Democratisation vs bureaucratisation!
Individual liberty is the very soul of democracy
Some critical emerging issues
Lately, the Indian polity is marked by certain trends. The polity, our political system is a parliamentary democracy.
Given the long history of democracy, from ancient times to the present day, the Indian political system is a sound system, proved by the working of our Constitution for 70 long uninterrupted years.
Considering the countries that came to freedom, in Asia and Africa, it is right to say that only Indian Constitution has withstood the test of time. That is a major success for India and Indians can take pride in our political institutions. Ours is a democracy and also a Parliamentary system of government.
Then, what is the concern? Does our democracy ensure the fruits of democratic government? Equality of access to government services? No, not at all. There are the new features of our polity. Elected representatives, MLAs and MPs and the ministers’ assets have gone up noticeably. Corruption is on the rise markedly. There are, as per one report, some 200 noted corruption cases pending for more than 10 years, there is no hope of their disposal in the near future.20 year old corruption cases would be thrown out, as per one report. So, we see the lack of appreciation of the emerging complex issues of governance.
No follow-up on the Lokpal and Lokayutha institutions. The number of indicted peoples’ representatives holding constitutional posts must give some thought to the style of the new government.
Then, the working of Parliament. On Parliament, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha need certain course correct, if we can respectfully say taso. The quality of the debates needs some attention. Too many dynastic successions take place in the Rajya Sabha. Daughters and sons are routinely sent and one can imagine the working of the House of Elders! In the Lok Sabha too we see too many saffron colours. We need a different mix.
Film actors and actresses and sports persons are fine. They lend colour and fashion. Perhaps not so much needed talents to make a better representation of regions and deprived sections. In any case, we also need more discipline and not disruptions.
Somehow, the public view our representatives the ones who don’t care for any sensitivity of the public opinion.
Our MPs vote for themselves for high salaries and other privileges and not worry about the public perception. This is also damaging to our democratic norms and democratic restraints.
So, the electoral reforms are overdue and when we can expect political and constitutional reforms so that corruption-free working of democracy is within sight?
Then, bureaucracy. The PMO is filled with retired bureaucrats hired at exorbitant salaries. Is this permissible or not?
The office of the elected Prime Minister in our Constitution is a critical one and this office needs to be debated by experts, political theorists and Constitutional experts.
The lat Prof.Harold J.Laski had debated often about the US Constitution. At that time I didn’t realise why he did so. A British political theorist. Now, I recognise that in India we didn’t attend to this much more critical role played by an elected PM whose term remains undefined. Is it doing us much good or else? This question would always be in our political system and culture.
Then, the Niti Aayog. They have called for new talents, almost, through tenders!
Niti Aayog is a think-tank. Call by whatever name, Nit Aayong is a new name for the old Planning Commission, in our opinion.
Already you have recruited US-based experts in economics. Then, why you shy about other such talents, whatever is the field.
But then economic development is not just experts’ domain alone. You need political experience, men and women who have done specialised services, like Ila Bhatt in women empowerment etc. Ms.Bhatt was once member of the Planning Commission. So too the formidable late Durghabai Deshmukh.
Many others too had brought lustre to the economic planning process. Why we mention these names here is for the simple fact that you don’t advertise for talents. You identify and invite them as almost volunteers. Such persons won’t apply for such jobs, please note!
Executive and bureaucracy. Now judiciary. There is a growing anxiety in many sections. Litigation is mounting. So too vacancies in higher judiciary. The outbursts and even open confrontationist stances is no good.
We have a bad history of the Emergency excesses in the judiciary. We hope the PM is sensitive to the unpredictable consequences if we don’t take early corrective steps.
Then, there is the fourth estate, the press.
Press freedom needs a new debate.We read in the life of John Milton (1608-74), the epic poet, who, it seems, was the first great poet to face the issue of press freedom, printers’ licensing and censorship rules, in fact the many restrictions in the 17th century England that saw the civil war and also the violence that overthrow of Charles I and also the rise of republicanism and much else.
Milton printed his first few books without the printer’s name and only under his own name. Milton’s books were burned at Oxford and he faced much opposition for his views as he printed in his books and pamphlets.
Why even in the 18th century, there was the fear of the press, printing of books and many great minds, like Rousseau and Voltaire, faced much opposition and they had to flee and seek asylum in England.
In fact England was the only country, then, as also now, to protect the freedoms of the individual citizens, domestic or foreign. Karl Marx life is another example of seeking exile for expressing his views.
Thus, we have to know even now that it is the freedom of the individual citizens that is the critical test for any genuine democracy.
It is rather ironical that even now, in India we see this ignorance of what constitutes genuine democracy. Let us hope that the new rulers realise that only toleration of different freedoms, of course within the rule of law, could enhance the image of the ruling dispensation.
Also, within India itself the restriction of the press only led to the many Acts by the British rulers that led to, stage by stage, the many events, like the Punjab massacre in Amritsar and other events that fuelled the spirit of freedom by the Indian people.
It is ironic that even now, in this day and time, we are also talking about a free press that is not there for all practical purposes.
In spite of the enormous growth of the TV news channels and a somewhat robust print press, we see there are so many reasons why the Indian media feels timid.
One current concern that will surely impact the freedom of the press is the new phenomenon of the digital technology. In many countries, including China, not to mention other countries in the Arab world, journalists are put in jail and the new tools, the social media, like Google, twitter are banned. Google doesn’t operate in China. In this respect, India is doing fine. But there are anxieties over the monitoring of public opinion on the social media. Media freedom is critical for a genuine democratic polity.
The Prime Minister must give more press conferences and also create the atmosphere conducive to the intellectuals and others to express themselves more openly and more freely.
Again to Voltaire! He was invited and accommodated by great rulers of his time, like Fredrick the Great and Katherine the Great. They became great only because they had the wisdom that freedoms are important for their citizens, in spite of them being absolute rulers!
Press today feels threatened in many countries and we must all think in an open-minded manner so that we don’t have a press that is fearful of the ruling dispensation, as we see in China and even in Russia, why, in many other small or big, new or old countries.
Indian democracy must inspire our neighbours and must enthuse citizens for fulfilling lives.
That is the true test of an open society and true democratic and transparent governance.