Indian Politics in Peril - By Deepika Singla
Abstract Politics refer to the activities concerned with governing a country or an area. Indian politics works on the principle of Federalism, Republic, Parliamentary Democracy, Secularism, and Socialism. Equality, liberty, justice and periodic elections based on universal adult suffrage are jewels of Indian Politics. The political system is premised on the rocks of pluralism, co-existence, cooperation and coordination.… Read More »
Politics refer to the activities concerned with governing a country or an area. Indian politics works on the principle of Federalism, Republic, Parliamentary Democracy, Secularism, and Socialism. Equality, liberty, justice and periodic elections based on universal adult suffrage are jewels of Indian Politics. The political system is premised on the rocks of pluralism, co-existence, cooperation and coordination. However, the love for power, money and political chair has reduced these principles to mere words. Economic issues like poverty, unemployment and inadequate infrastructure; law & order issues like terrorism, Naxalism, religious violence & caste-related violence; and social issues like corruption, lack of transparency & accountability, criminalization of politics and lack of homogeneity that divide people on basis of religion, language, caste and race have jeopardized Indian politics. The need of the hour is to strive to become a full democracy from a flawed democracy on ranking by the Economic Intelligence Unit. All the stakeholders- government, citizens, civil society, need to join hands to cut the Gordian knot, cleanse the Augean Stables and let a man have his head so that a conducive political environment is created where democracy, accountability, transparency, federalism and independence can thrive.
Indian Politics In Peril
The morning of every household begins with a cup of coffee in one hand and a newspaper in the other with a discussion where the Indian political system is heading on the lips.
Janta se zyada kursi se pyar
Garibi hatane se zyada khud ke liye note chaapne ka khumar
Vaadon aur vachan ki jahan koi keemat nahi
Apraadh, bhrashtachaar, bal, goli, lathi aur hinsa ka cocktail hai vahin
Itni zehrili ho gayi hai rajneeti ki hava
Ki gutter ke alawa koi shabd politics ko nahi suhata.
What is politics? A political system is equal to development politics plus political politics.
A P J ABDUL KALAM
Politics refer to the activities concerned with governing a country or an area. India has experienced waves of feudalism, monarchy and colonialism before it could reach the shore of Federal Parliamentary Democratic Republic politics. It has laboured through generations of trials and sufferings before it could gift its people a free sovereign democratic governance system characterized by equality, liberty, secularism, justice and periodic elections based on universal adult suffrage. Indian politics lays its foundation on pluralism, co-existence, cooperation, communication and coordination.
India follows a dual polity system i.e. a dual government that consists of the central authority at Centre and states at the periphery. Indian governance system is based on its constitution which is the supreme law of the land. Indian constitution- a mix of both rigidity & flexibility defines organizational powers and limitations of both central and state government. The government is formed through elections held every 5 years based on universal adult suffrage. Indian political system is structured on three organs legislative, executive and judiciary. Parliament, the lawmaking body of our country has a bicameral legislature consisting of an Upper House, the Rajya Sabha (Council of States) which represents the states of Indian federation and a Lower house, the Lok Sabha (House of the People) which represents the people of India as a whole. Indian constitution provides for an independent judiciary which is headed by Supreme Court. The court’s function is to protect the constitution, act as a guardian of fundamental rights and settle disputes between Central and state governments or inter-state disputes.
However, the trophy of freedom and democratic government is not the final destination but is a step, a beginning, an opening of opportunity to greater triumph and achievements. Indian political system is finding herself again through travail and sufferings. Economic Intelligence Unit, a Business unit headquartered in London, England had rated India as a ‘flawed democracy’ in 2016. Flawed democracies are nations where elections are fair and free and basic civil liberties are honoured but may have issues. These nations have significant faults in other democratic aspects including underdeveloped political culture, low levels of participation in politics and issues in the functioning of governance.
The ship of Indian politics has to brave the high seas and storms ahead standing in its way to weaken and deteriorate its political system.
Corruption, inadequate infrastructure, lack of transparency and accountability are common issues that cripple Indian politics but our institutions of governance face certain other issues as well. Not only social issues like lack of homogeneity that divide people on the basis of religion, language, caste and race but economic issues like poverty, unemployment and development also influence Indian politics. The law and order issues like terrorism, Naxalism, religious violence and caste-related violence make the mincemeat of Indian political environment creating a gall and wormwood atmosphere.
Political parties are an important component of Indian politics. Parties contest elections; put forward different policies & programs; play a decisive role in making laws; form & run the government; shape public opinion; provide people access to government machinery & welfare schemes implemented by government and when as opposition, criticize the government for its failures or ill policies. This most visible face of Indian politics have problems in their working- lack of internal democracy within parties; concentration of power in one or few leaders at top; dynastic succession; lack of open & transparent procedures; increasing role of money & muscle power; multiple parties having similar ideologies; personality cult; factions & defections and promoting communal and sectional interests undermining general public interest- hampering its emergence as an effective instrument of democracy.
Elections and voting are important aspects of politics. Indian politics is characterized by political equality where each adult citizen must have one vote and each vote must have one value. De Forest Soaries remarked that ‘Voting is the foundational act that breathes life into the principle of the consent of the governed.’ However, illiteracy and lack of voter education hamper the significance of elections and voting. In the words of John F. Kennedy, ‘The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.’ Social factors like the politicization of caste, casteism in politics, communal propaganda by political parties & linguistic considerations & regionalism; threatening & greasing the palm of voters; booth capturing; use of government resources for election campaign; sabotage at election time and excessive expenditure during elections hamper Indian politics. Further issues that cripple Indian elections includes unfair advantage enjoyed by candidates & parties with pot of money over smaller parties; criminalization of politics i.e. the candidates having criminal backgrounds have been able to push others out of the electoral race & secure their ‘ticket’ from major parties and nepotism & dynastic succession in politics i.e. domination of political parties by few families. All these issues combined with other minor factors like high promises free doles and lunches etc. dilutes the actual purpose of the elections that is to empower the citizenry.
The ignoring of democratic conventions is a cause of greater concern.
In a pluralistic, multi-party federal system, disdain for democratic conventions and violation of well-entrenched behavioural patterns are causing irreversible damage to Indian polity. Jawahar Lal Nehru remarked that ‘Democracy demands discipline, tolerance and mutual regard.’ In a democracy, changes are made by mutual discussion and persuasion and not by violent means. If a government has no popular support, another government which commands that popular support takes its place. However, in order to capture power, candidates are shifting to use of money & muscle power, violence, divisive politics. This is poisoning our political culture. In words of Ambrose Bierce ‘Politics. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.’
Our great freedom fighters who freed us from shackles of colonialism decided to build a free and democratic India, where the interest of masses of our people is prioritized to which all other interests must submit. However, this democracy is no more governed for the interest of masses but for own interest in capturing power. Woodrow Wilson said that ‘The government which was designed for the people, has got into the hands of the bosses & their employees, their special interests. An invisible empire has been set up above the forms of democracy.’
Social differences like gender, caste and religion need reflection in political issues but to benefit the disadvantaged group and not to create disharmony.
Religion and caste are politicized to win elections forgetting that it can divert the attention from pressing issues like poverty, development & corruption and create tension, conflict and violence. Candidates nurture communalism, separatism, religious bigotry or class arrogance to play vote-bank politics to win elections, weakening India political system. They fail to follow the path that Gandhiji laid, of using moral values given by religions to inspire and construct ethical politics and instead plant communal politics.
Parliament is an organ of national unity. It is a microcosm of a nation, custodian of public finance and an organ of information that can authoritatively seek information from the government. Its functions include legislation, providing a government, holding government accountable and represent people as MP serve as a link between government and people. No. of days for which Parliament sits has come down drastically in recent years. It has become a place of politics of disruption and not construction. Lawmaking has ceased to be an important Parliamentary function as time dedicated for lawmaking has declined with each Lok Sabha. Inadequate representation of women and criminalization of Parliament have crippled the functioning of this democratic institution. The quality of opposition– fragmented, obstructionist, a non-believer in debate culture, raising inconsequential issues and failure in fulfilling basic duties has affected the working of Parliament. The declining level of morality expressed by Cash for Query scam, Cash for Vote scam and MPLAD scam reveals the deteriorating condition of this institution. Moreover, it’s Upper House is facing challenges that weaken the activities associated with governance. Rajya Sabha is not as powerful as Senate nor as weak as House of Lords of England. It is a federal chamber which is playing a number of non-federal features like no domicile qualification, nominated members, and representation to UTs, relative powerlessness with respect to money bills and inequality of states representation. It has failed to check encroachment of Centre on state’s domain. It views itself as party representatives as opposed to state representatives. Its role as an advisory chamber has been poor and it has not fulfilled its duty in guarding the constitution. It has failed to be House of Elders and has emerged as a pale shadow of Lok Sabha. It has increasingly become a haven for burnt out politicians, retired bureaucrats, wealthy businessmen & even cronies. Nepotism and favouritism in appointments have led to abuse of nomination provision of appointments in Rajya Sabha.
Moreover, even the laws that are made for people are being made to escape the roots of discussion. Several ordinary bills are being labelled as money bills to avoid opposition. Speaker’s decision is final which amounts to absolute power. Constitution does not prescribe any procedure for the speaker to exercise their power. Hence labelling of bills as money bills just to avoid scrutiny is against the democratic principles as it avoids the scope of discussion & debate on bills.
Power sharing is the jewel of Indian politics.
Power is shared among different organs of government; different levels of government; different social groups; and with those affected by the exercise of power and those who have to live with its effects. Power sharing, the very spirit of democracy, helps to reduce the possibility of conflict between social groups, ensure the stability of political order and bring better outcomes. However, centralized planning, single-party dominance, rise of multi-party democracy, centralized high command-oriented political parties, rise of global security challenges, misuse of President’s rule and centralizing provisions of constitution like Article 3 (formation of new states or alteration of areas, boundaries or names of existing states by Parliament), Article 248 (residuary power with Centre) & Centre’s monopoly over concurrent list all fizzle out the benefits that can be reaped out of power-sharing.
The Centre-state relations are already under strain on numerous issues like Governor’s appointment, provision of exercise of President’s rule and fiscal relations and yet they face the greater threat of still greater disruption. The appointment of Governors is an important issue of Indian politics. Usually, politicians, retired bureaucrats, retired defence officials, judges, social activists and academicians are appointed as Governors. The appointment to the position of governor become an opportunity to park men from the ruling party; candidates who have lost elections or politicians known for their high-handedness and open partisanship. The vagueness in his discretionary power domain is an issue of disharmony among the governor and elected government of the state. Apart from this Prime Minister-Chief Minister relations are facing threat. Vituperative exchanges between Prime Minister and some Chief Ministers which involve accusations such as fomenting riots and running extortion rackets damage the fabric of democracy, the very foundation of Indian polity.
To deepen the democracy to grassroots and strengthen the objective of power-sharing, it was necessary to evolve a third tier of governance i.e local self- government.
It has evolved but suffers from certain lacunae. Lack of adequate will and vision on part of politico-bureaucratic set up; non-conducive social environment in rural India, nurtured by feudalism, casteism and patriarchy; corruption; domination of senior political leaders in local body processes; increasing criminality; rampant use of money & muscle power and inadequate organizational structure of Panchayats has acted as a hindrance in its functioning. Continuance of parallel agencies and parallel programs and poor devolution of the framework, finance, functionaries & function is an obstacle in strengthening grass root democracy. Gram Sabha, a tool of direct democracy can contribute to social audit, creating awareness about government policies, improving transparency & accountability, fixation of priorities, identification of beneficiaries and strengthening of direct democracy. However, issues like irregular meetings; poor participation of women; the large & unmanageable size of Gram Sabha and color of class, caste & gender divide on Gram Sabha meetings weaken the benefits that can be reaped out of Gram Sabha.
Urban governance too couldn’t escape the clutches of unplanned urbanization, massive corruption, and inadequate capacity building of functionaries, lack of quality leadership in Municipal Bodies, institutional jungle in cities and poor devolution of the framework, finance, functionaries & function. Prescribing educational qualifications and having functional toilets for contesting elections to local bodies hinder the emergence of local bodies as truly representative institutions and reduce them to implementing vessels of central and state government. To eke out to reasons declining its significance include not holding elections to local government periodically. Elections to panchayats and municipalities in Tamil Nadu have not been held since 2011. In Vishakhapatnam elections to its Municipal Corporations were last held in 2007.
To talk down that Indian politics is jeopardized is increasing misuse of laws.
There is a curb on the elbow room, right to dissent and freedom of the press. These rights are fettered by application of sedition law (S. 124A) when one tries to dissent or detention under the National Security Act. The recent detention of five people under national security act in Madhya Pradesh alleged to have committed offences related to cattle laws and detention of a journalist in Manipur for calling the Chief Minister a puppet on a social media amounts to gross misuse of a law which is meant solely to prevent activities that endanger the country’s security or public order. The Indian Constitution is solely meant for the upliftment of each and every citizen but the misuse of these laws hijacks the ambition of the constitution makers and subjugates the citizen instead of his elevation.
Another issue that is distressing Indian political system is the systematic weakening of institutions.
Government appoints its favourites to the positions of authority. It uses Enforcement Directorate, Income-tax authorities, Central Bureau of Investigation and Police as bulldozers to flatten out any site of opposition. In civil society, human rights organizations have been pulverized by blockage of funds, raids and arrests. The case of Amnesty International, working in the field of Human Rights, is evidence of the same. Further human right activists have been incarcerated without a shred of evidence. This tampering of institutions, lack of independence, and lack of finance, understaffing & exercise of arbitrary power create a gulf between the actual purpose of politics and the politics that exist in reality. It diminishes the bedrock on which foundation of Indian politics is laid i.e welfare of common masses.
Indian politics founded on the grounds of democracy i.e. a form of government of the people, by the people and for the people. The foundational challenge of making the transition to democracy from the existing non-democratic regime was overcome in 1947. However, the challenge of expansion and deepening of democracy still haunts our polity. The principle of democratic government should be applied across all regions, different social groups & various institutions. The need is to ensure greater power to local governments, the extension of the federal principle to all units of federation and inclusion of women & minority groups. The institutions and practices of democracy need to be strengthened by bringing down the control and influence of the rich and powerful people in making government decision.
The future is not the one of ease but of incessant striving.
This is no time for petty and destructive criticism, no-time for ill will or pointing fingers at others. So let us be rid of everything that limits us and degrades us. Our objectives should be to end internal strife & violence, poverty, unemployment and illiteracy which disfigure and degrade us and injure Indian politics. Indian politics is on tenterhooks; we need to cut the Gordian knot, cleanse the Augean stables and let a man have his head so that a congenial political environment can be created. India, the largest democracy of the world has to labour to beat the odds and strive to become full democracy so that India bristles with-
A political culture conducive to thriving of democratic principles
Where transparency, accountability and development become visible
Pro-active and participatory governance
Adequately functioning government with a system of checks and balance
Independent judiciary & systematically sound institutions
So that corruption gets substitution and integrity and morality gets evolution
By – Deepika Singla,
University of Delhi
This Essay was shortlisted in the Third Edition of the National Essay Writing Competition on Nation and Nationalism 2019
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