The first decade of the 21st century is about to end. What was most urgent and compelling about 2009? I believe it was the continuing and sharp decline of governance that should have attracted most attention. The ability of those who govern and shape opinion to ignore this and to live with it was most alarming. To assess the decline of governance one has only to survey the last days of the year. Consider what is happening right now.
After a TV news channel showed footage of purportedly the Governor of a large state consorting with prostitutes in Raj Bhavan, the Governor denied any wrongdoing. Meanwhile public protests outside Raj Bhavan led to heightened police security of Raj Bhavan to protect it from an ugly crowd. The Governor resigned citing reasons of health. The ruling party congratulated the Governor for his high moral standards and preened itself for being a very moral party.
A former cabinet minister who was convicted for murder and jailed but later released by a higher court because of weak prosecution and insufficient evidence is being sworn in as the new Chief Minister of a state that recently concluded its assembly elections. He has acquired his post with the support of the major opposition party that earlier had castigated his criminal past and has pretensions to the high moral ground.
The senior police official who molested a teenage girl and drove her to suicide nineteen years ago was found guilty and sentenced to six months of jail. Four Chief Ministers have been named for protecting the official during these past nineteen years. The chief ministers are blaming each other. The government is restoring justice by asking the police official to return the medal of honour he had received from the President!
The Supreme Court has stayed the elevation of a High Court Chief Justice to the Supreme Court pending parliamentary impeachment against that Judge for indulging in corruption and land grabbing.
The Union government once again somersaulted on its decision to create Telangana state after anti-Telangana and pro-Telangana protests mounted to divide the State as well as the Congress party. New statehood demands are proliferating across the nation as claimants prepare the ground for fresh agitations. Meanwhile the Union government has given no indication of how it intends to tackle the situation. It continues to buy time in a worsening situation.
The CBI and Enforcement Directorate have still not come up with findings of the ongoing probe against a former chief minister for indulging in astronomical corruption through the sale of mining rights in his state. The accused has claimed that senior ministers and functionaries of the government and the ruling party were involved with him and he has proof to expose them. He kept a diary in which all his transactions with them are listed.
The CBI has also raided the premises of two leaders in another state who indulged in corrupt practices in their mining operations. Very senior central leaders of the major opposition party have allegedly colluded with these leaders in corruption.
A very senior army officer who enjoys the confidence of the Army Chief is facing charges of corruption. The Defence services are facing a dangerous shortage of equipment because of tardy decisions by Defence ministry officials. The general status of the Defence services has deteriorated so much that there exists now a severe shortage of 13000 to 14000 officers.
The Railway Minister has issued a White Paper alleging that the preceding incumbent falsified revenue figures in the Railway Budget and was guilty of corruption. The former minister has rubbished the White Paper and accused the Railway Minister of spreading lies.
After a series of rape cases against visiting tourists involving the kin of a VIP the Chief Minister blamed the rape victims for being responsible for the rapes. Meanwhile the embassy of a superpower has officially protested to the state government against the unsatisfactory investigation of the rape case involving one of its citizens. The embassy has warned that it will issue an advisory urging all its citizens to desist from visiting the state.
A leading national daily newspaper has institutionalized the spreading practice of paid journalism – the printing of news items prepared by clients who make payment for the publication. The ethics committee of the editor’s guild says it is worried and will tackle the problem in 2010.
The Prime Minister and the Finance Minister stated that the outlook for India is rosy and the annual growth rate can be anything between 8.4 to 9 per cent ...
This is not news of a month. Nor is it news of a week. It is news of the day. These things are happening simultaneously. They are happening now as 2009 comes to an end. Is not the current news situation symptomatic? Cannot one big incident shatter the illusion that we are a mature and genuine democracy? The news of the day is dangerous. The absence of alarm caused by it is more dangerous. Governance has totally collapsed and nobody worries about it. Governance collapses when leaders misbehave. It is leaders who make the system. But equally it is the system that conditions the conduct of leaders.
The collapse of governance can be stemmed in two ways. Either the leaders must improve to become better human beings. Or the system must reform to restrain the misconduct of leaders. The improvement in the quality of human conduct can be accomplished only by a Messiah or Saint who inspires the people. The arrival of any such divine being is not in our hands. Alternatively, the system must be reformed to improve governance and restore democracy in word and in spirit. That is in our hands. There is yet time to take a holistic view and reappraise the entire working of the political system to ensure that the proper checks and balances required for a healthy democracy are put in place. Several utopian suggestions for reform of the system are circulating. Aspiring reformists must keep one imperative in mind. The reform must be within the parameters of the present Constitution and not transgress its basic structure. The need for fundamental reform has never been more urgent. At the close of 2009 the warning signals could not be clearer. May one hope we will heed them? The year 2010 is still not too late for reform. 2011 may be too late.