India at 66: Where are institutions to deliver good governance?

India at 66: Where are institutions to deliver good governance?

Sixty-five years after the Independence, India continues to raise speculations about its future. That it has survived as a fairly secure geographical entity is in itself no small tribute to its people. But it has not deterred the doomsayers from issuing the most ominous forebodings. 

We have some achievements to be happy about. Largely free and fair elections are held periodically, the lives of vast sections of people have improved considerably and the economy is not doing too badly, despite temporary setbacks. Our borders are secure.

Pakistan is on the backfoot on Kashmir, quelling the militants and terrorists on the home ground and harvesting the venomous crop it had once sown. Yet there is a rankling sense of disenchantment among the Indians. Mood is sullen. Several forces have combined to darken the outlook. There is that gnawing fear that something has gone terribly wrong with the Republic and there is no cure in sight. Institutions have lost their soul and leadership its substance. All those hallowed ideals of the state, democracy, secularism, socialism have become so elastic that they can accommodate any junk.

Institutions had frayed at the edges long ago. They are facing the real threat of collapse against forces ready to bamboozle them. Too many people are losing faith in the credibility of the core institutions that ensure good and equitable governance. What will the future look like? The guiding principles of the Republic and the Constitution have been so compromised that it will take a great effort to reverse the trend.   

There is serious scepticism if the key institutions that propped us up so far, would yield the stability we once envisioned from them. Should there not be rethinking on how do we elect our rulers? What will bind us together in the era of coalitions that threatens to be chaotic in the years ahead?  Will there be any authority that will constantly rerail the ruling combines onto or around the foundational principles of the state? 

The straws in the wind are urging serious deliberations. The results of the February-March, 2012 elections in five states, and particularly, in Uttar Pradesh have thrown up disturbing pointers. A few weeks earlier the big Didi from West Bengal had also shown that she cares a damn and can ride roughshod against the coalitional dharma.

So where else do we go looking for the glue of stability if the Union government comes to rely upon a host of mercurial chieftains thrown up by the polity being fast-forwarded along the regional lines? How should the Centre assert its authority if a Didi in Kolkata, an Amma in Chennai, a Behenji in Lucknow, or corporate-backed politicians in mineral rich Chhattisgarh or Jharkhand throw tantrums and decide to put their foot down against central fiats or even simply put spokes into its wheels as it happened in the case with the Railways budget? What would keep the fulcrum of the Union stable? 

Desire to defy

National political parties are in dire straits and regional parties almost poised to storm the national parliament. Regional leaders are refusing to play the satraps any more. But that is just a small part of the crisis staring into our face. There are several more negatives that characterise the health of the Indian state.

Our leaders’ readiness to subvert the Constitution is snowballing by each day. It only fuels a latent desire to defy the rule of the law among people. Intelligentsia is petrified at the spectre of the state’s keenness to launch witch-hunt against all those who show even a semblance of occupying the moral high ground. Those at the helms have become deft in deflecting the criticism against them by questioning the honesty of the ones raising the voices. 

Judicial interventions did raise hopes earlier, but only to a certain extent as it has its own limits. It cannot replace the executive or the legislature. Frustration builds up not because of the failure to prove the dishonesty and corruption of politicians. Take the case of Kerala minister Balakrishnan Pilly, charged for corruption in palmolein oil import case in 1981. He was sentenced for three years after 29 years of litigation. He was in jail, an air-conditioned room of a hospital where he was ‘ailing’ amid all facilities merely for 87 days. On 88th day the new UDF government in Kerala got him released after seeking clemency from the governor. 

It is full two decades since liberalisation dawned over us. But all the difference that it made is by making structural adjustment in ways politicians line their pockets. Now they make not crores, but thousands of crores and have grown dexterous in stashing their ill-gotten millions abroad. Legislators have almost turned into CEOs of their constituencies. The officials and bureaucrats are now willing partners in their misdeeds. They together have blurred the borders between the legislature and the executive. 

Democracy now operates through federation of communalisms. Electoral system has been subordinated by the caste. If one commands the loyalty of his or her caste—which may be 10 to 20 per cent--he or she can gain substantial number of seats to capture power. Tolerance for all has turned into appeasement of various religious and caste groups. The voter has been commodified. This passé was reached because the voters have become attuned to handouts.

Participants at a seminar in Bangalore earlier this year felt India is a troubled, dysfunctional, ailing and a failing state. What they were unanimous were: We are clearly deficient in our perception of the future. To survive the future shock, an individual must be adaptable to change. So should a nation. Persistent negativity only breeds cynicism. But India’s pool of genius is vast and varied. It must search out ways and means to anchor itself, for all its old roots—community, caste, religion andfamily to find its bearings all over again.

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