By R Shankar
Has the time come for India’s tryst with democracy to either end or change?
As India celebrates her 63rd Independence Day and has become a mature `senior
citizen', has the time come to rethink on the way the nation is being governed?
Has democracy lost its sheen, its soul, its meaning and its very purpose? Has
the DNA of the form of governance been so distorted and mutilated that the
nation is no longer a democracy in the true sense?
The fist course correction to Indian democracy was tried out during the
Emergency in 1975. But the timing was mistake, the purpose a bigger mistake and
the way it was implanted the biggest. It was done to save Indira Gandhi from
being dethroned, not the nation. Well, the dark days of democracy are history
now. But we are now faced with bigger threats to democracy.
Here are the threats:
Electables and Unelectables
Very few honest and upright persons can ever enter the portals of the
Parliament as an elected member. If one wants to become an MP, he or she will
need the following `qualifications': a criminal record, a huge bank balance
(preferably black money), family backing or backing of religious communities.
The Congress has accused Gandhian Anna Hazare as being an `unelectable'
voice. Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari went on record to say that Hazare is
"unelectable" and "if this democracy faces its greatest peril from someone, it
is from the tyranny of the unelected and the unelectable".
Can honest and upright men like Anna Hazare, Abdul Kalam, Narayanmurthy or
Kiran Bedi get elected? Does that mean that they do not fit into the framework
of a truly democratic polity?
The answer lies here: In the present Parliament, 300 are billionaires and 180
millionaires. over 150 MPs face criminal charges with over 70 of them facing
serious charges ranging from murder to rape and kidnapping to cheating.
Add to this people like Mayawati who wants Rs 22 crore to refurbish her
mansion in Lucknow; the Bellary brothers who flouted every rule to mint money in
crores through illegal mining and irreversibly change the very ecology of the
town; and, till recently, they were `honourable' ministers in the Yeddyurappa
cabinet in Karnataka. Sons of a poor constable, the Reddy brothers used to
`helihop' from Bellary to Bangalore for a dine-out. And there is A Raja,
Kanimozhi, Kalmadi, Lalu, Jagan and the like whose main job was to make money by
flouting laws. And, they are all law-makers!
On the unelectables, all that the Congress has to do is to jog its memory.
Even Mahatma Gandhi's candidate was once an `unelectable' man. In 1939, Gandhiji
put up Pattabhi Sitaramaiah as his candidate for the Congress presidentship. He
lost to Subhash Chandra Bose and a crestfallen Gandhiji had said that
Sitaramaiah's defeat was his (Gandhiji's) defeat. The Congress made it so
difficult for Bose to function that he had to resign a few months later.
In post Independent era, Morarji Desai was defeated in a Legislative Assembly
election. That was in 1952. But the Congress made an `unelectable' Desai as the
Chief Minister of Bombay.
Then, in 1991 an unelected leader went on to become the Prime Minster.
Narasimha Rao was not an MP, but the Congress made him the PM.
To a little contemporary history. In 1998, Sonia Gandhi was neither a member
of the Congress Working Committee nor an MP. But the Congress made her the
president of the party after nudging out veteran Sitaram Kesri.
If the Congress feels that Anna is unelectable, the BJP has an answer: that
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh too is unelectable. He made a backdoor entry
through Assam by becoming a Rajya Sabha member from that state. This was in
violation of a rule that stated that to become a Rajya Sabha member, the
candidate must be a resident of that state. The law was thrown out to
accommodate Singh. His brush with hardcore politics came only once when he
contested for a Lok Sabha seat in 1999 and lost.
If honest and upright men cannot become law-makers and instead, criminals,
billionaires and millionaires are entrusted with the task of making laws, how
can democracy ever work?
We seem to be living in a moment in history where the country is leaderless
and rudderless. There is no effective leadership, resulting in large scale
corruption and a paralysis in decision making. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may
be an honest and upright man, but he is presiding over one of the most corrupt
governments and does not have control over his ministers.
Prime Minister's honesty and integrity have never been on the debating table
or questioned. On these grounds he has been well above the watermarks of doubt;
but his silence has not been so. Here are some occasions when Manmohan Singh
could have acted in time, but never did, and it was the nation that lost:
2G Spectrum scam
It took over a year for the Prime Minister to act; it took over a year for
the CBI to wake up. Had it not been for a PIL in the Supreme Court, the scam
would have dragged on and on. Why did Singh not act when the then Telecom
minister A Raja refused to listen? Why did the PM not act when Raja ignored
Cabinet colleagues and asked them to keep off the Spectrum turf?
Niira Radia Tapes
How come the Prime Minister was not aware of the fact that private
conversations were being secretly taped? Such acts are allowed only for national
security. Even if they were taped, who leaked it to the media and why? The
conversations were taped by a government agency and the tapes were in the
possession of this agency. How come the tapes were leaked and what was the
For months, all the dirt on Commonwealth Games was out in the open. The stink
too was there for everyone to `smell' and squirm. But for the best part, the PM
adopted the three wise monkey strategy with a twist in the tale: see-no-scam,
hear-no-scam, tell-no-scam. Why did the PM not step in early and stem the rot?
He appointed an overseeing committee only after the mess had spun out of
Why is the government dragging its feet on bringing back black money stashed
in banks abroad? As an economist Singh must have acted on this first. On price
rise and inflation too the government has failed.
A family profession
Politics has become a family profession. Starting from the Abdullah and
Gandhi families in the north to the MIM in Hyderabad and the DMK & Sons Pvt
Ltd in Tamil Nadu, politics is becoming a hereditary family profession. Wives,
sons, grandsons, daughters and nephews seem to have politics in their DNA and
automatically become law-makers.
How can politics be inherited? Then why not automatically include the son of
a cricketer in the Indian cricket team, the son of a vice-chancellor the next VC
or the son of a surgeon a doctor who can perform operations?
For becoming a doctor or build bridges or roads or teach in colleges, one has
to have the necessary background and years of experience; but to run a country,
there is no need for any experience; just a family certificate would do.
Political khap panchayats
An acumen in running a country or a clean and upright image is becoming a
handicap to enter politics or Parliament. You need a compulsory caste
certificate too. So, Parliamentary and Assembly seats are distributed according
to caste and religion. How can democracy function according to caste or
religion? Where is the principle of fair-play?
In the coming elections to the UP Assembly early next year, seats are bound
to be distributed according to three `Cs' -- caste, currency and criminality.
An intolerable nation
India is increasingly becoming intolerable. Politicians tend to be experts in
either fishing in troubled waters or creating trouble. We cannot make a serious
movie on reservation; we cannot tolerate outsiders in Mumbai; in some states,
love marriages are a taboo and the only punishment is murder that is `legalised'
In view of all this, is it not time to either end our tryst with democracy or
correct the way democracy works? Why not we hand over the country to a group of
enlightened citizens and mandate the group to put the nation on the right
Source: India Syndicate