By Sarkaritel May 22, 2014 09:53


Perform or Perish


By Dr S Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)

Perform or perish is the lesson the voters have sent out this election. The BJP-led NDA Government can ill-afford to bask in its poll glory. Political challenges before it are no less serious than economic. Clearly, judging by the political climate in the poll period and high voter turn-out, there is no doubt that people are no longer dormant politically. They cannot be taken for granted. Nor can be treated like door mat once the election results are out.

Election for the 16th Lok Sabha has raised worldwide curiosity about its outcome to an extent never witnessed before. It also raised unprecedented tension among contestants and enthusiasm among voters. The new Government, of which permutations and combinations being worked out, will have to face and overcome many challenges from different quarters in its march towards development and good governance – the two foremost priorities put forth before the electorate. To achieve these two, a strong, developed, united, democratic Indian society is needed.

Economic problems such as inflation, price rise, declining growth rate are national problems. Deficiencies in the health, education, housing and other sectors are problems of infrastructure. Besides these, there are many social issues which cannot be eradicated   without people’s cooperation. Together, they make up developmental problems to be tackled not exclusively by politicians but by government with the advice of professional experts. All that we need is less politics and more expertise in these spheres.

Apart from such developmental problems, there are certain challenges before the new government in safeguarding and promoting democratic norms and institutions.  Fortunately, we have not faced threats to survival of democracy in terms of conducting periodical elections and forming popular governments despite mass illiteracy, massive poverty, economic disparities, ethnic heterogeneity, communal passions, caste divisions, linguistic antagonisms and so on. But, democracy does not lie solely in or end with conduct of elections.

Democracy is what the democracy does and how. From this perspective, we have reasons to be concerned about the quality of our democracy. Manipulation of constitutional and democratic institutions, flagrant violation of rule of law, and naked show of double standards that have been possible under prevailing style of governance are some major challenges today. How democratic is the Indian democracy is a relevant question that we have to answer.

The survival of Indian democracy in the decades following independence is attributed to what is termed as the “consociational” political system by some scholars. Consensus among different groups underlay many major national decisions making democracy work smoothly in India. In recent years, not only this consensus is missing but even a desire and necessary efforts to arrive at a consensus are missing. Even coalition partners hold different views at times and also air them openly. The result is continuing confrontationist approach translated in real politics as politicization of anything and everything. Party differences have penetrated deep into the society. These do not spare even private lives.

Lack of consensus in a parliamentary democracy may result in majoritarian rule and suppression or marginalization of minority opinions. Majority will is generally mistaken as general will. There is little regard for civil society organizations except for bulk votes.   Parliamentary system has become synonymous with the “tyranny of the majority” – that is, parliamentary majority. Hence, elections and government formation are but a form of number game. Even the semblance of building national consensus on issues is weakening day by day.

It is the power of this majority that promotes many corrupt practices – defections and break-up of political parties, use of three “M”s – money, muscle power, and mafia –  and  coalition “adharma”, that is, unprincipled support or opposition within a coalition to  sustain  or bring down a Government. On the other side, the voice of the minority gets silenced – minority not just by the size of social, economic, political group, but also by ideological convictions.

To reverse the growth of this kind of unprincipled politics, there is need for building a climate of broad national consensus on major issues. In this context, we need to take note of minority politics that fails to get representation in Parliament.  The first-past-the-post system ignores the presence of minority. But, in practical politics, that minority exists. When it fails to get accommodation in Parliament, it throngs outside, on the streets. Street level politics will be the result – a situation that could be handled partly by resorting to a policy of consensus-building.

Inter-State and intra-State disparities that have triggered demands for separate States have to be addressed non-politically. This will be a major challenge for the Modi Government.  The complex relationships developing between political leadership and inclusive   development tend to seek remedy through reorganization of States. This is going to be one of the biggest challenges before the next Government particularly in the context of the long delay of nearly two generations in the formation of Telangana.

Election campaigns have brought out several deficiencies in our democratic institutions and governance through mutual attacks. Epithets such as anti-people, communal, crony capitalist, feudal mentality, casteist, political dynasty, remote control system are often used against one another making it clear to the common man that all these are present in the existing Indian democracy in varying degrees. Do we want to steer clear of these corroding influences and build a better democracy? It is time to decide. The Government will need cooperation of all political parties, corporate sector, and civil society organizations to cleanse Indian politics.

An atmosphere of negativity and pessimism has resulted from a spate of scams unearthed in recent years. It is even rumoured that officials have developed inertia and hesitate to record their views and to take action. Functioning of constitutional and statutory bodies like the CBI, CAG, and CVC has come under severe criticism (rightly or wrongly) for lack of impartiality. The Government must restore credibility of these organs and take corrective measures to help them discharge their functions and maintain a system of checks and balances in the interest of good governance. Nothing short of thorough overhaul of the entire administration will give results. Cosmetic changes will do no good.

Parliament has almost stopped its primary function of debating issues and legislations. Its smooth functioning has become very rare. As a result, laws are adopted without full discussion in both Houses. It can be said without fear of contradiction that restoring the status of Parliament as envisaged in the Constitution is one of the most urgent tasks for Modi Government. It is indeed the responsibility of the government to run Parliament and its smooth functioning requires cordial relations between the ruling and Opposition parties. Mutual respect, a disposition to hear all sides of an issue, and a desire to build consensus are essential.

With multiple parties in the fray, the days of single party dominance at the Centre is over even if a single party gains majority by itself. Governance has to be broad-based and inclusive whether the Government is formed by a single party or by a combination of parties. Government by numbers will land it in trouble in the next elections.

Therefore, the system of deliberative democracy must be promoted to encourage wide discussion of issues and meaningful participation of people at all levels. Democratic government must rest on a democratic society. —INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

By Sarkaritel May 22, 2014 09:53