Politics of democracy

It’s been a long long time since I posted here, however there are times when even lazy buggers like me sit up and take notice. For the past week or so, our nation has been going through one such time. Watching events as they unfolded on the television in my living room, I felt sorry for the state of affairs, but not at the state of our young nation. Our democracy is as vibrant as it ought to be, there are quite a few issues that need addressing however, the health of the country’s polity is unquestionable. Had it not been for that strength in our democratic institutions which by the way they derive from the people, Mr. Hazare’s protests wouldn’t have been possible, ordinary people would have been beaten off the roads and the movement crushed with a heavy hand. So democracy is working, no doubt about that. I therefore beg Mr. Hazare and his team to not indulge in making statements such as “government is killing democracy” and such like. This is for two reasons – firstly, our democracy is so strong that government can’t kill democracy even if it wanted to, and secondly it’s our democracy that gave Mr. Hazare the reception that he apparently deserves and the political space to launch this movement of national significance. Having praised Indian democracy, let me also add that Anna Hazare has demonstrated enough political legitimacy albeit outside the election system to lead the nation in letter and spirit.

Let’s take a look at the reaction Mr. Hazare has evoked from Indian public at large over the last couple of days. Slogans such as “Anna nahi tu aandhi hai, desh ka doosraa Gandhi hai”, “Anna Hazare aao desh ko bachao”, “Anna Hazare aage badho ham tumhare sath hain”, “Vande Matram”, “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” are all over our television channels. Of course, the point can be made that all this is too good to be true, it’s a self serving world, and there is a clear method to the madness. However, the sheer number of Indian citizens who took to streets all over India, sat on hunger strikes, and shouted slogans against the government prove this line of argument to be inane, weak, and most importantly counter productive as Indian citizens have shown on the first day of the movement. I will not quote stats for the day, as it was there for everybody to see. People from all walks of life, irrespective of religion, profession, socio-economic class, caste, age group, and gender came out to unequivocally support Anna Hazare.

Some thoughts on the government of the day – the UPA II as it’s called, came to power due to good electoral performance in some states. One such state is Andhra Pradesh. Congress’ victory in 2009 Lok Sabha elections in A.P. was entirely the creation of the then C.M. Mr. Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy, after whose death, the congress party refused to give due attention to this crucial fact of state politics and now we see Mr. Jaganmohan Reddy well positioned to cut through Congress’ vote share in A.P. On the face of it, it just looks like the government of the day is thankless, holds the people of India in contempt, as well as it’s own party members who command popular support, forcing them to leave the party. I know many things can be said about what I just said, however, please allow me to complete my point. Congress party has gone through multiple splits in the past, the parent body however has always maintained that in the pre-independence days, the congress was the entire national movement, it commanded and directed more than 80% of political thought and action. After Mahatma Gandhi’s death, the Congress party went through a small power vacuum of sorts because not only had the infant nation lost it’s father, the congress party who graced with his holy presence had lost the source of their political and moral legitimacy. This unexpected vacuum was dealt with well by the then government and all credit goes to Sardar Patel for not upsetting the fledgeling government of Pandit Nehru. Unfortunately, our leaders no longer have the spirit of sacrifice, integrity, and strength of character that public life ought to demand (I say ‘ought to demand’ and not demands because I am not sure if we as citizens who vote today’s politicians into power are completely absolved of the blame). Congress was still a democratic party that adhered to the letter and spirit of the constitution. Even Mrs. Indira Gandhi had to prove her legitimacy within the Congress first, that showed the strength of the democratic processes in our country, yet. Since then it has been in decline. This is not to say that Congress doesn’t have any place in the political space of India, the Congress enjoys wide support in this country, however there seems to be no steel (except when it needs to bad mouth simple and honest people such as Mr. Hazare and his team) in the party, and no conviction in it’s decision making. The party feels weak, the problem is endemic, and the reason is very very simple. The congress party members and its leaders have inherited power from their seniors. Indira Gandhi was the last party leader to have a clue about anything. While criticising the Congress, the nation must also remember that it was Mrs. Gandhi’s leadership that led to the creation of Bangladesh. I can’t recall any other country that liberated (and not subjucated) a people, and upheld their right to self determination. Sadly, no other Congress leader that followed Mrs. Gandhi even came close to being 10% as good, as clearheaded a leader. The problem started soon after her death. The country was rioting, late Mr. P.C. Alexander (who passed away a couple of days ago) took a decision to ask Mr. Rajiv Gandhi to succeed his mother. The party since that day, has simply been following the precedent set by Mrs. Gandhi’s principal secretary. This crisis of leadership as well as the (perhaps also the lack of political experience) is very very apparent in the way the government is handling the current crisis.

The original point when I started criticizing the UPA-II government, was that there are systemic political weaknesses in the current arrangement, and if they are not addressed, will keep inviting protests and challenges to it’s legitimacy. I don’t say power because the union government is quite powerful if it comes to that.

In the previous post I briefly talked about how Mr. Hazare and his supporters shouldn’t grudge democracy because democracy itself gave him the platform to stage his movement. I also talked about how the arguments of the UPA government that cast aspersions on Mr. Hazare’s character and his motives are turning out to be counter-productive. I also touched upon the systemic weaknesses in the Congress party and how those defects are coming back to haunt it. I concede that Congress appears to be a democratic party in it’s early history, but also assert that the apparent lack of democratic principles that we see today is actually a power crisis between the congress party and the government.

Power crisis how? The early years (post independence were discussed in the previous post), after Mrs. Gandhi’s death, Mr. P.C. Alexander ensured that Rajiv Gandhi came to power. In late eighties a financial crisis hit, and thus we experienced a period of unrest, and loss of faith in the Congress. Chandrashekhar and V.P. Singh governments came and went. A few weeks before 1991 general elections Mr. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in a terrorist attack. Waves of sympathy for Congress and Mr. Gandhi’s widow followed and resulted in a massive victory for Congress. Their political observers were quick to latch on to fact that in modern Indian politics, the state that Congress found itself in, it’s only claim to legitimacy was the national movement and the descendants of the icons of the national movement i.e. Nehru Gandhi family. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi had rightfully refused participation in public life, though cynics may say that her political advisers had carefully planned this. But the fact remains that when the P.V. Narsimha Rao regime was hit by scams, Congress party felt power slipping out of its hands. The basic disconnect is this – people of India at least to some extent associate Congress with the national movement, however, the leadership of the Congress post Mrs. Gandhi’s period have nothing to do with that august movement. They are enjoying the fruits of the politics of an older generation, who were either sidelined by that time or had lost faith in the Congress leadership’s ways. Thus the sad situation that the Congress finds itself in, the perpetual dependence on the descendants of Pandit Nehru for some symbolic legitimacy.

Now coming to the present government and it’s systemic weaknesses. The arrangement is peculiar, if not somewhat naive in some form. But such are the joys of democracy. The prime minister was an after thought. Congress did not fight the 2004 elections with Mr. Manmohan Singh as it’s prime ministerial candidate. All of us can recall the drama outside 10 Janpath, when 2004 Lok sabha election results were announced. Anyway, when Mr. Manmohan Singh’s name was proposed, I for one felt a sense of relief on two counts, firstly that an educated, clean man, was about to become the prime minster of this country, and secondly that Mrs. Sonia Gandhi’s and her political advisers’ better sense prevailed by refusing prime minister ship. I now hope she hadn’t; not to say that the many scams this government finds itself buried under would have been attributed to Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, but that it would have created a better, stronger government, with one clear leader, one chain of command.

The prime minister Mr. Manmohan Singh is the leader of the executive arm of the Union of India, however he is not the supreme authority in his own party. This bi-polar, presumably multi-polar structure, without a clear chain of command doesn’t allow for a strong government. Even if the nation leaves aside the various scams that this government is surrounded by, Mr. Manmohan Singh in retrospect was not the right leader for the country because he wasn’t the popular leader even in his own party. His prime ministership or even his candidature in the first place depended on his public perception, which however was never in question for the large part of his seven year rule. In my humble opinion, the prime minister should be thankful to the nation for having given him the benefit of the doubt even when his own ministers were found to be corrupt and massively so. Moreover, even if Mr. Singh was the most popular leader in his party, he wasn’t the only leader. Human organizations have a clear chain of command and that is pyramidal, resulting in ultimately only one person at the helm. This Singh-Gandhi combine hence proved to structurally weak, and this is main reason that the government has let India down on several accounts.

This lack of political legitimacy, and the clear divide (not difference of opinion per se but a divide nonetheless just by the virtue of being two different individuals) between leader of the party and leader of the government, the system was bound to fail, as we see its ministers shouting on television channels while others try and have a peaceful discussion. I saw with my own eyes Mr. Narayansamy MoS PMO, and Mr. Saifuddin Soz cabinet minister shouting at the anchors and fellow panelists, felt almost sorry for them. Surely, they are smart enough to realise that they are losing power, and fast. The mandate has begun to slip from under their feet, and soon they’ll be flat on their faces.

Some thoughts on individual and collective responsibility of the council of ministers. The constitution allows for both. I am no expert on the constitution, but as far as I remember I was taught by my civics teachers that the council of ministers was collectively responsible to the parliament, and that in cases when the government’s moral authority came into question, it was only just that the government resigned, owning collective responsibility. Well, individual responsibility also exists, in the sense that a minister can be asked to resign, and as we’ve seen happen so often in very recent past.

About collective responsibility – statements by the Congress party that the PM had no clue of the goings on in case of a) Raja b) Maran c) Kalmadi (these are the only names that come to mind right now) is insulting the intelligence of ordinary Indian citizens. but just for argument’s sake lets put it aside as a cynical viewpoint. Prime minister is effectively the leader of the executive arm of the Union of India; does India deserve a prime minister who claims that he doesn’t know (not talking about interference here, just plain knowledge) what his ministers are doing? But again for argument’s sake lets say that this claim is true – doesn’t this amount to criminal negligence? And when Anna Hazare’s fast can be called a law and order issue, does the prime minister not see his own actions as cognizable offences? If these claims are false however, then seriousness of the matter just goes up. But the people of India know, that first his colleagues claimed his innocence, then he himself claimed ignorance of all corruption in his government, finally when it was revealed that his ministers were corrupt he refused to take action against them until Supreme Court forced his government to act.

Just one request to hon’ble prime minister of the union of India. Dear sir, we know the constraints of coalition politics, most of us have grown up with it. However, when the people of the union of India saw you as the prime minister we had high hopes. We were mesmerized into believing that all will be well, now that you are leading the nation, the architect of liberal policies, the person who had unlocked India’s destiny all by himself. We believed in you sir, and I feel that many of us are desperate to believe in you again. But you let us down dear Prime Minister, you let us down. You were supposed to bat for us, the people of India whose prime minister you still very much are, and not for your Congress party. Surely an economist of your stature and experience will count India to be bigger and more significant than the Congress party?

I will revisit the Anna movement, and the factors that drew me towards it. But for now, I want to end with this very basic concept of politics – that is, public opinion. NCERT text books on political science define public opinion to be the prevalent opinion, not necessarily the majority opinion or the correct opinion. This is the first concept of political science presented in these books. The public opinion is against Mr. Manmohan Singh’s government, and they themselves are to blame for it. Surely the government reads or has read the books it prescribes to school students nation wide?

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About ChanduSingh

I am an IT industry analyst with Ovum. The views expressed here are entirely mine, and do not reflect my employer's stance. On this blog I will talk about: IT buzzwords (such as Agile Development, BPM, cloud and so forth), events from around the globe (if I find the time), and movies.
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