Thursday, June 18, 2015
Let us think and Act with an open mind to
Develop a Vibrant Democracy – Article 21
Introduction: Articles 1 to 20 had focused on thirty obstacles which caused a distorted and ineffective democracy and suggested possible solutions for these. The present article reiterates some important aspects in earlier articles to provide back ground for formulating necessary changes in democracy. Constitution provided some checks and balances to ensure proper functioning of democracy. To what extent these were effective is also included in this back ground. I am constrained to focus on all unpleasant negative findings which need correction because we have to be fully conscious of these if we want to improve matters.
Large proportions of voters make mockery of democracy by either not making independent choice (being influenced by caste, religion, intimidation etc.) or by “selling” votes (Article 2). This “mocked approval” has resulted in the incongruity that political parties were supported only by a negligible minority who had honestly voted without being influenced by extraneous considerations (Article 20). Another mockery is that during last 50 years, number of women left out from electoral roll increased fourfold from already large 15 millions to 68 millions, showing gross and increasing undervaluation of right of women to vote (Article 2).
Out of 543 MPs elected in 2009, vast majority of 78% had even mocked approval of only less than half of the electorate and did not qualify to be representatives. Even after spectacular success of BJP in 2014 elections, it had even mocked approval of only 31% of electorate!! Thus, its claim of being representative of people is outright hollow.
Constitution had put a bar on criminals getting registered as voters or becoming MPs / MLAs. Shockingly, 162 Lok Sabha members and 1,268 MLAs, with declared criminal records might have violated this bar (Article 2). It is likely that present Parliament also has this defect. This large scale suspected violation of Constitution casts doubt on legitimacy of Parliament.
Moreover, 30% of ministers in present central government had filed affidavits that they had criminal cases against them (Deccan Chronicle dated 08-06-15). This casts doubt about legality of this government.
All these raise three important questions. Knowing that Constitution had put a bar on criminals getting registered as voters or becoming MPs / MLAs: (1) why have our government, legal experts and hon’ble judges not fulfilled their moral responsibility to clear the doubts and ensure that there is no illegal Parliament and government? (2) why were these suspected criminals not keen to prove that they are innocent by taking prior/quick action? (3) why are we so dumb and callous that we tolerate being governed by suspected criminals, justifying the remark that “A nation of sheep gets a government of wolves”
An MP or MLA has to perform important functions of governance. The expectation that voters have knowledge and expertise to select persons who can perform these functions efficiently is a fundamental fault of election system (Article 14). This shows that most elected persons not only did not have even mocked majority approval but also may not have the required capacity because of being selected by laymen, that too mainly on extraneous considerations.
With five-yearly elections, even efficient representatives are compulsorily weeded out along with inefficient and tainted ones, unlike management machinery which has continuity. This lack of continuity in top levels leads to avoidable distortions and distractions in governance. A flexible election system guided solely by need to weed out only inefficient and tainted representatives to improve governance can avoid these (Article 3).
Sole purpose of election is to give voice to people. But, election system could not give voice to majority of people. A better method for giving voice to people, not once in five years as an ineffective ritual as at present, but more frequently and effectively is needed (Article 4).
Method of government formation led to subtle and concealed dictatorship rather than democracy (Article 5). This also resulted in dictatorial attitude that listening to others is a weakness. It has not been realized that real strength of democracy lies in its ability to (1) listen to people, (2) accept useful ideas and (3) act on these with vision and commitment (Article 6).
Attitude of not acting on important information provided by even a constitutional authority (CAG) is another instance of dictatorial approach and a serious blow to democracy.
Government is obsessed with GDP growth and revenue collection. It becomes upset if GDP growth falls but is not bothered if people suffer. The fact that higher GDP has only resulted in widening gap between the rich and the poor is not its concern.
Successful governance requires qualified professionals to be in charge of various activities which can be properly handled by them only. But most technical departments are headed by Indian Administration Service (IAS) officers. This illogical positioning allows professionals to be supervised by non-professionals and thereby hinders progress and accountability.
Faced with problems of faulty governance, strategy of escapism and buying time is chosen by referring to Commissions, Standing Committees of Parliament etc. Findings of these top bodies are seldom acted upon.
During last 10 years government broke its promise to Parliament 1,024 times as reported by Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs (Article 6). Surprisingly, this shocking information did not cause even ripples!! (Article 15). This speaks volumes about government’s lack of credibility and respect for Parliament.
Management infrastructure, consisting of ministers and government officials, has some basic faults. (Article 7) They lack uniform perceptions about (a) democracy, (b) different aspects of management of democracy and (c) a mind set to comply with democratic principles. Therefore, it is not functioning as a well-knit unit with full focus on democracy.
When senior officers, after thorough study based on their long experience, submit “proposals” to minster, quite often these are modified or rejected by minster in a dictatorial manner to serve party interests or selfish interests or vested interests. These obviously dishonest and dictatorial practices not only score over merit of proposals but also destroy belief of officers in honest functioning, in addition to belittling their expertise and longer experience compared to those of minister. Therefore, many of them lose their sense of commitment and / or become cynical - both detrimental to efficient functioning. Even worse, some of them are tempted or forced to form a nexus with minster for undemocratic and non-transparent activities. These result in misgovernance and scams.
When tackling any problem faced by people, an arrogant and negative attitude of denial of help to people has been all pervasive in a government intended for people!!
Avoiding effective actions to punish dishonesty are quite common. Moreover, honest officers are frequently transferred as punishment, with some officers being transferred 40 times or more!!
Police have earned a reputation of being corrupt in dealing with problems faced by people. (Article 8) Most people are afraid to complain to police. Filing of FIR is subject to whims of police or pressures they face. Burking of crime is so common that every year about 60 lakh cases are not registered.
Most people are unhappy with police who are “criminals in uniform” and “armed militia of politicians”, as stated by a former police commissioner. There are only 106 policemen for one lakh people, which is less than half of the recommended 222. Even worse, available policemen are frequently misused or deputed for non-governmental activities. Consequently, there are at least three policemen for every VIP and just one for every 8,000 people!!
MPs and MLAs often close their eyes to dreadful realities and allow matters to drift.
Besides corruption being rampant, mega scams have been exposed with alarming frequency (Article 9). Punishment of culprits is dragging on and causing concern and cynicism among people.
Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) has grossly inadequate staff and resources to investigate corruption in more than 1500 central government ministries and departments. CVC can investigate corruption against government officials only after government permits it!! Government is not confident that there is nothing to hide and prefers a toothless CVC.
Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) regularly reports deficiencies observed and system failures and suggests improvements. But hardly any worthwhile action was taken even on serious matters.
In 2009, CAG requested government to amend Audit Act 1971 to bring all private-public partnerships (PPP), Panchayti Raj Institutions and societies getting government funds within the ambit of CAG and to enhance CAG’s powers to access information because almost 30% of documents demanded by CAG were denied. Though projects worth millions of rupees are executed under PPP model, these projects are not audited by CAG. About 65% of government spending does not come under scrutiny of CAG!! But government has not cared to amend the Act even after six years. Thus, the very purpose of having this authority to provide checks has been callously defeated.
Government control on appointments to CBI at all levels is a travesty. CBI, being dependent on many government departments for staff etc., has innate problems in investigating government actions. Despite repeated court orders, CBI continues to be hampered and cannot function independently. A former director and joint director of CBI exposed government for engaging in nepotism, wrongful prosecution and corruption. CBI has not been able to make a dent on rampant corruption all over the country.
Creation of Lokpal to probe complaints against top level public functionaries was pending for 44 years!! A bill for this was passed in Lok Sabha in 1969, but rejected nine times up to 2008 by Rajya Sabha. Giving equal importance to direct and indirect representatives of people is questionable, particularly when functioning of important checks and balances are involved.
Subsequently, the bill was revived several times. Each time, after introduction in Parliament, it was stalled using devious methods. These repeated impediments show lack of interest in passing such an important bill. At last, a bill was passed and approved by President. Considering the series of obstacles in passing the bill, it is reasonable to believe that implementation of the bill also will have to face lot of obstacles which will cause long delays.
In 1966, Administrative Reforms Commission recommended setting up of “Lok Ayukta” in all states for redressal of citizens' grievances. Despite a long interval of 49 years, 10 states do not have Lok Ayuktas. Even in states with Lok Ayukta, proper action was not taken against persons charged with corruption by it. It has no power to take independent action to penalize those found guilty. Its capacity has been further downgraded by not providing adequate staff and other facilities. Evidently state governments want to avoid checks on dishonest activities.
Right to Information Act 2005 (RTI) provides access to information under control of public authorities in order to promote transparency and accountability. Even during limited use by people, many government departments either delayed or refused to give information. Moreover, government wanted to make changes in the Act to curtail its use. When Chief Information Commissioner ruled that political parties are answerable under the Act about public funds given to them, government planned to introduce an amendment to the Act to nullify this.
Many RTI activists have been harassed and some even murdered. Government has not taken any worthwhile action to protect RTI activists. This confirms callous approach of government towards this important check on its functioning by people.
Multiple instances of threat and harassment of whistleblowers and even some murders have occurred. Whistleblowers' Protection Bill, 2011 was passed by Lok Sabha but is pending in Rajya Sabha!! This is another instance of “indirectly elected representatives” blocking an important bill passed by “directly elected representatives” of people – a blow to democracy!!
These examples of inaction for many problems show that peoples’ representatives do not care to set things right because of lopsided preferences.
Article 10 pointed out two atrocious facts. (1) On an average every year, about 90,000 people had complained to NHRC about violation of human rights and (2) NHRC had no qualms in refusing to examine about two-thirds of these complaints. NHRC did not amend an obsolete Regulation, which stood in its way, using its statutory powers to regulate its own procedure for disposal of complaints. NHRC had failed miserably to have a check on human rights violations. Thus even the last channel of hope has been cruelly cut off for lakhs of possible sufferers from human rights violations.
Cases have been pending in courts and delaying justice for many years to lakhs of people (Article 11). In 2009, India had the largest backlog of cases in the world. Roughly, more than 30 million cases are pending now. Yet, serious attempts were not made to remove shortage of judges. Judges enjoyed the exceptional privilege of vacations regularly, unlike many officers who even worked overtime!! Judges did not apply their mind to remove archaic procedures which cause delay. Because of high cost it is almost impossible for most people to get justice. Neither Parliament nor government nor judges sincerely applied their mind to provide quick affordable justice.
While government claims lack of resources for appointing more judges, there are innumerable instances of wastage. This shows that meager allocations made are due to low priority and not lack of resources.
Transparency of courts is increasingly questioned by people. When a complainant sought file “notings” and reason for judgment, Supreme Court stated that it does not maintain any such records and nobody has right to question its judgments. The former shows that SC functions in an unsystematic manner without keeping proper records!! The latter shows a deplorable attitude that people have no right to ask for grounds for judgment. This is anti-democratic and an act of contempt of people who are masters in a democracy.
National integration is essential to develop best possible democracy for whole country (Article 12). This needs planning and implementation of multiple innovative approaches with determination and sense of commitment. One approach is to encourage (1) inter state migration, (2) Inter caste, inter religious and inter state marriages, (3) “know your country” education trips for school children and college students and (4) national script for all languages.
Article 13 emphasized that democracy will function better if the country is divided into small states of optimum size. It suggested setting up another States Reorganization Commission with instructions to ascertain optimum size of state to have successful democracy in different demographic situations and carve out small compact states which can satisfy needs and aspirations of different identity groups to maximum extent possible.
Article 14 pointed out three fundamental weaknesses of present system:
(1) People with out required knowledge and expertise are asked to elect efficient persons with qualifications and experience to enact laws, make policies and govern the country.
(2) Politicians who usurped power from qualified professionals under the claim that they were elected by people often have even mocked support of less than 35% of people in their constituencies!!
(3) There is no system to assess efficiency of performance of political leaders involved in governance every year, unlike for officials.
To overcome these, Article 14 stressed the need to (a) consider an alternative for election system, (b) train elected representatives before they start functioning, (c) assess efficiency of elected representatives every year and (d) thoroughly overhaul the system using a professional approach which is badly needed.
The country faced many shameful situations covering almost all crucial sectors (Article 15). Parliament did not care to rectify any of these shameful situations. Moreover, it lacked guts to punish government for breaking promises thousands of times and spinelessly tolerated disrespect from government thousands of times, without dignity expected from the august supreme body.
In previous Parliament, 86% of Rajya Sabha members and 58% of Lok Sabha members were crorepatis. With this highly imbalanced and unhealthy representation of people, it favoured the rich against the poor.
Significantly, most dismal failures of democracy were contributed by Parliament and Assemblies which did not exercise supreme power bestowed on them to ensure checks.
We should ask ourselves: why do we spent lakhs of crores of public money to maintain a Parliament which lacks accountability, ethics of care for aam admi, dignity and guts to punish government for braking promises thousands of times? Why should we not try another system which is cheaper and can uphold voice of people more efficiently and gracefully? If a way cannot be found to avoid mostly crorepatis being elected to Parliament, abolition of Parliament with such distorted and unhealthy representation of people is further justified.
Effective functioning of democracy requires an alert media with broad vision which functions as watch dog for providing feed back to government for corrective action, informs people about state of affairs and provides platform for public debate. Media needs to improve its functioning in all these aspects (Article 16).
Article 15 listed number of deplorable situations which are shameful for the country. Media did not adequately question government, MPs and MLAs about these and insist on corrective measures.
Printed media did not adequately encourage journalists and social activists to publish articles which discuss need and suggestions for improving democracy.
Media’s value system needs review. For example, media gives more importance to one death from terror attack than to about 10,000 deaths from accidents. It has not realized that terrorists themselves know that they are incapable of doing any harm on a large scale and plan only isolated instances to create scare and publicity only. By splashing such emotional news media has helped them exceedingly well to achieve their aim!! Innovative ideas are essential to tackle this situation cleverly and spoil their aim.
One way is to completely suppress news of terrorist attacks in public interest and confidentially take up with government the need to ensure proper preventive steps. Such a blackout of news will make terrorists frustrated, exasperated and miserable.
Another problem is lopsided priorities. Important aspects of governance and peoples’ welfare do not receive adequate attention. Lot of space / TV time is used for inter and intra political party disputes. Space for proper news is often displaced by photos of VIPs and gossip about their activities!!
Often, front page of newspapers which should get priority for main news has given way to advertisements, even full page, which fetch enormous amounts of money. This is in addition to space for advertisements far outstretching space for news.
Our President had expressed concern over “aberrations” like “paid news” and “sensationalism” in stead of objective assessment and truthful reporting.
Media has a short memory even for important matters, which is exploited by government. It should develop a system of persistent follow up of all serious matters till government action produces desired results.
Thinking out of the box is a rare phenomenon.
Introspection on all aspects mentioned in Article 16 is essential. This should be undertaken by colleges teaching journalism, media establishments, working journalists and organizations like Press Council, Editors’ Guild, newspaper associations etc. They ought to evolve a code of ethics to guide their activities.
Before independence, the country had leaders who sacrificed a lot to fight for independence (Article 17). Later on, some politicians acquired many disqualifications for a leader of democracy (Article 19). Our President expressed concern and disappointment at “eroding commitment among the legislators who are expected to be custodians of public interests and rights”.
Most survivors among freedom fighters became cynical and disgruntled and suffer from a defeatist mentality. Younger generations of potential upholders of democracy are confused without proper leadership. To overcome this, both groups should dare to think and act and organize themselves to save democracy. For a start, they should create awareness among people, mobilize their support and provide them leadership to fight for a truly vibrant democracy.
We, the people, have failed in our responsibility to elect representatives who have qualifications and experience needed for fulfilling responsibilities of governance and will to commit themselves to fulfill these responsibilities. (Article 18)
Another major failure is that after voting once in five years, we sit back and allow our representatives and the government they form to govern as they like. We are not alert enough to question when they do not act for welfare of people and repeatedly act ignoring principles of democracy and promises made at election time.
We should insist that once in six months our MLA and our MP should report their achievements as well as problems faced and future plans to overcome these, in a meeting of all groups of people (without any exceptions and including local leaders). These six-monthly review meetings should also be made use of to give a feed back about the extent to which government has met needs and aspirations of people and to make wise selection of efficient leaders, out of elected and local leaders who attend these meetings. We have to play dual roles of partners in democracy and watch dogs to detect deficiencies in democracy.
Another major failure is misconception that government alone can provide good governance. This resulted in totally negative and callous view about cooperating with government efforts and supplementing these. Even worse, we often create problems because of narrow selfish interests and intolerance of others.
A fundamental mistake is to consider that democracy is needed only for good governance. Many more aspects e.g., those relating to religion, culture, entertainment, recreation, sports etc., have influence on quality of life – may be even more than governance. To enjoy a happy life these require careful attention and proper direction, which are lacking at present. These cannot and should not be taken up by government. We also have responsibility to organize ourselves to ensure happy and peaceful surroundings which are not subjected to hatred and fear. We should develop a sense of discipline to help to reduce problems and to avoid creating other problems.
All these show that we, the people, have some wrong perceptions which hinder development and maintenance of vibrant democracy leading to a happy life. To overcome these we have to change our mindset.
In addition to lack of qualification in the art or science of governance, many political leaders have acquired at least some disqualifications (Article 19).
Because of other interests political leaders not only lacked professional approach but also curbed professionals in their work.
Moreover, by creating a politician-cum-bureaucrat nexus and regularly harassing those who did not fall in line, politicians destroyed the innate strength of our system of governance, without realizing the serious harm they have done to the back bone of our democracy.
Qualifications, experience, duties and responsibilities have been prescribed for each position, except for elected representatives even though MPs and MLAs have to hold more highly responsible positions. This impropriety becomes more glaring because they have to exercise control over activities carried out by qualified and experienced professionals in different fields.
Article 19 also describes five ways in which politicians became enemies of democracy. Because of this, the worst attack Parliament has been facing is from within and it has eminently qualified itself for self destruction.
Political parties have created large armies of workers with conflicting ideologies and party interests only and without any vision about national interests (Article 20). They often start inter party disputes and quarrels. Resort to violence is quite common and even murders have occurred. Another problem is that their hero worship has led to many unfortunate situations.
Similarly, they have diverted attention of college students from studies and a positive attitude to peoples’ problems to a negative one of raving and fighting for party interests. When these young minds grow up in this background they will imbibe some undesirable traits. Because of misdirected party interests, many of them may become faction leaders, manipulators and traders of hatred. This deplorable situation can lead to many undesirable possibilities for the future!!
Using their large army of grass root level workers, political parties cleverly manipulate creation of caste, linguistic, religious and other group conflicts as well as cliques, crimes and other situations to safeguard their selfish interests. Thus, political parties are responsible for many crimes and creation of hatred and violence in many parts of the country.
Another serious drawback of having political parties is creation of duel power centres (multiple in case of coalition governments) which lead to obstacles and delays in decision making.
Article 19 showed that politicians became enemies of democracy. Party system is the main cause for this.
Abolition of political parties will free police from malignant and suffocating political control and improve law and order situation in the country by leaps and bounds.
Main reason for having political parties is to have a check on misgovernance by party in power. But, these articles show that they have in stead become root cause of misgovernance!!
While advantage of having party system has not materialized, abolishing it will have 17 advantages (Article 20). Evidently, there is absolutely no doubt that party system should be abolished.
These articles also show that all checks and balances envisaged in Constitution have failed in one way or the other. To overcome this situation, a Commission should be constituted to regularly review working of all checks and balances.
(Please keep all these articles within easy reach for referring back till the series is completed.)
You can help to save our sinking democracy by making as many people as possible aware of these obstacles and possible solutions, through personal group discussions, newspaper articles, e-mail and social media like face book and twitter so that we can have healthy debates and arrive at some innovative ideas to save our sinking democracy.
Comments (especially those which point out errors or deficiencies, if any, in this article and thereby help to improve it) are welcome. Please send these to StartRemovingBlocks@outlook.com. I shall make use of all befitting suggestions to modify the outline of the revised system of democracy (Article 24).