Dialogue  July-September,  2012, Volume 14 No.1

Of Indian Politics, Movement against Corruption and the Rest

J.N. Roy

When we requested for articles for the present issue of Dialogue on Positives and Negatives of Indian politics, a majority of writers emphasized the decline of Parliament and political standards as the two most important elements. None of the over dozen active politicians who were approached for articles responded positively.

2. Both the elements send a message. Unlike in the early years of our democracy; the number of both intellectually inclined and fearless politicians has declined. Progressively. Independent thinkers with courage to take on their own parties and leaders have almost disappeared C. Rajagopalachari, Acharya Narendra Dev, Madhu Limaye, Chandra Shekhar (in his younger days), Minoo Masani, Vasant Sathe, EMS Namboodirpad, Ajay Ghosh, Jaya Prakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia. Deen Dayal Upadhyay, Maulana Azad, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, Bhupesh Gupta and many others imparted lot of class in political writing and debate and kept the political system by and large accountable to the people and the constitution. Without meaning any disrespect to individual and competent politicians of to-day, what differentiates them basically with the past ones is their lack of courage of conviction. The politics is all about pursuit of power. It was so in the past as it is now. Only difference is that the value- based moral compass has disappeared and there are no bench-marks in pursuit of naked politics of power and all that goes with it.

3. Decline in value-based politics is noticeable world over, including the developed countries and icons of democracy viz USA and U.K. Ideological issues in the political debate in the USA, particularly in the current Presidential election, centres more around the character and credibility of the candidates rather than their beliefs, programmes and ideology. In UK, which sofar has been held up as an example of good parliamentary system and practices is in remarkable decline for the last few years. The issue of fairly wide-spread false claims of allowances, and financial misdemeanors of British MP's/Ministers has singed its political reputation across the party lines and has not yet ended. The current inquiry in the unethical practices and political cronyism of Murdoch Owned News of the World (NOTW) episode has brought out a can of worms, not sparing even the British Prime Minister, the famed Metropolitan Police and others. From Russia, to many European countries like Greece, Italy, France, Spain and West Germany, are wracked by moral issues in politics. Infact lack of ideology and beliefs by and large defines the present international political arena. India is thus no exception, except that we cannot yet afford it. Only difference its that a lapse elsewhere is followed by action and not fudging.

4. The concern of authors about decline in authority and role of our Parliament and by implication of the state legislators is understandable. Our system is Parliamentary democracy, and the Parliament forms the very foundation of the democratic system in the country. It represents the people and on their behalf holds the executive accountable and in line. However, the cabinet and the executive instead of acting as instruments of the parliament, using the party system have coopted and subverted it, thus striking at the very roots of Parliamentary democracy. All these are manifest in how parliament secretariats are run, its runaway budgets and employees, terminal decline of question hour, budgets of important ministeries, like Home, Defence and External affairs and some vital bills are being passed without discussions, Parliament Members enhancing their salaries and allowances without debate or dissidence; the committee system becoming routine etc. which have been detailed in various articles. The party system is being used by politicians to stymie the very basic institution of democracy, is also illustrative in steep decline in the number of days the Parliament meets and conducts the business. The average of sittings of the British Parliament is 120 to 130 days in a year and our Parliament now averages 66 to 70 days, even when our challenges are far many and complex in a pluralistic social milieu.

There are many causes and there would be many suggestions to improve the quality of our democratic processes and institutions including the electoral reforms. Unbridled pursuit of power at any cost and consequent corruption and crony-capitalism without any accountability define to-days political culture. Almost all the political parties, except the Left and to an extent the BJP, lack inner-party democracy. Almost all are either individual or family owned with caste as basis. From Congress (I), NCP, SP, BSP, JD(S) RJD, BJD, DMK, AIADMK, to Trimunul Congress and JG(U) etc. all lack democratic temper and have had no inner party elections for years. They are patriarchies run on the basis nominations and selections. They have all the attributes of negation of democratic values. What's the future of democracy in their hands.

Public discourse of political parties for the last two decades has been diversionary and recriminatory and devoid of any seriousness. The current stalemate and disruption of Parliament, (nothing new or for first time) over the "Coalgate" is illustrative. The govt., like the 2-G in the past, is in denial and engaged in blaming the messenger (CAG) at the same time acting against the allottees. The opposition BJP is engaged in leveraging the issue to improve its chances in next elections, and has no interest in debating and embarrassing the govt. as it does not serve its pursuit of power strategy. Concerns for the country, democracy and its institutions and future does not figure in the agenda of protagonists.

Nothing but change in political culture which revels in politics of power and in perpetuating divisions on lines of caste, community, religion, region, ethnicity etc, in a highly pluralistic society. Mere reforms of political institution, including electoral reforms, will be only helpful but not agents of change. Such a change can be compelled only by the people/citizens to transit from politics of division to that of consensus and synthesis. It's a tall order and no tall leader is on the horizon. People are fed up with politics of cronyism, caste, family and dynasty with wide-spread corruption and rent-seeking. But at the moment they are helpless. But those who want change must turn to the people and trust them. The movement against corruption led by Anna Hazare is an example. The all round support it garnered in 2011 sent shivers down the political class. They used Parliament to divert the movement but it underlined what people are capable of.

Meanwhile the Anna led movement against corruption is in terimul decline due to lack of vision, clarity and humbug of the team members. It wrote its obituary as soon as it intervened in Hissar (Haryana) bye-election in 2011 and buried itself by July 2012 decision to participate in politics. These represent a serious deviation from its goal of fighting corruption and in the process betrayed a cause for which it has received unprecedented public support, whether urban or rural. It forgot that the central cause was corruption tainted governance and not the reform of politics of the country. Some of the team members behaved as if they were bigger than the cause. While following Gandhian methods, they forgot the Gandhian humility which appeals to the people of this country.

However, in this whole humdrum, accusations and counter-accusations and media attention, a very important aspect was pushed to the background or was forgotten. In 2011 when Anna Hazare sat on fast for setting up of a Lokpal and got wide support; it was called off on a written assurance through a Parliamentary Resolution that a Lokpal bill will be passed expeditiously. The govt. got out of an embarrassing situation using the Parliament. The assurance was extended not from a party or govt. It was from the sovereign elected Parliament of the country. The way things developed with Lok Sabha passing the Lokpal bill and the Rajya Sabha sabotaging it and mothballing the issue in a Select Committee; was a breathtaking feat of political chicanery to which all the political parties contributed.

The Anna team had only to question and hold the Parliament to its words to deliver. The failure of Parliament to deliver on its assurance has serious implications for the parliamentary democracy. Politicians and analysts may quibble with explanation that its only delay and not the end, but the reality is inescapable. The govt. and political parties may revel in fobbing off the Anna movement, but the movement's RIP will raise serious question of the credibility of Parliament itself and its sovereignty about which the members wax eloquent all the time. Can people trust their own elected Parliament to deliver on its solemn assurances? Anna type movements will come and go, but the parliament would not be able to hold its head high.

There are politicians and commentators who believe that the corruption is no more an issue in the country. Similar things were said during the J.P. Movement in the seventies and in 1989 when late V.P. Singh's hurriedly formed Jan Morcha defeated formidable Congress led political machine of late Rajiv Gandhi, an incumbent P.M.; on the single issue of corruption. It is a singular reminder to smug politicians and analysts. Even the J.P. movement started on the corruption issue, and acquired tidal force riding the wave of discontent over the imposition of emergency. Hence the politicians and self-serving commentators, should be careful and not take the people for granted. The 1977 and 1989 elections had followed massive congress party victories in 1971 and 1984 elections. The lesson is inescapable for the discerning. The interconnected issue of corruption and governance is alive and agitating the people's mind. Its just waiting to find an outlet upsetting all the calculations and manipulations.

Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

                                               Astha Bharati