Mature Democracy & Principles

Transformation in Indian Democracy – Part II

Before I begin to continue from the previous article on Transformation in Indian Democracy let me attempt to clarify a few points.

Every democracy in the world is founded on some core principles. These are well known to all of us yet we tend not to emphasize them in the hours of crisis. To begin with in democracy the government is of the people, by the people and for the people. The people are the ultimate sovereign. There is a Constitution and there are institutions to maintain, uphold and enforce that constitution. All these institutions are of the people, by the people and for the people. What is described above forms the core of the democratic principles. It turns out that during the functioning of the government there are genuinely different views to achieve the desired goals and objectives. Each of these views operates within the core democratic principles. Therefore we can have various parties who can sit in opposition. The purpose of the opposition party is not to oppose the ruling party on each and every subject with the objective of wrestling the power away from it. It is, instead, to insure that the whole system operates within the core democratic principles and there is a choice for the people for a better governance if they so decide in the future.

In an ideal mature democracy the system always operates within the above framework. It is always a work in process with modifications, refinements and corrections in the system that steer it to reach this goal. The very simple rule of thumb is to remember “of the people, by the people and for the people”. The government has to be accountable to the people and transparent to the people. If any actions by the institutions do not meet one or more of these criteria, we are deviating from the core.

I realize that I am painfully repeating what is obvious to most of us. But the truth is that we forget it often and become susceptible to the convoluted logic of many sly political leaders.

Now, take the case of the Indian democracy. How many actions taken by our institutions of governance pass this test? You be the judge. I am not going to waste time dwelling on it. In the worst form of democracy, the institutions of governance become a collective entity by themselves divorced from the people and work feverishly to preserve, protect and promote their interests. How close are we to this form of democracy? You be the judge!

Immediate Challenges for AAP

The AAP is facing difficult choices. They can form a minority government that might last for a few months and try to accomplish whatever little they can before they are toppled. The seasoned opposition is waiting for this and baiting them to take a bite. It can be argued, nevertheless, that this is a reasonable option for AAP. They have to tread it carefully. Their decisions are critical at this juncture and any major mistake will snap this seedling. Their decision to ask from Congress and BJP as to what position they take on major points of AAP manifesto is also a good one. They have to tone down their language though. Harsh language is for political campaigning, not for exchange of ideas. AAP is smart enough to know that any answers they receive would be purely technical and evasive but they would come in handy during the campaigning for the follow up election if their decision to form an immediate government is short lived. All the political savvy, sly language and smart moves backfire if they are exposed to the public. Transparency is the only weapon AAP has to fight these opposition moves. Transparency also takes us toward a mature democracy.

Another charge from Congress and BJP is that AAP was running away from the responsibility of forming a government in Delhi with the “unconditional” support from the “erstwhile” Congress. The AAP decided to reach out to its constituents to get their input on this subject. Mr. Nitin Gadkari of BJP called this action a mockery of democracy and had a few other choice words for the AAP leaders. Perhaps in his view the right democratic option for AAP was what BJP had done in these situations in the past – indulge in the closed door negotiations with the opponents and do hose trading of core platform manifestos to form the government and come to power at any price. In most western democracies (I am not claiming they are ideal – they have their own problems and challenges – but they are far more effective and responsive than ours) there are referendums during the elections on major issues that people directly vote upon. Sometimes these referendums are carried out independent of general elections if deemed important enough. There are frequent televised public hearings on important issues. The point is that there are steps to promote accountability and transparency in the government.

One can argue that there is no effective way to take input from people without conducting another election. This is not necessarily true. Typically those who feel strongly in favor or opposite will show up to offer their views if given a forum. I recall Congress leaders telling us that only a few lakh people turned up to support Anna Hazare movement and that was not representative of crores of Indians that had voted them in power. Now they have found out that a few lakhs can tell you what crores are thinking. No wonder now they are running to Anna Hazare to support the Lokpal Bill and take credit for it. It is a good policy to stay in touch with the pulse of the people.

For the past four decades the parties that have shared the power in India have lost connection with the core democratic principles and find it strange when a new comer wants to pursue them. Oddly, most of the public have also lost touch of this basic fact and find the actions of AAP strange and lunatic. We do not appreciate that it essentially empowers us to participate in the democracy. We are simply not used to it.

If AAP receives overwhelming support from the people to form either a minority government or one with outside support of Congress, they should go ahead and do so. If they earnestly carry out their manifesto, stay accountable and transparent with the people, they should not face any adverse consequences if their government is toppled and re-elections held in the near future.

Broader Role of AAP

India has been governed by two major parties: Congress and BJP with various alliances. Both these parties have indulged into scores of corrupt practices over the past four decades. The specter of coalition only further aggravates this situation. There have been many occasions in the past when one of these emerged with clear majority. The problem was that the ruling party and the principal opposition were both corrupt to begin with. Hence nothing got accomplished. It is critical that at least one of the parties (ruling or opposition) is relatively free of corruption in order for democracy to function properly. Otherwise, as has been the case in the past, on all critical issues they essentially collude to serve their self-interest. The only visible difference is in their pursuit to gain the power. There is a faint opportunity now to create a third front with some adherence to transparency and accountability. We cannot be indifferent to this development.

Let us speculate as to what might happen in the near future. UPA is corrupt and inept. People appear to be fed up with it. They are looking for an alternative. Narendra Modi has appeared on the horizon. Selection of Narendra Modi was a master move accomplished by Rajnath Singh. Modi is a newcomer for the central political scene. He is perceived as personally honest, hardworking, decisive and committed to growth with ability to mobilize the government and the bureaucracy. This is lot more than can be said about Dr. Manmohan Singh and other prominent UPA leaders. Modi may have his own personal baggage but the people appear to overlook it. Perhaps they consider it as an acceptable risk. It was interesting during the CNN-IBN poll survey that most people who were going to vote for AAP were also in favor of Modi as the prime-minister.

Of all the questionable baggage that Modi may carry, the biggest baggage is BJP. The crucial challenge for Mr. Modi and Mr. Rajnath Singh is to clean BJP from its corrupt elements. This is a monumental task and the temptation to ignore this and select the “established” and the “winners” would be great. It is not likely to happen. A clear BJP majority with Congress sitting in opposition is more likely. History is going to repeat itself – collusion of the corrupt. This is another compelling reason to support AAP in other states and help it secure a respectable stature in the next Parliament. Some check is needed to keep BJP in balance and not re-indulge in corrupt practices with the arrogance of absolute majority.

Continued to “Politics: Accountability & Transparency”

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More by :  Dr. Gopal Singh

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Views: 3497      Comments: 2

Comment "Yet, this is not to say that the recognition and will to eliminate corruption in government must be treated as a lost cause. On the contrary, one must adopt the correct strategy. To tackle corruption one must have laws in place that are enforceable at the highest level".

The above statements by you sum up what I am emphasizing. I understand the difference in value judgments that political leaders and their constituents might have on what they consider "corruption". When the political leaders manipulate the laws that are there to check corruption and insure that they are not enforced against them, a fundamental change in the though process and approach to democracy has to brought about. Also, in India we pass new laws to fix any pressing problems. Often these laws are cosmetic and never enforced. Even the existing laws are poorly enforced. It is not just a genuine difference in the mental set in defining corruption. It is cold and calculated process of exploiting the power for personal gains at the cost of the country. Unless we bring in new approach to accountability and transparency in the governance, we are headed for disaster.

22-Dec-2013 09:55 AM

Comment If democracy is a term, it has a definition. You confirm this by quoting Lincoln's definition of it as 'government of the people, by the people and for the peopleā€, but you omit the condition of Lincoln's definition as based on the 'God-given inalienable rights of the individual'. This is not the basis of democracy today, where human rights are based on the value of the human being in an evolved social consciousness. When modern day democratic (or other) leaders disregard human rights they have only to fear justice done via human courts, not explicitly God's.

Whereas you identify corruption in Indian politics, and condemn it, you seem to have no understanding of its psychology, which causes you to err in expectation of sustained non-corrupt government. Present day leaders of Indian political parties are seen as rotten to the core, though they have been democratically elected, and must have professional competence, which includes integrity. What compels them to corrupt actions is occupational in nature, no matter who comes to power. I mentioned the paranoia of leadership in my previous comment, whereby those actions that keep leaders in power are seen by them as best for the country, a country that becomes greater than its own people. Thus affected are the leaders in the present Indian democracy; and have been since the halcyon days of independence, which you regard as being tainted from the beginning, and you now expect to undergo a party paradigm shift.

The tendency to amass personal wealth in those in political power is exonerated in their eyes, where leaders who enjoy power, even in a democracy, see it as insignificant in terms of the value of the economy. This we see as the nascent problem in South Africa's leadership that is in full view of the people, who are affected by the principle breached by the president spending 4 million dollars on a new house (a huge sum to the man on the street, but insignificant in proportion to the value of the economy presided over by him). No doubt he feels wounded by the people's ingratitude for his capable leadership, never mind being thought of, though as yet unproved, as corrupt.

An Indian politician in BJP, for instance, would argue along the same lines, where the sums of money and methods involved in keeping the party members and their affiliates sweet (condemned by the man on the street as corruption) is insignificant to the greater economy and well-being of the country being managed in their capable hands. Yet, this is not to say that the recognition and will to eliminate corruption in government must be treated as a lost cause. On the contrary, one must adopt the correct strategy. To tackle corruption one must have laws in place that are enforceable at the highest level. That is the most one can hope for. That is what works in Britain. One cannot hope for an inherently non-corrupt species of government, as you seem to propose.

22-Dec-2013 00:21 AM

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