minister in 2007 on a platform that promised an end to criminality in politics. Her majority in the Assembly was sustained in part by 69 legislators facing criminal charges, including murder. Recently, even she was forced to expel a close aide from her Bahujan Samaj Party after he was implicated in a grisly murder and corruption case. He was immediately snatched up as a prized catch by Bharatiya Janata Party.
How far have things gone, consider the following. Last year, when workers of the Trinamool Congress Party in the West Bengal complained about the induction into their ranks of a rival Communist Party cadre who’s been charged with several murders, their boss – none other than Mamata-di – the last hope of West Bengal’s revival – offered a chillingly honest response: “The party cannot be run with writers and bearded intellectuals. [He] is our party’s asset.”
Tell me, now, whither shall we look?
Continued to Part 2