Re-engineering the Institutions

Transformation in Indian Democracy – Part VI

Continued from “Scalability of AAP”

As we are all aware that our democracy has four major institutions: Judiciary, Legislative, Executive and the office of the President. They provide checks and balance to keep the democracy functioning smoothly. However, in our system of democracy the institution of Executive is born out of the Legislative. This gives it somewhat unfair advantage over the other two.

If we look back in our recent post-independence history we see that the laws have been frequently amended and manipulated by the Legislative to allow the Executive to carry out its agenda in the interest of the country or as has been the case frequently to carry out its own selfish agenda. This becomes even more evident when the head of the Executive is a strong charismatic leader who towers over the other.

The case in point is Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru. Mr. Nehru was an honest man, a patriot committed to develop his country with his socialist ideology. However, he was so strong and forceful that he often found other institutions of democracy as roadblocks to his vision of progress. In these situations he did not waste time in clipping their wings. It is well known as to how he marginalized the role of the office of the President and how he single handedly carried out the Kashmir situation and foreign policy with China in a disastrous manner without anyone to challenge him.

Amongst many failures of Mr. Nehru, perhaps one of most significant was that he did not work to strengthen the institutions of democracy to give it the longevity and robustness that it deserved. This set up a dangerous precedence. Amongst those who followed him, many did not possess his integrity and vision but learned the lessons well on how to neutralize the effectiveness of the other institutions to promote their selfish objectives. It also setup the precedence where as one institution weakens the other one(s) readily transgresses to sometimes meet its own selfish agenda. The chain reaction of this process degrades all institutions of democracy as the delicate checks and balance process is lost.

To restore this balance we tend to create more institutions to become watchdogs for the existing institutions which further exasperate the real problem. We start treating the symptoms instead of the root of the problem.

There are four lessons to be learned here:

  1. Systemic restraints are an integral part of any organization for it to function successfully. These are critical in a system where multiple organizations have to function simultaneously.

  2. No single individual without commitment to the integrity of all the institutions can solve this problem all by himself/herself in a sustained manner, no matter how dedicated and charismatic he/she is.
  3. To sustain effective democracy over a long period of time, the existing institutions of democracy have to be strengthened or re-engineered.

  4. The re-engineering of these institutions has to begin with the critical Legislative/Executive elements since they dominate the whole system. Only then the meaningful improvements in other institutions can be carried out later on.

RRE-engineering of the Legislative/Executive Institutions:

It is no secret to anyone that our democracy is going through a transformation right now. Only time will tell how far it will go and how successfully it will happen. However, two structural changes are evident:

  1. The educated, urban middle class has been energized and actively involved in the politics at a significant scale for the first time. This cannot be underestimated. This is a unique phenomenon that did not exist in the so called “similar transformation” drives in the past. The middle class, however interested, was an eager observer from the sidelines and watched these movements eventually hijacked by the opportunists (from within or outside the existing parties) for their selfish gains.

  2. We are moving from representative democracy to a participatory democracy. The latter does not mean that the government runs to the people with a referendum every time a decision needs to be made. It is to respond to the need of the people and not alienate them immediately after they cast their votes. It is to listen to their input on what problems they are facing and how they think those problems should be tackled. When Japanese brought about the TQC (Total Quality Control) revolution in the industry during the early 1970s they drove the decision making of problem solving down the line to the worker at the assembly line. Within a short span of 10 years, Japan rose to become an industrial giant with world class products. I am not suggesting that we copy it verbatim in the political system, but we can learn from it. It is to decentralize the decision making particularly on development programs and their priority. It is to insure that actions taken by the government are accountable and transparent and the public is fully made aware of their progress.

Clearly there is a change happening on the political landscape in India. For the political parties of India there are three ways to address this change:

  1. Deny or ignore the change and carry on what you have been doing. If it has worked for you in the past, why would it not work again? You have the gimmicks and incentives to lure the voters. This subscribes to the philosophy that “you can fool some of the people most of the times”.

  2. Flow with the change. Offer the lip support. Adopt the slogans and shout that you agree with the people. However, you really do not have any idea, understanding or commitment to make it happen. This subscribes to “you can fool most of the people some of the times”.

  3. Manage the change. Understand what is really going on and what do the people really want? Do you agree with them? If so, how do you plan to meet their needs? What are the strengths and weaknesses of your own organization? How do you plan to transform your organization to address the new challenge? This subscribes to the philosophy that “you cannot fool most of the people most of the times”.

If we as a nation manage this change properly, we will not rush to the traditional flag posts of the past (communism, socialism, capitalism and other “isms”) to identify our approach to solve problems. Responding to the people and innovating ways to meet their needs should rise from within if our intents are genuine. This is the key to bring about the transformation in our democracy.


More by :  Dr. Gopal Singh

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Views: 3297      Comments: 2

Comment I appreciate how the ruling party and the opposition function in a democratic setup. This is not the point this article is trying to address.

Instead, it is on the operating philosophy of the parties involved in the process. Obviously there are more than one "right" way to approach challenges and find solutions in a democratic process. Each party defines its own operating philosophy and platform somewhat uniquely to address them. This article deals with how these platforms have evolved and practiced (genuinely or deceptively) to date in the Indian political landscape and what changes are currently taking place? Also, what threats and opportunities they represent for all of us.

12-Jan-2014 00:31 AM

Comment Democracy as government ‘of the people, for the people and by the people’ is most certainly a misnomer. What we call democracy is government by the electoral party with the most votes, not all the votes. Democracy involves a tacit agreement by the electorate to conform, a fair proportion of whom are not represented in the elected party, but in opposition to it. The elected party through its leader governs. As in the British model, the opposition party/ parties has/have no power to change the elected government party's policies. What happens is that after the agreed term of five years in office, in which policies have been powerlessly if noisily opposed by the parties out of power, a general election occurs to repeat the same process of election to office all over again, when the opposition party might attain to the majority vote. Sometimes a coalition government occurs, but it still excludes the other parties and their voters. In your article, you present a vision of democracy as per the misnomer definition. That it is a united effort by all the people for all the people, and that here is where the energies should be directed for change. You don’t emphasise the party political nature of democracy, where it is ideals in party policies that are presented to voters, who then vote on these to secure, hopefully, the majority vote. In reality, democracy is not far removed from dictatorship that is tacitly covered by the euphemism, but emerges as the unchallenged voice of the elected prime minister in all matters of policy.

11-Jan-2014 20:39 PM

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